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The Role of Qualitative Data in Services Research

Posted on August 13, 2010

Focus groups and other qualitative approaches can enhance services research, believes Bradley Stein (bio).


I actually think there tends to be a role for qualitative research in lots of projects, and many of my funded projects have actually combined qualitative and quantitative, and oftentimes where I use qualitative is to try to understand the context of a clinic or a policy, but what is going on in a particular situation. If I want to take an intervention and put it into a clinic and have it work there, I really need some understanding of what some of the challenges may be, what some of the issues may be in doing so. If I want to take an intervention and think about how to adopt it to be used in a particular setting, it's oftentimes useful to bring together a focus group and have people brainstorm about what are some of the changes we'd like to make.

And so oftentimes it's used at a point where you're not ready for hypothesis testing. You don't know that the answer should be this or that. It's more exploratory to help to lay out the context, the lay of the land to gather information that you can then use to help to refine something, to help to improve something, to help to more successfully implement something. And I think that's the way that myself and lots of other services researchers use it oftentimes early on to really help to fine tune things, to get the perspectives of a variety of different people, a range of different people.

Maybe the clinicians have one complete way of talking about in the themes that come up, as they talk about a particular problem, but if you go and talk to the patients the themes they talk about are something completely and totally different. In which case, if you're thinking about something that may involve both of them, it's going to be important to think about any intervention, how do you bridge this gap?

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Excerpted from interview with researcher in May 2010.


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