Qualitative Data

Read about the importance of gathering qualitative data when researching people who have dementia.

‘Qualitative’ refers to data that is not numerical.

Examples: written or spoken word, videos, audio recordings and songs, poems, stories, drama, pictures, photographs, and many other art forms.

  • ‘In our design workshop, we asked groups to draw what they would like their Dementia Hub to look like, this identified features that hadn’t been discussed in earlier conversations.’ 
  • ‘One participant told us that as a younger person with dementia still in full-time employment, he felt that the service did not fully meet his needs because he could not meet the professional worker in the evenings. This has led us to tweak the service provision for people with dementia who work.’

Useful for: 

  • getting a richer picture than statistics can provide
  • picking up on nuances in individual experience (perceptions, attitudes, behaviours).
  • overcoming unconscious bias by giving people affected by dementia the opportunity to bring things to attention that would not otherwise be asked about or noticed. This may help to meet legal requirements across a wide range of areas including human rights, equality, health and safety.
  • making a business case for change
  • quality assurance
  • finding out how well plans are working in practice: do good intentions in strategy, policy and corporate values translate into rights-based and an inclusive culture in practice?

Gathered once, qualitative data can provide a "snapshot". Used repeatedly over a longer period, qualitative data can demonstrate impact and progress.

Strengths 

  • Information gathered is from the point of view of the target group(s), rather than the organisation.
  • Results go into valuable levels of detail.
  • Highlighting how and when experiences differ to the norm, and help you to identify why.
  • Identifying the needs of people with different characteristics.
  • You can see themes in experience emerging from even a relatively small sample of responses.

Weaknesses

  • It’s not so easy to present ‘at a glance’, though creative and visual methods can help to do this. See our 'Unobtrusive methods' section for more about this.
  • It's not about numbers of people: and depending on how views are gathered, it may be difficult to quantify how many respondents hold one view or another. Be aware that people living with dementia may respond differently when carers are present.
  • Beware of only recruiting a convenient sample or the same people all the time. If you don't reach out more widely, you limit the chances of learning how experiences compare across people with different characteristics.
Myth: Qualitative data is not objective - and that's why we shouldn't use it
  • Qualitative data is subjective.The person collecting the data ('the researcher') is collecting interpreting it subjectively. Those are accepted characteristics of qualitative research.
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