The Value of Qualitative Research – Understanding and Expression

by Jennifer Smith RN Australia.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a research study. I had completed a survey and was then asked if I would like to participate in an interview as part of a qualitative study on self-care. The research was about exploring the topic of self-care in nurses who work in palliative care and whether this may relate to compassion for self and compassion for others.

I love participating and supporting other nurses, especially when it comes to research, so I jumped at the chance.

The qualitative approach to research, is less about figures and results and more about the experiences and themes of the participants, with a view to establishing a broader understanding of what a group of people’s experiences are on a particular subject. The numbers of participants in qualitative research are often much smaller than with quantitative research and whilst this allows for a richer, in-depth analysis to be performed, there are some factions in science that do not value this and who consider quantitative research superior. Both are valid ways of performing research and are suited to address different research questions and fields of study.

The questions asked were quite broad about how I self-care, how it affects how I am at work, the strategies I use, the things that get in the way of me self-caring and whether or not I had a ‘self-care plan’ and whether a plan is beneficial (this is something that is talked about a lot in palliative care circles). The questions were open so I could really discuss and explore how self-care supports me both personally and most definitely professionally.

What surprised me about being a participant was how profound the experience of being interviewed was.

It really felt like I was having a conversation with an old friend. Even though there were set questions, the flow of our conversation was a very natural one, where each question asked supported me to express more deeply, so that the researcher truly understood what was being said.

He would often repeat back things that I had said in his own words, to make sure he understood what I had said, thus expanding on what I had expressed, to which I was then able to add further depth.

I also got a real sense of his genuineness and care in exploring this topic by how open his questions were. He really wanted to get a thorough understanding from the interview and receive as much of my experiences as possible.

What was to be a 45 minute interview, turned into 90 minutes. We were both enjoying the conversation and connection so much. Who would have thought that being a research subject could be such fun!

What felt so exquisite about my involvement was that through being deeply heard and understood, I could feel the value in my own expression and that what I had to express was immensely important, not because it was better that anyone else’s, but because it was my expression and I am a part of the whole expression of nursing.

I could also feel that the researcher’s part was equally important, supporting me (and no doubt all of the other participants) along the way with dedication, dotting his I’s and crossing his T’s. His willingness to understand and confirm me and what I was sharing was deeply healing.

Reflecting on my own self-care in this way, with another was a powerful experience. As I spoke I was appreciating the level of changes that I had made in my own life, through self-care and how it had brought so much to my life. And it’s the super simple things like going to bed when my body is ready at the end of the day, often before 9pm; treating myself gently, giving myself plenty of time to organise myself for my day without having to rush or hurry. Basically everything came down to listening to what my body was communicating. The other powerful thing about this is what self-care has brought to my work and the patients and families in my care. I genuinely enjoy my work, more so than ever and I know what I bring to patients and their families is a reflection of the care that I have shown myself.

This experience got me wondering about research and why this type of research is not highly valued by some in the scientific community. There are obvious concerns about bias, but is that really all that is at play here? There is potential for bias in all research, and the key is to be aware of the biases and declare them. Even with the most ‘objective’ research, the observations are made by people, who are capable of making mistakes and actively or subconsciously bringing bias to their findings. These same scientists can look with scorn on so-called ‘subjective’ research, in denial of the fact that all research has subjectivity at its heart.

Is there in reality any more bias with a relationship between people based on a true foundation of understanding and an intention to see the bigger picture? Is there potentially more bias when we see things from a limited and narrow view and therefore do not consider the whole picture? I feel there is.

Perhaps if we approached research from the healing opportunities (healing in the broadest meaning of the word), that are potentially available to both participants and researchers equally, rather than being driven for a result (whether it be finding a cure, getting a name or reputation or financial gain), research would be more meaningful to everyone in the community and may in fact lead us to developing a greater understanding of ourselves and each other.

And maybe if we were more open to the ‘subjective’ evidence of real people with real experiences, our research would deliver understandings that actually served us all.

 

Read more:

  1. How true service begins with caring for self 
  2. Self-care at work makes sense – why is it not common practice? 

 

611 thoughts on “The Value of Qualitative Research – Understanding and Expression

  1. Great sharing Jennifer. In my work we conduct a lot of research too and what is clear is looking at numbers abstractly means you miss so much of the substance and detail of what’s truly going on. It might look good in a table of stats but it misses out the human element which is truly crucial. The quantitive approach says a lot about how we are living in society today.

