Listen and learn: How charities can use qualitative research

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Qualitative research is focused on what things mean to people, and so it sits very naturally with the questions that a charity asks. This paper explains why we think qualitative research approaches offer real benefits to charities seeking to understand and improve their work.

Charities are often already collecting qualitative data through their service provision and staff interaction, but they are not conducting qualitative research rigorously, with appropriate sampling and analysis—leading to it being dismissed.

We see this as a missed opportunity. When qualitative research is undertaken in a more systematic way, it provides valuable insight to help drive service design, delivery and improvement, and keeps user voice central to a charity’s work.

This paper is designed to help charities better understand the role of qualitative research in informing a charity’s decisions and helping it to identify what works.

We outline the different ways qualitative research can be used at each stage of a programme or strategy cycle, and introduce five key principles underpinning good quality, rigorous qualitative research. We explore the practical questions of who can conduct qualitative research, how participants should be sampled and how to approach data analysis. Ethical questions are also considered, often a particular challenge for charities.

We hope this encourages charities to think about where qualitative research can help their work, so they can achieve more for their beneficiaries and mission.

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