Audience Dialogue

Glossary of qualitative research

Action research
A multi-stage type of research, in which a problem is researched, changes are made, the problem is researched again, more changes are made, and so on through a number of cycles, until the problem is solved.

Affinity group
A type of focus group in which respondents already know one another.

Appreciative Inquiry
A large-group method, often used at times of organizational change, to discover the most valuable aspects of the organization's past that should be carried forward into its future.

Brainstorming
A not very successful method for generating ideas, in which a small group of people come up with ideas as fast as they can. Participants may build on each others' ideas, but not criticize them. Nominal groups work better. See also enabling techniques.

Case study
A type of qualitative research which studies one or a few cases(people or organizations) in great detail.

Charrette
A workshop, often lasting several days, which involves a community in its urban planning process. Similar to a clinic or a search conference.

Clinic
A type of research, usually done at a central location, where a product is displayed and respondents asked to use it and react to it. See also charrette.

Coding
Labelling a piece of text or a statement, to make sense of it by summarizing it. Depending on the research question, one piece of text can be coded in various different ways. See also coding for surveys, which uses the same principle on a smaller scale.

Co-discovery conference
A method of qualitative research (developed by Dennis List, founder of Audience Dialogue) in which audience and producers discover each other's needs and use this knowledge to plan new programs. Based on the search conference and consensus group, with some contributions from Open Space Technology and Future Search, as well as Appreciative Inquiry.

Consensus group
A type of group discussion, similar to a focus group, in which participants try to form a consensus on an issue. In contrast to surveys, which seek differences between people, this technique (originated and developed by our founder Dennis List) seeks similarities.

Deliberative poll
A method of obtaining informed polling data, developed by US political scientist James Fishkin. A group of randomly selected citizens meet, discuss an issue for some time, then vote on the issues. Not dissimilar from a search conference or citizen jury.

Depth interview
A type of qualitative research, which involves long, probing interviews without the use of a formal questionnaire. Sometimes called simply a depth: e.g. "As well as the survey we'll do 20 depths." (Doesn't that sound shallow?) Also known as in-depth interviews. Can be semi-structured or unstructured interviews.

Dialogue techniques
Similar to audience response cultivation, but with a more qualitative emphasis. A systematic way of improving and making use of customer feedback. often involving a panel.

Enabling techniques
A set of methods, most often used in focus groups, which help people produce ideas and give their opinions indirectly. See also brainstorming.

Envisioning
A set of qualitative techniques used for helping organizations or communities clarify their visions of desirable futures. Often called "visioning" - which gives a misleading (passive) connotation.

Ethnography
A type of qualitative research which treats a group of people as an anthropologist would an unknown tribe, with detailed descriptions of how they live.

Facilitation
Helping a group of people come to conclusions, done by a facilitator. In group discussions, this role is called a moderator.

Fishbowl
When you need a small-group discussion and the group is too large, put about 6 chairs in the centre of the room, and ask for volunteers to discuss a subject - often a controversial one. Everybody else stands around and watches, but when the speakers in the fishbowl have had their say, they vacate the chair, to be replaced by one of the onlookers.

Focus group
A common type of group discussion, in which a moderator encourages a small group of people (usually 8 to 10) to gradually focus on a topic.

Future Search
A variant form of the search conference, involving a much wider range of stakeholders, and more participants.

Grounded theory
An approach to qualitative research where the researchers try to approach a problem with no preconceptions, and to build their theories solely from the data gathered.

Group discussion
A generic type of qualitative research in which a small group of people provide information by discussing a topic. See consensus group, focus group, nominal group, search conference, co-discovery conference.

Hermeneutics
This used to refer to a method of Biblical criticism: interpreting the whole of a text in the context of its parts, and vice versa. Now also applied to qualitative research, when analysing transcripts of interviews and group discussions.

Interview guide
A list of topics to be covered in an interview. Similar to a questionnaire, but much less structured, and without multiple-response questions. Used mainly in semi-structured interviews and and group discussions.

Moderator
The researcher who leads a focus group. See also facilitation.

Nominal group
A type of group discussion in which participants work independently (on paper) at first, then present an idea at a time to each other. Sometimes called NGT.

Open-ended
A type of question (also known as an open question) where it is left up to the respondent to volunteer an answer.

Open Space Technology
A method for large-group meetings, one of the forerunners of the co-discovery conference.

Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)
A qualitative method for involving communities (specially rural ones in developing countries) in their own futures. Not so much a single technique, as an approach to research. Sometimes called Participatory Learning and Action or PLA, but as it needn't be rural or involve appraisal, a better expression is "Participation, Reflection, Action". A shorter version is RRA.

Projective techniques
Psychological techniques often used in focus groups, where participants are asked to make imaginative comparisons, e.g. "If this product was a film star, who would it be?" Often used to assess brand images. Qualitative
Research in which questions are open-ended, and results are expressed in non-numerical terms. Contrasts with quantitative research. Often shortened to qual.

Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA)
A simpler version of Participatory Rural Appraisal, with less participation by the population involved. Usually qualitative, but sometimes not wholly.

Recruiter
An agency which recruits people, e.g. for focus group discussions. See screener.

Screener
A screening questionnaire, as used by recruiters to determine who is eligible to attend a group discussion. There are also screener questions, asked early in a questionnaire to weed out those not eligible to answer the remaining questions.

Search conference
A qualitative research technique where a large group of people meets to thrash out an issue. Often used in community planning. One variant is known as Future Search, and another as a Co-discovery conference.

Semi-structured interview
An interview (usually by a highly skilled interviewer) that doesn't use a fixed questionnaire, just a list of topics to cover. Much the same as a
depth interview. See also unstructured interview.

Sticky dots
A method of voting, used in group situations such as consensus groups and codiscovery conferences. It uses the "sticky dots" or round sticky labels, about 10 mm diameter in various colours. (Red ones are used in art exhibitions, to show when a work has been sold.) Participants are each given a fixed number of sticky dots, and use them to vote for statements on posters by putting a dot next to the statements they most agree with. This process is sometimes called dotmocracy.

Unstructured interview
An interview done without using a questionnaire, or even a semi-structured list of topics. Normally used when respondents are asked to describe an important or recent event in their life.

Visioning
An ugly and slightly misleading word, though widely used. See envisioning.

ZMET
The Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique. An elaborate way of discovering people's feelings about a concept or issue, by producing a picture of their mental assocations.