Qualitative research: producing understandings and insights rather than ‘findings’

I’ve been feeling a bit frustrated lately because of the number of times people have asked us what are the findings of our Brexit Brits abroad project.
We have produced podcasts, government reports, policy reports, academic papers, accessible reports, infographics, and even an animation. We comment on Twitter, Facebook, and communicate regularly and personally with our participants. We’ve presented at academic seminars, at policy roundtables, and we have a very dynamic website.
Those asking this question usually know this, or can find it out by looking at the website.
Similarly, when I teach qualitative research, I am often asked the best way to produce valid findings. I am starting to think that people have different understandings of this word findings.
So, let’s clarify.
The goal of qualitative research is to understand people’s actions and behaviours in the context of the ways in which they perceive and experience the world. We often begin by examining their desires, meanings and motivations. For some , the goal is to go further and to critically analyse these understandings with reference to wider structures of power and control.
The outcome of qualitative research would thus be better understood in terms of insights, understandings, and critical analyses. This is the shape our findings take.
I think the word findings is better suited to research that is more problem focused, research that is looking for a simply-understood and linear explanation of cause, effect, and solutions.
This is not to suggest that qualitative research cannot provide understandings of causes, effects and solutions. Instead I argue that the relationship between factors and outcomes in social life is complex and ultimately unpredictable. Nevertheless, the closer we get to understanding humans and their actions, in the context of the choices that are available to them, the closer we can get to suggesting interventions that might actually work in practice.

4 thoughts on “Qualitative research: producing understandings and insights rather than ‘findings’

  1. Hallelujah. This is valuable: research that helps us think differently (and rigorously, of course) about the world around us is surely just as valid as research that purports to uncover causality?

    • Thanks for your thoughts. The more I think about it, the more I realise findings or data are about (supposedly) unadulterated facts and are therefore a positivist’s goal, not an interpretivist one

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