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Collect And Analyse Qualitative (Non-Numerical) Data.

‘The purpose of qualitative research methods is to look for meaning (i.e. to understand the why and how behind things). It is therefore about developing richness in data based on an in-depth understanding rather than representativeness, which is the preserve of quantitative research methods’ (Karania, p.1, 2017, Age UK)

Qualitative data:

  • Can provide an understanding of people’s experiences and their individual outcomes in relation to a service or intervention
  • Allow you to explore organisation culture and practices (for example, how a local council deepens its improvement culture, engages in multi-agency working with the third sector or the NHS, or implements a prevention agenda in social care
  • Provides understandings about the impact of the social and economic environment on needs for social care support.



You may want to collect this data through interviews, focus group discussions or observations, or analyse routinely collected data such as compliments and complaints.





Probably the most common source of qualitative data is interviews.

Interviews. Inspiring Impact.

This web page provides an accessible guide to utilising interviews as an evidence gathering technique. It begins with some of the benefits and limitations of undertaking interviews before overviewing 3 steps in the interview process

Conducting Interviews. C. Holmes-Hansen for Wilder Research.

This four-page ‘tip sheet’ is a guide to interviewing and offers information about conducting interviews. You will find an overview of types of interviews (informal, semi-structured and structured), a description of the interview process and how to avoid bias. It also has links to other useful information.

Using Key Informant Interviews. J. McKillip. Need analysis: Tools for the Human Services and Education.

This short American document contains some useful information and questions to consider in selecting key informants in needs assessment processes.


Focus Groups

A. Gibbs, ‘Focus Groups’, Social Research Update Issue 19, Guilford, 1991. University of Surrey

This brief guide defines focus groups and gives the reasons for choosing focus groups as a method. It also gives an overview of the benefits and limitations of focus groups and ethical issues for consideration.

Data collection. Evaluation resources from Wilder Research

This guide provides accessible information about conducting interviews and focus groups. It contains practical tips to consider when planning focus groups.

Evaluation methods and tools.

Evaluation Support Scotland have developed a series of short guides to gathering information for evaluating services. These include methods that could be particularly useful when the people using the services have limited spoken communication.

There are individual guides on the following data collection methods;

Appreciative Questions:  Body Maps:  Capturing Casual Moments:  Change Record Template: Choosing Pictures:  Creative Writing:  Emotional Touchpoints: Evaluation Wheel: Focus Groups: Interviews: Mapping the Journey:  Meeting Record:  Observation:  Questionnaire:  Relationship Map: Service Use Map: Sticky Wall:  Stretch or Positive Statements:  Tactile Feedback:  Taking Stock in a Time of Change:  Using Case Records.

Age UK have resources that provide an introduction to research methods. These include a guide to deciding how many respondents are needed in qualitative research and a guide about socio-demographic information.



Observation can be a valuable method for gathering data in appropriate settings.

Evaluation Briefs no 16. Data Collection Methods for Program Evaluation: Observation. US Department of Health and Human Services, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

This 2-page briefing provides a practical introduction to the use of observation as a method of collecting data. It poses questions to consider when deciding whether observations are the best method for your purpose.

The resources by Evaluation Support Scotland and Age UK referenced above also have sections on observation


Case Studies

Sometimes evidence is presented as a case study.  

Using Case Studies to do Program Evaluation. California Department of Health Services.

This document provides guidance about when case studies are an appropriate method. As well as providing practical guidance, it has a short section on reliability and validity issues when using case studies.


Most Significant Change

This approach is one of a number of ‘participatory’ techniques using story gathering.

‘The Most Significant Change (MSC) Technique: A guide to its use’ by Rick Davies and Jess Dart, 2005. Better Evaluation.

This manual provides detailed guidance on how to use the Most Significant Change approach. It is full of practical examples that supplement the information on the MSC technique.


Analysing Qualitative Data

Qualitative research can produce large amounts of data. There are a number of techniques that will result in the key messages from the research being identified.

Analyse Data. Better Evaluation.

This web resource provides information on content analysis: thematic coding: framework matrices and timelines and time-ordered matrices

Evaluation Toolkit. Life Changes Trust.

There is a section on analysing qualitative data that covers content analysis, thematic analysis and framework analysis.