Rationale and explanation of methods used
Our Work – what methods do we use and why?
In order to assess the effectiveness and quality of services from the point of view of those who use them, we use surveys (quantitative method), and interviews and focus groups (qualitative methods). As we are mostly concerned with identifying and understanding the experiences and needs of particular sub groups of society (e.g. those living with dementia, unpaid carers) who are using specific services, we tend to rely more heavily on interviews and focus groups. This allows us to ask more about the ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘what’ rather than concentrate on the ‘how many’ or ‘how much’ aspects of care. By doing so we can develop a deeper understanding of the impact of a service on the users experience in a real-life setting. Using surveys in addition to interviews and focus groups, allows us both to reach those who are unable, or do not wish to take part in interviews and to explore slightly different areas of the same topic. Using different methods helps to strengthen the findings of our work and gives a more complete understanding of what is going on.
It is important to note that our work is not ‘research’ in its true sense but is more similar to service evaluation. Service evaluation is designed and carried out with the sole purpose of exploring and judging current care or ways of working. It is performed to meet specific local needs. Therefore, its findings and recommendations are not required to be generalizable to other settings. This differs from true ‘research’ which has the purpose of gathering new, generalizable, knowledge and/or to generate new assumptions or theories or prove or disprove existing assumptions or theories.
Numbers of people involved
The number of people you need (sample sizes) for qualitative work are generally smaller than those required for work that is concerned more with survey or number-based data. One unit of qualitative data (e.g. an interview) is very rich in detail often containing many ‘bites’ (e.g. quotes from people) of information. One unit or ‘bite’ may potentially be as useful as many in gaining an understanding of how people experience a service. In addition, although it may seem valuable to speak to as many people as possible, there comes a point of ‘diminishing return’, data saturation or overload whereby, more data does not necessarily lead to the generation of new or useful information.