  2. Having read the final research result of the research I participated in, it’s interesting to reflect back on my own experience here. One thing that I can feel is how powerful our own stories and experiences are, especially when they have changed something significantly in our lives. The way research is structured at present does not reflect this. Pondering on the many hundreds if not thousands of blogs that have been written to share a personal experience or a pondering on something that impacts our lives, why are these not considered research? Because it doesn’t meet an accepted academic criteria? Why does that make something less than something else? This does not make sense to me. I am a person who works very intimately with people, I feel things, they feel things and sometimes we talk about what we are feeling and pondering on. This seems very worthwhile to write and expand on, not just for me, but for others who may be walking a similar path.

  3. ‘Basically everything came down to listening to what my body was communicating. The other powerful thing about this is what self-care has brought to my work and the patients and families in my care.’ I love this because we can not truly offer care to others unless we truly care for ourselves first.

  4. “Who would have thought that being a research subject could be such fun!” Sharing a way of living that is true care inspires others to equally have fun in sharing joy with others.

  5. “Maybe if we were more open to the ‘subjective’ evidence of real people with real experiences, our research would deliver understandings that actually served us all.” Every single human being carries within them the answers to all the questions we will ever have about life and indeed death so why not embrace that and look at ways of doing research that can brings that wisdom out of people.

  6. Listening to our bodies can offer us so much. When we do this – things are very simple. And it is simply a case of us surrendering to our bodies and how deeply they support us.

  7. What I can feel from this is how we might miss the real juice of things when we keep ourselves within a role we are assigned to and shut out the opportunity to connect with another on a foundational level, and how that is played out in any situation, any industry or even family.

  8. It is super important for us to be able to express and share our experiences and for this to be valued. Each and every one one of us has our owned lived experiences and these have just that same amount of value as the selected results in quantitative research. Every voice needs to be heard.

  9. Qualitative research is usually done to then be able to do quantitative research, i.e. to find a way to put the world into numbers. That can be an excellent idea but qualitative research can have a quality and benefit all of its own.

  10. “The numbers of participants in qualitative research are often much smaller than with quantitative research and whilst this allows for a richer, in-depth analysis to be performed, there are some factions in science that do not value this and who consider quantitative research superior.” –This is a great sister article to the video I just watched on improving our health – which fundamentally means not limiting or controlling the word evidence. Qualitative research therefore has its extremely valid place in guiding us back towards what is true for our bodies.

  11. “Is there in reality any more bias with a relationship between people based on a true foundation of understanding and an intention to see the bigger picture? Is there potentially more bias when we see things from a limited and narrow view and therefore do not consider the whole picture?” I agree that to reduce our understanding about why things happen reduces the outcomes and the understanding we can have about the cause and effects of the very things we are researching. I would love everything to fit into a box that is measurable by a number because numbers don’t lie! Yet people are complex beings who respond to stimuli in different ways, there are so many variables that, as far as I can see the only way to understand cause and effect is to deepen the conversations around why and look for patterns so we can all learn together. It may not be a quick fix but it will bring more responsibility to us and a truth that we are active agents and participants in our own healing and therefore the healing of others.

    1. Numbers are a great support but they are only a part of the truth and there is more than numbers. That is why we go to a doctor and not to a computer terminal when we are ill, most of the time anyway.

  12. Returning to the value of your expression is very beautiful to experience, and especially because this also adds to the value of each others expressions too.

  13. I confirm that when we feel our responsibility of that which we are to bring to the world we get to feel our self worth. It’s not from an arrogance from self of being better than another but the complete opposite in connection with the all and what is needed. The self is relinquished to an allowing, flow and order with an acceptance of an expression flowing through us coming from divinity for another or others.

  14. “And maybe if we were more open to the ‘subjective’ evidence of real people with real experiences, our research would deliver understandings that actually served us all.”

    This is where its at – forget the millions of pounds thrown into research when what our lived experience offers is absolutely priceless.

  15. How in reality can we study and research something by encompassing the whole and not viewing it from one perspective or another? Perhaps the day will come when we are able to evaluate the energetic vibration and understand life from its energetic cause.

  16. “Basically everything came down to listening to what my body was communicating.” – I love the simplicity this brings to how to know how to care for ourself and deepen the quality that we bring to all aspects of life.

