National Centre for Research Methods



Seminar 2: Using qualitative research to inform policy and practice
Office for National Statistics, Newport, Wales
Tuesday, 4 April, 2006

The synthesis and use of qualitative evidence for informing policy making and professional practice has been the subject of recent critical attention. In the context of concerns over research quality, attention has increasingly turned towards a more critical appreciation of the opportunities and problematics of utilising qualitative research. This seminar draws together policy makers, practitioners and academics, and provides an opportunity to consider the ways in which qualitative research is positioned within calls for evidenced-based policy and practice.

Aims of the seminar:

To encourage a productive dialogue across disciplinary boundaries and build bridges between policy makers, practitioners and academic research community.

Questions for the day:

  1. Value: What is the value of qualitative research for policy and practice?
  2. Evidence: What claims or arguments can be grounded in qualitative research
  3. Innovation: How does methodological innovation find its way into policy and practice driven research? What are the barriers and what are the opportunities?
  4. Policy and Practice: The words policy and practice are often used together, although the requirements for and expectations of qualitative research in spheres of policy and practice may be different. What are the differences and what are the similarities?

Qualitative research in the context of evidence-based policy and practice.

Welcome and introduction - Professor Gareth Williams, Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University


  • Professor Jennie Popay Professor of Sociology and Public Health, Institute for health research, Lancaster University. Policy relevant qualitative research: 'It has a beginning, a middle but the end is whenever!'
  • Chris Carmona, Research Analyst, NICE Centre for Public Health Excellence. When quality meets quantity: the role of qualitative data in framing policy.

    Click here to download Chris' presentation (do not cite without authors' permission)


Potential of innovative qualitative research to inform policy and practice: Case Studies

  • Synthesising and appraising qualitative research evidence for systematic reviews (Mary Dixon-Woods, Department of Health Sciences: University of Leicester)

    Systematic review has developed as a specific methodology for searching for, appraising, and synthesising findings of primary studies, and has rapidly become a cornerstone of the evidence-based practice and policy movement. Qualitative research has traditionally been excluded from systematic reviews, and much effort is now being invested in resolving the daunting methodological and epistemological challenges associated with trying to move towards more inclusive forms of review. In this seminar I describe the experiences of very diverse multidisciplinary group funded under the ESRC Methods Programme, in attempting to incorporate qualitative research in a systematic review of support for breastfeeding. I show how every stage of the review process, from asking the review question, through to searching for and sampling the evidence, appraising the evidence, and producing a synthesis, provoked profound questions about whether a review that includes qualitative research can remain consistent with the frame offered by current systematic review methodology. I conclude that more debate and dialogue between the different communities that wish to develop review methodology is needed.
  • Using longitudinal methods in qualitative research: implications for policy and practice (Jane Lewis, Director of Qualitative research Unit, NatCen)

    Longitudinal methods have an established history in quantitative research and in ethnographic studies, but they have also been used increasingly in recent years in applied qualitative research. This paper will look at what they have to offer in evaluations and other applied studies, and how they can inform our understanding of policy and practice. The practical issues involved in designing and conducting longitudinal qualitative studies will be explored. The paper will also discuss the complexities that are encountered in identifying and analysing change, or its absence, in qualitative datasets, and making sense of longitudinal qualitative data.

    Click here to download Jane's presentation (do not cite without authors' permission)

  • Qualitative methods as an approach to policy development and evaluation - using qualitative comparative analysis in comparative policy research. (David Byrne, School of Applied Social Sciences: University of Durham)

    The presentation will review and demonstrate the potential of different forms of qualitative comparative analysis as a way of exploring complex causation in social programmes. It will argue that outcomes in the social world are generally the product of the interaction of multiple factors and that there is generally more than one combination of multiple factors which can generate the same outcome. Charles Ragin has argued for figurational techniques which enable the establishment of mutliple causal configurations on the basis of systematic comparison across small to medium size data sets. This approach is particularly suitable in contexts where we have access to information about all the relevant cases, a common condition in policy related research. The presentation will show how we can use the products of qualitative research in association with pre-existing quantitative data to set up QCA and suggest that NVIVO with the potential for specifying attributes for case nodes is particularly useful in such data preparation.

    Click here to download David's presentation (do not cite without authors' permission)




ESRC National Centre for Research Methods
ESRC - Economic & Social Research Council