QUAL Eval Week: Michael Quinn Patton on Practical Qualitative Analysis

My name is Michael Quinn Patton. I train evaluators in qualitative evaluation methods and analysis. Qualitative interviews, open-ended survey questions, and social media entries can yield massive amounts of raw data. Course participants ask: “How can qualitative data be analyzed quickly, efficiently, and credibly to provide timely feedback to stakeholders? How do every day program evaluators engaged in ongoing monitoring handle analyzing lots of qualitative responses?”

Hot Tip: Focus on priority evaluation questions. Don’t think of qualitative analysis as including every single response. Many responses aren’t relevant to priority evaluation questions. Like email you delete immediately, skip irrelevant responses.

Hot Tip: Group participants’ responses together that answer the same evaluation question even if the responses come from different items in the interview or survey. Evaluation isn’t item by item analysis for the sake of analysis. It’s analysis to provide answers to important evaluation questions. Analyze and report accordingly.

Hot Tip: Judge substantive significance. Qualitative analysis has no statistical significance test equivalent. You, the evaluation analyst, must determine what is substantively significant. That’s your job. Make judgments about merit, worth, and significance of qualitative responses. Own your judgments.

Hot Tip: Keep qualitative analysis first and foremost qualitative. Ironically, the adjectives “most,” “many,” “some,” or “a few” can be more accurate than a precise number. It’s common to have responses that could be included or omitted, thus changing the number. Don’t add a quote to a category just to increase the number. Add it because it fits. When I code 12 of 20 saying something, I’m confident reporting that “many” said that. Could have been 10, or could have been 14, depending on the coding. But it definitely was many.

Cool trick: Watch for interoccular findings — the comments, feedback, and recommendations that hit us between the eyes. The “how many said that” question can distract from prioritizing substantive significance. One particularly insightful response may prove more valuable than lots of general comments. If 2 of 15 participants said they were dropping out because of sexual harassment, that’s “only” 13%. But any sexual harassment is unacceptable. The program has a problem.

Lesson Learned: Avoid laundry list reporting. Substantive significance is not about how many bulleted items you report. It’s about the quality, substantive significance, and utility of findings,

Lesson Learned: Practice analysis with colleagues. Like anything, you can up your game with practice and feedback, increasing speed, quality, and confidence.

Qual research & eval 9780470447673.pdf






Rad Resources:

  • Goodyear, L., Jewiss, J., Usinger, J., & Barela, E. (Eds.), Qualitative inquiry in evaluation: From theory to practice.Jossey-Bass.
  • Patton, M.Q. (2015) Qualitative Research and Evaluation methods, 4thSage Publications.

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.

1 thought on “QUAL Eval Week: Michael Quinn Patton on Practical Qualitative Analysis”

  1. Connie Price-Johnson

    I had an Aha! moment when I read Hot Tip 3:”Judge substantive significance.” I have been thinking about data visualization, data art, and truth lately. I realized that data viz is on the quantitative side of a continuum, and data art is on the qualitative side. Listen carefully, but if all your sources don’t agree, draw conclusions. Art can be a means to convey the truth of a matter while still recognizing its complexity. Does this make sense to anyone else?

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