Qualitative research

Date of publication: June 15, 1990


This paper falls into two parts. First we consider the UK government’s use of qualitative research, looking both at the circumstances in which it is employed and the means by which it is assessed. Our initial and somewhat imprecise hypothesis - that government under-uses qualitative research - is examined, and is found, on balance, to have been pessimistic: in certain sectors of government, qualitative techniques make a valued contribution to descriptive and evaluative research, both in policy and publicity work. Second, we explore the extent to which those buying research may often be buying a commodity perhaps better described as research-based consultancy. We look at some of the reasons why both clients and practitioners find it expedient to treat qualitative findings as if they resulted from a more rigorous process than is usually the case. We also consider what might be lost and what gained if qualitative researchers were treated less as ad-hoc researchers and more as consultants with a distinctive and effective discipline. Our overall objective is to encourage more open debate rather than impose a particular view on a difficult issue. The two sections of the paper share a concern about the nature and value of qualitative research, and suggest that although an equilibrium seems to have been established between supply and demand, greater clarity - and perhaps greater honesty - in thinking about what is being bought and sold will be to the benefit of both client and researcher

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