AaEA Affiliate Week: Ayana Perkins on Setting Yourself Up For Success in Qualitative Data Collection

Hi, my name is Ayana Perkins, the programming Co-Chair of the Atlanta-area Evaluation Association as well as Senior Research Analyst and Evaluator at Infinite Services and Solutions. I am a qualitative enthusiast and often train other evaluators and researchers in these methods. What I have noticed is that participants are more likely to right to feel valued and engaged when sharing data using qualitative methods. In fact, interviews and focus groups are wonderful ways to encourage satisfaction and when done right, the evaluator can walk away with credible findings and the participant can leave renewed and excited about participating in the data collection event.

Hot Tips:

  • Practice, practice, practice. With each new project, every member of the evaluation team should have a firm understanding of what to expect in the data collection event. What contingency plans exist when the recorder doesn’t work or too many people show up? Investing time in learning how to respond to these worst case scenarios produces an investigator or an evaluation team that is well poised to resolve all unexpected issues.
  • Plan for informal conversation. Before any interview and focus groups, allow 5 to 15 minutes for informal conversation. This time should be built into the length of the focus group or interview. Further, the evaluator is able to shed the role of expert as well as imply that no greater effort than conversation is required. This strategy also increases an individual’s willingness to more fully participant in any icebreaker activity.
  • Create opportunities for success. Previous experience and personality differences can partially influence how a person’s will likely respond to the open ended format. Even with these influences, there are strategies to help the participant feel like their contribution was a successful effort:
    • Emphasize there is no right answer which helps to reduce social desirability in responses
    • Acknowledge that no response is a response and ask whether or not the question was meaningful to them or more time is needed before responding
    • Connect similarities in responses to enhance group dynamics

Focus groups and interviews do require a lot of preparation but this level of effort can be paid off with rich findings and satisfied participants. 

Rad Resource: Want to learn more about qualitative methods? Visit this website to identify ways to strengthen your project: http://www.qualres.org/. Although the site is not specific to evaluation, most of the recommendations would also apply for qualitative evaluation projects.

Have any of these strategies worked for you? Please share your experiences in the comments.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Atlanta-area Evaluation Association (AaEA) Affiliate Week with our colleagues in the AaEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from AaEA Affiliate members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “AaEA Affiliate Week: Ayana Perkins on Setting Yourself Up For Success in Qualitative Data Collection”

  1. Thanks, Ayana for sharing thoughtful insights. Integrating Informal Conversation in the FGD can be very productive as it will help build the rapport. In some settings, however, active participation is limited to a few in the group, most of the time due to social/organizational hierarchy. I am curious to know if anyone has used informal conversation to break hierarchal barrier. If so, how the language was structured and delivered and what was the result.

    1. Thanks Nilu for sharing your feedback! I have not personally used informal conversation to address social/organizational hierarchy. However I have addressed it formally during the focus group discussion. In a few of my groups I have noticed when more dominant speakers began to create a “bond” based on a similar opinion. When I observe this happening, my real work begins. I take extra effort make sure that the other participants fully participate. First sign is that less active participants may try to rush through their answers or shorten their statements if they feel that it is opposition to the dominant group’s opinion. I spend more time on the less active respondents by using probes and connecting their opinion to other replies of the group until the bond is with everyone in the group and not just the most vocal. If I do my job right with the connection and exploring of all responses, my presence becomes less noticeable and more of their attention is directed towards each other.

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