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1 Introduction to the manual

Over the past few years there has been a growing interest in the value of qualitative social research in the South. While there is a welcome recognition of the potential inherent in rigorous and good quality qualitative approaches to research, the know-how pertaining to the why and how has not been as widely disseminated as it could be. This manual is a small contribution to redress this imbalance and to aid greater collaboration amongst qualitative researchers. It provides a wide range of materials that might be of use in intensive training programmes, encouraging a critical engagement with key issues as well as the development of basic research skills.

The manual is an outcome of a research partnership (RECOUP) involving institutions of the South and the North. Our partnership not only demanded a range of research skills, both quantitative and qualitative in nature, but it also brought together people from varied disciplines, where it became crucial to foster a shared understanding, not only of how to do research, but also around what we meant by research itself. This manual presents a snapshot of how we developed a programme that enabled all of us to engage in a useful dialogue (and indeed practice various skills) about qualitative research. It formed the backbone of workshops that were organised in India, Kenya, Ghana and Pakistan, and then again in India. What is presented here might seem straightforward: but the reality is far from this. Each workshop helped us evolve this manual in different ways and it has changed considerably from the original – we hope for the better. The spirit of dialogue, experimentation and a belief in the value of qualitative research that we developed during the process of refining the manual underpins our desire to share this work. We do not believe the process is over now that the manual is on the web: we hope everyone who reads and uses this material will tell us how it went, and engage with us and other users to adapt and improve it.

2 Who can use this manual?

This manual is designed to assist facilitators, with some level of experience of teaching and practice of qualitative research, to train others to conduct qualitative research, for example:

  • academicians in the Global South who may wish to train graduate students
  • researchers who would like to train people working in local NGOs, who are now more commonly becoming involved in research
  • people working in international organisations who may wish to train their staff members to undertake or commission qualitative research in Southern contexts.

The skills developed through this approach would be of benefit even for evaluation of programmes, a task commonly undertaken by many agencies.

Ideally, participants should already have some background knowledge of qualitative research. Some participants might have hands-on experience, but more may have a rudimentary knowledge of the theory of qualitative research, often without any practical experience. Facilitators might consider providing people in the former category with some basic readings as preparation for the workshop (though the manual is designed to be as user-friendly as possible for people with very little academic background in social research). In some places we have also assumed that participants may have had more experience, or have more understanding, of carrying out household surveys or analysing quantitative research projects: one of our underlying principles has been to find ways of helping such participants ‘unlearn’ techniques that are better suited to quantitative methods (such as following a questionnaire without deviation) than to qualitative methods.

It is, however, essential for the facilitator to have knowledge and experience of undertaking qualitative research: the more often that facilitators can refer to practical examples from their own experience, the better. It is also highly desirable for two or more people to act as facilitators: though one of the authors of this manual has led a workshop on his own, it was exhausting and not as good for the participants as those workshops in which two or three people shared the presentations and assisted with small group work and provided feedback.

3 Suggestions on how to use the manual

This manual can be used as it is to run a training programme, but we would encourage you not to use it as a “prescription”. We hope that you will adjust the manual (for example, by changing the number of days, or the suggested readings) to suit the needs of your particular situations. An important issue to flag here is that the manual should be used by the facilitator and NOT the participants. It is not designed to be a stand-alone text to be given to the participants for them to use on their own: we believe strongly that much of the benefit of using our approach comes from people learning together, and undertaking practical exercises and small-group work to reinforce the messages and help to develop the necessary skills.

Throughout the manual we are encouraging a very interactive and engaged learning style, driven by a focus on ‘learning by doing’. Many sessions involve brain-storming, or small-group work, and we recommend keeping the number of sessions involving a didactic, lecture style, to the minimum. But do experiment with alternative activity-based teaching methods if you are happier with them, if they suit your participants better, or you just think they will work better. In keeping with this approach, we have put in place a 7 day programme which involves a range of activities, including, for example, conducting practice interviews, a fieldwork observation exercise, and some hands-on experiences of coding. These activities range from working in a one-to-one scenario, conducting small group tasks, and working in a whole-group setting. Each session is prefaced with a list of things that will help you to run the session (for example: flip charts, audio recorders). We have also included a list of readings that will support you, and some readings which might be useful to share with the participants. Once again, if you’d rather use a computer and projector to record the responses of participants elicited by brainstorming, instead of a flip chart, blackboard or whiteboard, we would encourage you to try this out – it has sometimes worked for us.