  17. Research is a means that allows us to make sense of something. The truth is that when there is the intention of uncovering the bigger picture of something where we human beings have a say, in my opinion the leading way is qualitative research.

  18. I loved that this guy ‘the interviewer’ was genuine and actually cared and as I was reading could feel how much this interview was confirming to you in the care you have for yourself .. and then you claimed it for yourself here ‘His willingness to understand and confirm me and what I was sharing was deeply healing.’ It would be great to have more qualitative information/interviews like this. I would love to know what then happened with this information that was gathered .. did it bring about true change somewhere?

  19. Human life is all about learning and evolving – so the value of qualitative studies make absolute practical sense to me.

  20. “The numbers of participants in qualitative research are often much smaller than with quantitative research” – Imagine if the thousands of people who take part in some quantitative studies were given the opportunity to speak on camera, or share their experience through a testimonial with no character limit? Imagine what would be unveiled, exposed, shared and initiated from this…

  21. “I know what I bring to patients and their families is a reflection of the care that I have shown myself.”That is true responsibility right there.

  22. ‘The questions were open so I could really discuss and explore how self-care supports me both personally and most definitely professionally.’ Jennifer what I love about this research is that there is no restriction, because everybody’s experience is different yet it is all of equal value.

  23. Wow Jennifer, the researcher was truly blessed to have you as one of the participants. You could feel how your livingness contributed to the interview.

  24. I couldn’t agree more Jennifer, there is little true gain when people are considered only in numbers with the whole picture being largely ignored… and yet such depth of understanding can be obtained and developed when people work together to discuss their experiences and share learnings free from bias or intent.

  25. I agree, if all research was performed with this level of care and integrity then I think I may trust the results a lot more than I currently do. When things are gone about in a cold and clinical fashion, the result is usually just that, cold and clinical, certainly not rich and full. To get a whole picture on things, you have to have a wholeness within yourself that is open to receive, otherwise you only get a part of the picture.

  26. Thank you Jennifer for your sharing on Qualitative research. We need to trust in the truth being revealed.

  27. Qualitative research is an essential part of research and needs to be valid in the same way as any other research is.

  28. “Even with the most ‘objective’ research, the observations are made by people, who are capable of making mistakes and actively or subconsciously bringing bias to their findings. These same scientists can look with scorn on so-called ‘subjective’ research, in denial of the fact that all research has subjectivity at its heart.” Reading recently about the corruption that has occurred in some research undertaken I wonder if there is any true objectivity. From – as an example – the dairy industry funding research into osteoporosis – there is a conscious bias towards getting the results they want. Leaving out the undesirable results from drug trials etc and only publishing evidence that supports the desired pharmaceutical viewpoint is corruption as I see it.

  29. I read recently the words ‘a body of evidence’ and saw in this phrase something I hadn’t seen before. I couldn’t help but think that our ‘body’ is a ‘body’ of evidence when it comes to the ‘lived experience’. Our body knows the truth, which means we are more than capable of sharing our experiences as a valid form of qualitative evidence.

    1. Beautifully expressed Vicky. I hadn’t noticed this either!. “Our body knows the truth,” Thus our body should be our guide in all things. Experiential evidence is important – yet personal experience is dissed by academics, even if there are hundreds of people attesting to their unified experience in returning to true health. Why aren’t scientists wanting to find out more from these people – aka Universal Medicine students?

  30. “I am a part of the whole expression of nursing.”

    If each of us truly gave weight to the wisdom within these words then we would never muffle the voice through which we express all that is true to the world via that which we are proficient in. In this instance it is nursing but we could equally say “I am part of the whole expression of medicine, teaching, cleaning, parenting” etc.

  31. ‘ maybe if we were more open to the ‘subjective’ evidence of real people with real experiences, our research would deliver understandings that actually served us all.’ So true Jennifer, these experiences make up the whole picture.

  32. It is the experience that is lived that resonates so much more to each other as it’s a marker of the quality that is on offer for another to feel and then the free will to make choices that too can support change for them.

  33. I love qualitative research as you can get a feel for a person or group of people. I find statistics, although powerful in pointing out patterns, do not give me that human factor that is so engaging.

  34. This kind of recording can be done by many people and there are many who have interesting or even remarkable medical histories to record.

