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Interviews and Focus Groups

Qualitative Data Uses

Collecting qualitative data is helpful for diving more deeply into a topic or question. Qualitative data can answer “why” and “how” questions that quantitative data often cannot and can be useful when exploring more personal or sensitive subjects. Qualitative data can also reveal more nuanced experiences or motivations of stakeholders. Frequently, summaries of qualitative data raise additional questions, often related to more detailed questions about an experience or other, related experiences a participant may have had. While carefully crafted questions can avoid unanswered questions, one interview or focus group series of questions will not be able to answer all possible questions for a few main reasons:

  • Methodologically, interview and focus group question guides should retain some consistency across discussions so that themes can be extracted during analysis
  • Participants often have limited time to devote to an interview or focus group; questions must be limited and prioritized to ensure that there is enough time to discuss core questions in depth 
  • While MAD consultants strive to understand project, program, and client nuances and details, they are often not subject matter experts and may not be aware of a specific line of questioning, if not previously discussed. The section "Closing a Study and Next Steps" below notes how MAD consultants can assist in identifying next steps to put findings into action. 

Projects may require qualitative data collection only, or may benefit from a mixed methods approach (e.g., collecting survey data to inform interview or focus group questions, conducting interviews or focus groups to inform survey questions). More information on quantitative data collection can be found under Surveys and Guide to Writing Survey Questions.

Designing Qualitative Project Elements

Qualitative Analysis

Unlike quantitative analysis, qualitative analysis cannot be completed using methods such as pivot tables or formulas, which make for faster results. Even when coding and using analysis software with built-in tools such as code co-occurrence tables or queries, excerpts (i.e., quotations) must often be reviewed manually for applicability (e.g., does it fit a broader or more nuanced theme, where will the excerpt be counted if at all, what type of participant was more likely to say this).

For smaller qualitative datasets (e.g., fewer than 20 interviews), it is generally not necessary to formally code data in analysis software. Instead, theming can be accomplished through systematic manual review, which often has the added benefit of identifying results more quickly. It is important to note that use of a codebook and analysis software does not result in rigor – these are merely organizational principles and tools that can become helpful when managing a larger dataset (e.g., 20 or more interviews).

If managing a larger dataset, MAD consultants will develop a codebook and code responses prior to analysis and summary. Regardless of the size of the dataset, consultants will analyze qualitative data and provide a summary of findings to clients.

Closing a Study and Next Steps

When a project is complete, sharing the publicly available report directly with participants is recommended. When a publicly available report is not available, or is not the end product of the project, following up with participants to thank them for their time and inform them of next steps and upcoming opportunities (if applicable) is recommended. 

As noted above, reviewing findings from qualitative research may uncover additional ad hoc questions. MAD consultants can help plan for next steps, which may include:

  • Conducting a survey
  • Conducting more interviews or focus groups with new or different participants and questions
  • Conducting planning meetings to identify strategic next steps using the data available
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