Archive for 18 September 2011


Focus groups are semi-structured discussions with a small group of persons (usually 6-12 people) sharing a common feature (e.g., women of reproductive age, shareholders in an irrigation system, users of a certain service, etc.).  A small list of open-ended topics, posed as questions or participatory tasks, is used to focus the discussion. (CARE 1998)

Focus groups have been increasingly used in participatory evaluations and research to identify and describe insider perceptions, attitudes, and felt needs on a defined topic.  Focus group methods are also used with PRA tools to discuss and record the results.  (CARE 1998)

Strengths of Focus Groups: (CARE 1998)

  • Group interaction enriches the quality and quantity of information provided
  • Focus group discussions are quite good at disclosing the range and nature of problems, as well as eliciting preliminary ideas about solutions.

Weaknesses of Focus Groups: (CARE 1998)

  • Practice and experience in qualitative evaluation and research procedures are needed, especially thorough note-taking and sensitive facilitation.
  • Large amounts of information are easily obtained, necessitating skills in extracting and summarizing for the analysis


Information in this section has been excerpted entirely from: CARE & Barton, Tom (1998). Program Impact Evaluation Process, Module 2: M&E Toolbox. CARE Uganda. Accessible here.

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Perspectives on Qualitative Research & Methods

The questions humanitarian organizations are trying to answer with their research will lead them to either quantitative or qualitative methods, or a combination of the two. The utility and efficacy of quantitative versus qualitative data-gathering is one that elicits much debate. Below are some perspectives on qualitative methods, the appropriate use of them, and their validity in research.


Depth Versus Breadth

“Think of the relationship between quantitative and qualitative methods as a seesaw. As if attached by a fulcrum, the form part of a single dynamic system, but at any given moment they produce two different, indeed sometimes incommensurable forms and knowledge: Quantitative methods produce breadth but sacrifice depth; qualitative methods produce depth, revealing a complexity that quantitative methods might miss, but they sacrifice breadth. Of course, this perfunctory description is something of a caricature; the best quantitative studies also build on at least some level of depth, and the best qualitative methods also offer at least some level of breadth. But at their most extreme, the two approaches have very different goals.” (pg. 51)

Source: Gottlieb, Alma. “Ethnography: Theory and Methods.” in Perecman, E. & Curran, S., eds. A Handbook for Social Science Reserch: Essays and Bibliographic Sources on Research Design and Methods. SAGE Publications. London, UK. 2006.

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This section pulled entirely from W.M.K. Trochim’s Unobtrusive Measures: Content Analysis.

Content analysis is the analysis of text documents. The analysis can be quantitative, qualitative or both. Typically, the major purpose of content analysis is to identify patterns in text. Content analysis is an extremely broad area of research. It includes:

A. Thematic analysis of text

The identification of themes or major ideas in a document or set of documents. The documents can be any kind of text including field notes, newspaper articles, technical papers or organizational memos.

B. Indexing

There are a wide variety of automated methods for rapidly indexing text documents. For instance, Key Words in Context (KWIC) analysis is a computer analysis of text data. A computer program scans the text and indexes all key words. A key word is any term in the text that is not included in an exception dictionary. Typically you would set up an exception dictionary that includes all non-essential words like “is”, “and”, and “of”. All key words are alphabetized and are listed with the text that precedes and follows it so the researcher can see the word in the context in which it occurred in the text. In an analysis of interview text, for instance, one could easily identify all uses of the term “abuse” and the context in which they were used.

C. Quantitative descriptive analysis

Here the purpose is to describe features of the text quantitatively. For instance, you might want to find out which words or phrases were used most frequently in the text. Again, this type of analysis is most often done directly with computer programs.

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Key informant interviews are qualitative, in-depth interviews of 15 to 35 people selected for their first-hand knowledge about a topic of interest. The interviews are loosely structured, relying on a list of issues to be discussed. Key informant interviews resemble a conversation among acquaintances, allowing a free flow of ideas and information. Interviewers frame questions spontaneously, probe for information and takes notes, which are elaborated on later. (USAID 1996)

Specifically, it is useful in the following situations: (USAID 1996)

  1. When qualitative, descriptive information is sufficient for decision- making.
  2. When there is a need to understand motivation, behavior, and perspectives of our customers and partners. In-depth interviews of program planners and managers, service providers, host government officials, and beneficiaries concerning their attitudes and behaviors about a USAID activity can help explain its successes and shortcomings.
  3. When a main purpose is to generate recommendations. Key informants can help formulate recommendations that can improve a program’s performance.
  4. When quantitative data collected through other methods need to be interpreted. Key informant interviews can provide the how and why of what happened. If, for example, a sample survey showed farmers were failing to make loan repayments, key informant interviews could uncover the reasons.
  5. When preliminary information is needed to design a comprehensive quantitative study. Key informant interviews can help frame the issues before the survey is undertaken.

Source: US Agency for International Development (USAID). Performance Monitoring & Evaluation TIPS: Conducting Key Informant Interviews. Washington, DC. 1996. Number 2. Accessible here.


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The below is pulled entirely from Bruce Berg’s Book: Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences (7th Edition). Allyn & Bacon. 2008.

Case Study Definition:

“a method involving systematically gathering enough information about a particular person, social setting, event, or group to permit the researcher to effectively understand how the subject operates or functions.” (pg. 317)


Can be rather pointed in their focus or approach a broad view of life and society. Extremely rich, detailed, and in-depth information is gathered. Often used as a method for guiding research – aim is to uncover the manifest interaction of significant factors characteristic of the phenomenon, individual, community, or institution being studied. Focus on holistic description and explanation. (pg. 318)

Theory-Before-Research (reasons for): (pg. 319)

  • It can assist in selecting cases to be studied and whether to use single-case or multiple-case design.
  • Can help specify what is being explored when undertaking exploratory studies.
  • Aids in defining a complete and appropriate description when undertaking descriptive studies.
  • Can stimulate rival theories in exploratory case studies.
  • Can support generalization the researcher may seek to make to other cases.

Research-Before-Theory (Grounded Theory): (pg. 320)

Basically, “theory can be uncovered and informed as a consequence of the data collection and interpretations of this data made throughout the development of the case study – hence, a grounded case study.” (pg. 320) – see figure 10.1 on page 321 for an illustration of the development of grounded theory via case study methods.

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