Charities are overlooking the importance of using qualitative research to gauge the views of beneficiaries, staff and other stakeholders, according to a new report from the think tank New Philanthropy Capital.
The report, Listen and Learn: How Charities can use Qualitative Research, says deep insights are possible through good qualitative work, "which should challenge leaders, help them see things differently and raise questions that can take organisations in new directions – all without too much investment".
It says: "The key to quality in qualitative research is careful sampling, rigorous analysis and researchers who follow ethical practices.
"None of this is beyond the reach of even the smallest of charities. A better understanding of what makes good qualitative research can help charities make their research efforts go further."
The report adds that charities should consider conducting qualitative research in-house, with external support at key stages, more often than they currently do.
The research, design and sampling approach and the analysis approach stages are where external expertise is most needed, the report says.
The report also highlights how good qualitative research can help to inform strategy and guide service design, develop and refine programmes, improve understanding of a programme’s results and aid considerartion of the implications for an organisation.
Rosie McLeod, senior consultant at NPC and one of the report’s authors, said: "Charities talk a lot about the importance of ‘beneficiary voice’, but these voices are too seldom captured meaningfully by researchers.
"Beneficiaries feature pretty heavily in fundraising and communications work, but this can be quite superficial – often little more than selective anecdotes. Charities should focus just as hard on collecting and analysing qualitative data to make the charity better.
"If charities have robust numbers to work with, and complement this with qualitative data, they have a lot of what they need to plan ahead."