Qualitative data in the UK Public Sector

queuing for health services

 

The last research project I worked on with the NIHR was a close collaboration between several universities, local authorities and NHS trusts. We were looking at evidence use by managers in the NHS, and one of the common stories we heard was how valuable information often ended up on the shelf, and not used to inform service provision or policy.


It was always a real challenge for local groups, researchers and academics to create research outputs that were in a digestible format so that they could be used by decision makers, who often had very short timescales and limited resources. We also were told of the importance of using examples and case studies of other trusts or departments that had successes: it’s all very well making suggestions to improve services, but most of the time, the battle is getting that into practice. It’s one of the reasons we created a mini-case study guide, short one page summaries of ‘best-practice’ – places where a new approach had worked and made changes.


However, the biggest shock for me was how difficult it was to engage qualitative data in decision making. In many public sector organisations, qualitative data is seen as the poor-cousin of quantitative statistics, only used when figures can’t be found, or the interest group is too small for statistical significant findings.


So many wonderful sources of qualitative data seemed to be sitting around, collecting dust: including research from community organisations, consultations, and feedback from service users – data that had already been collected, and was awaiting analysis for a specific purpose. There was also a lack of confidence in some researchers in how to work with qualitative data, and an understandable sense that it was a very time consuming process. At best, qualitative data was just providing quotes to illustrate reports like JSNAs which were mostly filled with quantitative data.

 

A big part of the problem seemed to be how decision makers, especially from a clinical background, were more comfortable with quantitative data. For managers used to dealing with financial information, RCTs, efficacy trials etc., this is again quite understandable, and they were used to seeing graphs and tests of statistical significance. But there was a real chicken-and-egg problem: because they rarely took into account qualitative data, it was rarely requested, and there was little incentive to improve qualitative analytical skills.


One group we spoke to had produced a lovely report on a health intervention for an ethnic minority group. Their in-depth qualitative interviews and focus groups had revealed exactly why the usual health promotion message wasn’t getting though, and a better approach to engage with this population. However, the first time they went to present their findings to a funding board, the members were confused. The presentation was too long, had too many words, and no graphs. As one of many items on the agenda, they had to make a case in five minutes and a few slides.


So that’s just what they did. They turned all their qualitative data into a few graphs, which supported their case for an intervention in this group. Personally, it was heart-breaking to see all this rich data end up on the cutting-room floor, but evidence is not useful unless it is acted upon. Besides, the knowledge that the team had from this research meant that with their budget now approved, they knew they could craft the right messages for an effective campaign.


This story was often in my mind when we were designing Quirkos – what would the outputs look like that would have an impact on decision makers? It had to produce visual summaries, graphs and quotes that can be put into a PowerPoint presentation. And why couldn’t the interface itself be used to present the data? If the audience asked a question about a particular quote or group, couldn’t the presenter show that to them there and then?

 

Opening the door to make qualitative data easier to work with and visualise is one thing, but a whole culture of change is needed in many organisations to improve the understanding and use of qualitative data. Until this happens, many evidence based decisions are only being made on the basis of a limited style and depth of data, and valuable insights are being missed.

 

With the prospect of sustained and continued cuts to public services in the UK, there are fewer chances to get something right. Qualitative engagement here can tell us not only what needs to be done and how to learn from our mistakes, but how to get it right the first time.

 



 

Upgrade from paper with Quirkos

qualitative analysis with paper

Having been round many market research firms in the last few months, the most striking things is the piles of paper, or at least in the neater offices - shelves of paper!

When we talk to small market research firms about their analysis process, many are doing most of their research by printing out data and transcripts, and coding them with coloured highlighters. Some are adamant that this is the way that works best for them, but others are a little embarrassed at the way they are still using so much time and paper with physical methods.

 

The challenge is clear – the short turn-around time demanded by clients doesn't leave much time for experimenting with new ways of working, and the few we had talked to who had tried qualitative analysis software quickly felt this wasn't something they were able to pick up quickly.

 

So, most of the small Market Research agencies with less than 5 associates (as many as 75% of firms in the UK) are still relying on work-flows that are difficult to share, don't allow for searching across work, and don't have an undo button! Not to mention the ecological impact of all that printing, and the risk to deadlines from an ill placed mug of coffee.

 

That's one of the reasons we created Quirkos, and why we are launching our new campaign this week at the Market Research Society annual conference in London. Just go to our new website, www.upgradefrompaper.com and watch our fun, one minute video about drowning in paper, and how Quirkos can help.

Quirkos isn't like other software, it is designed to mimic the physical action of highlighting and coding text on paper with an intuitive interface that you can use to get coding right away. In fact, we bet you can get coding a project before your printer has got the first source out of the tray.

 

You no longer need days of training to use qualitative analysis software, and Quirkos has all the advantages you'd expect, such as quick searches, full undo-redo capability and lots of flexibility to rearrange your data and framework. But it also has other pleasant surprises: there's no save button, because work is automatically saved after each action. And it creates graphical reports you can share with colleagues or clients.

 

Finally, you can export your work at any stage to Word, and print it out (if you so wish!) with all your coding and annotations as familiar coloured highlights – ideal to share, or just to help ease the transition to digital. It's always comforting to know you can go back to old habits at any time, and not loose the work you've already done!

 

It's obviously not just for market research firms; students, academics and charities who have either not tried any qualitative software before, or found the other options too confusing or expensive can reduce their carbon footprint and save on their department's printing costs!

 

So take the leap, and try it out for a month, completely free, on us. Upgrade from paper to Quirkos, and get a clear picture of your research!

 

www.upgradefrompaper.com


p.s. All the drawings in our video were done by our very own Kristin Schroeder! Not bad, eh?

Quirkos v1.1 is here!

We are excited to announce that the first update for Quirkos can now be downloaded from here!

 

Version 1.1 adds two main new features: batch import, and mutli-language reports.

 

If you have a large number of text sources or transcripts to add to a project, you can now do it all in one go, without having to import each seperately. Just click on the (+) add source button on the bottom right of the source view, and select Import Multiple Sources. You have the option to select certain files, or a whole folder at once. This makes it a lot quicker to get going with Quirkos from an existing dataset.

 

Secondly, we've improved the export options (including HTML, PDF, CSV and Word files) so that they all support projects with multiple languages and non-latin scripts. You were already able to have a project that combined Arabic, Chinese and Spanish, but now any of the report options will show all these characters properly. Please note, this does require that your computer has font and language packs to support the scripts you want to work with, but most operating systems now include these by default.

 

We've also changed the way that Quirks are scaled, so now it's easier to see the different sizes with small and large projects.

Other minor improvements include:

  • A fix to DOCX exporting, so that this opens properly in more versions of Word
  • Better display of long property values
  • Better scrolling of the canvas area if zoomed in
  • Improvements to scrolling in Windows 8

 

If you already have Quirkos installed, you can update just by downloading the new version and installing over the old one (by default at c:\\Program Files (x86)\\quirkos-1.0 in Windows). Your files, activation and recently used file list will be unaffected. However, from now on, Quirkos will install in Windows in C:\\Program Files (x86)\\Quirkos so that new versions will automatically over-write the old one.

 

There is no change to the file format, so there are no compatibility issues between v1.0 and v1.1, and the update is free for existing customers.

 

Do let us know if you have any suggestions or feedback, many of these improvements were requested by users, so it is definitly worth getting in touch. We hope these new features help with your research, and look out for our Linux and Android versions, which should be publicly available at the end of the month.