  35. Qualitative research gives permission for people to provide the evidence of what is and is not true based on their personal experience. If it is not biased, controlled or corrupted, this type of research can provide very powerful findings, that otherwise may not be able to be proved by current scientific testing.

    1. That is true and I feel we may already know that, we just don’t know how to measure it…

  36. It is an interesting point you raise Jennifer, when our intention is to truly understand bias can perhaps be reduced because a more inclusive and spherical in nature.

  37. More than the actual activities that we may do to self care is the importance of the quality we move and hold are selves in life. If we don’t react to life so much or absorb other’s emotions and situations, self care becomes so much easier.

  38. The way research is usually done is to extract information that helps the researcher to make the case about something. Conversations, if they happen to take place are almost always unidirectional. The ‘stock’ of knowledge/information the person being interviewed has is what it is. The key is to get it out. In this blog, we are presented with a different way to do research, one that engages the interviewed in such a way that it helps the person to go deeper with the topic and hence to be able to share more about the topic at hand with the rest of the world. This is the future!

  39. In some of my research into workplace health and wellbeing and complementary-to-medicine modalities many of the journal articles I came across were produced by, or involved, members of the nursing community. It seems that, in terms of the medical community overall, nurses are at the forefront of understanding the importance of self-care – perhaps they get to see the end results of a lack of self-care, and or feel it for themselves. Plus, it feels like they are far less hamstrung than say doctors when it comes to feeling free to have these kinds of conversations, to admit that self-care matters. That the study mentioned here is occurring is further evidence of this.

  40. I’m so with you on this Jennifer! As a qualitative researcher I too truly value this form of study. It’s rich, insightful and as you say has the potential to offer healing – to the participant, the researcher and ultimately to those who read it. It’s about people and their experiences. This is not to say quantitative research cannot offer the same opportunities, but I do very much appreciate the qualitative valuing of anecdotal rather than purely scientific evidence.

  41. Subjective evidence is indeed not to be discounted, and the challenge of many natural therapies and other healing methods is that we cannot do large trials on them. They have recently been looking at ‘high evidence’ trials for natural medicine with a N = 1 approach which is an interesting development. I don’t have a full understand yet of how this works, but apparently this can potentially support an evidence based approach for natural medicine that does not discount the data from individual cases.

    1. That does sound interesting. N refers to the number of subjects (participants) in a study, so N=1 indicates there is just one participant in a study – typically, quantitative research will aim for much, much larger numbers of participants wherever possible. So this indicates a case study approach as you say, which feels to be more in alignment with the depth offered by qualitative research. This would be a great step forward for research into modalities that are otherwise often dismissed by the medical community, and a great step away from the evidence-based model that dominates much of research.

  42. There has to be value in this type of qualitative research from what you shared Jennifer, because the level of detail you were clearly able to go into, your lived experience and resulting awareness of the topic in relation to real life, makes what you share in this way in so many ways more relevant than something statistical and broad. If I was to read something qualitative vs something quantitative as a lay person, interested in what the research means for me, I am likely to get far more from the former, than the latter.

  43. The approach to research suggested here: “ if we approached research from the healing opportunities, that are potentially available to both participants and researchers equally, rather than being driven for a result” is in fact the true way forward to deepening our wisdom and understanding. Anything less than this will have us go round and round the same grooves that we have already laid down, proving and confirming the thoughts and patterns we have already been running with.

  44. Probably not your intention but I now finally understand the difference between what qualitative and quantitative research is about – thanks Jen!

  45. Reflection – confirming how we made the choices self-care is deeply supportive. Often I know I have made choices that do support me but I have not taken the next step which is to deeply appreciate the choices and build an even deeper, stronger loving foundation.

  46. Learning requires us to be humble, stay open and observe what is unfolded in front of us. Yet these are often missing when we adopt a position of authority about the subject and attempt to control the process. In effect we end up selecting and limiting what we see. Unfortunately a lot of research and many areas of science have been trapped into such a reductionism. It is a delight to read this blog about how easily we could be playing it completely differently.

  47. It is such a beautiful experience to be truly heard and an interview such as this is never one sided. There is so much learning to be experienced when two people exchange on a heart level and the ripple effects flow on.

  48. How wonderful that you were “deeply heard and understood” by this man, that is all any of us want, but rarely get, in this fast paced world of ours. I can feel that the respect given to you allowed you to feel that you could open up and share all that you felt to share, with nothing held back. And I am sure that he also learned so much from the experience.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s