Numbers don't tell the whole story. Give your monitoring and evaluation a boost by getting input from the people who matter.
Things you'll need
- Paper, pens, post-its and a flip chart
- Time to listen
What is Qualitative Data?
Qualitative data is simply about collecting people's stories and feedback. It's anything that can't outrightly be counted.
Whereas knowing the statistical figures on something may tell you whether a situation has changed, it doesn't always tell you why it has changed.
Qualitative data can do that.
For example, perhaps over the past couple of years there's been a steady increase in the number of people using an advocacy service. And perhaps the biggest increase has been in people asking for help with drug abuse.
The only way to find out why there has been an increase, is to ask people. Perhaps they'll explain that drugs are much more available now than they used to be. Maybe there's been a leap in unemployment and people have lost self-esteem and turned to drugs. Maybe there's not been an increase in drug taking, but an increase in the number of people seeking help.
Are People's Stories Legitimate Data?
Yes! A good, strong project report should generally include a balance of both quantitative (numerical) and qualitative (narrative) data to support each other. You can't get the whole picture from one method alone. Qualitative data can also be extremely useful in helping to prove the need for projects in a community, or the impact that a project has had on the lives of service users. This can be extremely persuasive when approaching donors.
How to Collect Qualitative Data
This sort of data is available every day. It comes from people dropping into the office to talk about their problems, it comes from support groups lobbying on issues, it comes from members who phone up for help. The key point is to capture this information so that it can be used in the future.
Ways of doing this include:
- Feedback Forms: a simple box in the office for people's suggestions and complaints, or open-ended questionnaires that allow people to write down their thoughts.
- Video & Audio Recordings: getting people to tell their stories or agree to an interview that is videoed or recorded can be a powerful way of getting the message across to the public and to donors.
- Photographs: a picture can tell a thousand words. They're great to include in project proposals and reports because they breathe life into large chunks of text.
- Diaries and Creative Writing: asking members to participate in a long-term community writing projects can be useful in monitoring how projects create visible change over a longer period.
- Online: social networking sites and forums are just as legitimate for collecting qualitative data. If your members are discussing something on your website, it may be worth using.
- Consultations: the most traditional way of gathering qualitative input is through member and community consultation days.
Even if it's not immediately useful now, it's still worth collecting for future proposals and reports.
Especially in regards to video and audio recordings, it's extremely important that people are aware that they are being recorded and that they have given their written consent.
With items such as questionnaires and feedback forms it can be assumed that participants understand that they are feeding information back to the organisation, but it's still worth asking whether people can be identified by the information used. If so, it's best to ask for permission. Names can also be changed to make the information anonymous.
- Facebook for Qualitative Research
- Ethical Issues in Conducting Research (PDF)
- How to Run a Focus Group
- Making Sense of Qualitative Data (Slideshow)
There's also a KnowHow HowTo: How to Collect Quantitative Data the Easy Way