QUAL Eval Week: Eric Barela on providing a detailed description of qualitative inquiry choices and processes to clients

Hello, I’m Eric Barela, another of the co-leaders of the Qualitative Methods TIG, and a co-editor with Leslie Goodyear, Jennifer Jewiss, and Janet Usinger of a new book about qualitative evaluation called Qualitative Inquiry in Evaluation: From Theory to Practice (2014, Jossey-Bass).

In my time as an evaluator, I have noticed that discussions of methodology with clients can take on several forms. Most often, clients are genuinely interested in knowing how I collected and analyzed my data and why I made the methodological choices I did. However, clients have occasionally tried to use what I like to call “methodological red herrings” to dispute less-than-positive findings. I once worked with a client who disagreed with my findings because they were not uniformly positive. She accused me of analyzing only the data that would show the negative aspects of her program. I was able to show the codebook I had developed and how I went about developing the thematic content of the report based on my data analysis, which she was not prepared for me to do. I was able to defend my analytic process and get the bigwigs in the room to understand that, while there were some aspects of the program that could be improved, there were also many positive things happening. The happy ending is that the program continued to be funded, in part because of my client’s efforts to discredit my methodological choices!

Lesson Learned: Include a detailed description of your qualitative inquiry process in evaluation reports. I include it as an appendix so it’s there for clients who really want to see it. It can take time to write a detailed account of your qualitative data collection and analysis processes, but it will be time well spent!

9780470447673.pdfRad Resource: More stories about being in the trenches of qualitative inquiry in evaluation, and using detailed descriptions of qualitative inquiry choices and processes, can be found in the final chapter of our new book, Qualitative Inquiry in Evaluation: From Theory to Practice (2014, Jossey-Bass).

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Qualitative Evaluation Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from evaluators who do qualitative evaluation. 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.

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