As noted earlier, the activities involve a lot of engagement with the participants, and the facilitator’s role is to encourage discussions. The sessions which worked well for us are the ones when the participants got engaged and really spent time making sense of the activities, and we think time is necessary to let the issues sink in, so don’t try to rush things! In order to support some of this interaction we have, at various places, provided a list of responses generated at our various workshops, which can be useful supplements to your own discussions. These are not the only possible responses, and are provided to give you a sense of the range of likely ones – and to help you prepare for how to respond if similar responses come up in the sessions you run.

4 Open Educational Resources and Creative Commons

This is an `open access' work: an Open Educational Resource or Open CourseWare. We explicitly allow using and re-using the materials for non-commercial purposes, and if the materials are useful and are used, that will give us a great deal of pleasure.

As an open educational resource, the materials are licensed under a Creative Commons By-NC-SA license, allowing you to reuse the materials provided that you do not make commercial use and share any derived materials under the same license. The license also asks that you acknowledge this manual as the source (so that other people can easily find it) and let us know how you have developed the ideas. Please cite the original contributions on this source as ‘Singal, N., and Jeffery, R. (2008). Qualitative Research Skills Workshop: A Facilitator's Reference Manual,, Cambridge: RECOUP (Research Consortium on Educational Outcomes and Poverty)'.

(The license text is available on the Creative Commons site, and further details can be found on RECOUP:Copyrights.)

Moreover, beyond the text of the manual, this wiki itself is a community resource. We welcome and encourage contributions, comments, amendments, translations: This is your resource. Read the Community page to find out more.

5 Reading and downloading

Besides chosing a license that make the material accessible for reuse from a legal perspective, we have also taken great care to make sure that the materials can be used easily from a technical perspective. For reading, the materials are presented in a number of different ways.

For reading online, you have these options:

  • For full interactivity, you can of course also read the text on the present wiki.
  • Internet connectivity and low bandwidth are serious issues at many less resourced institutions, and if you find that that the html version is too slow to use, you can use this version instead. It has very small pages (conforming to low bandwidth accessibility guidelines), and you can turn images off. You can also access this version through the switch to plain text link, which will switch the whatever page you are reading to plain text.

You can also download the manual, in a number of ways:

  • While browsing the wiki, you can download individual pages as PDF, using the in-built 'Download as PDF' facility. Simply click the 'Download as PDF' link, that can be found in the 'toolbox' left-hand menu, to download the present page as PDF.
  • Likewise, you can download any individual page as Open Document Text (ODT), by using the 'Download as ODT' link also located in the 'toolbox'. To edit the ODT document, see Help:OpenOffice.
  • When browsing the wiki, you can of course also download the wiki text, using the edit (or view source) links for the manual pages or various sections.

However, you can also download the manual as a single pdf file from our downloads page, and you can order printed copies from a print-on-demand service. See downloads for further information.

Keeping local copies. If you wish to make the manual available to your students locally, for instance while running a course using these materials at your institution, but you are suffering from poor internet connectivity and low bandwidth, we can offer you an easy-to-install mirroring solution, that provides mirroring for your local area network. Please see Help:Access for further information.

We welcome your feedback on the usability of the manual. Please contact us with any feedback you may have on technical or other aspects. Information about access can be found on Help:Access.

6 Contributing

At first glance, the present manual is simple a web site: It can be read, and used, just like any other website. However, those familiar with wikis will already have noticed that the manual is presented as a wiki, using the same software (namely MediaWiki) as wikipedia.

This means that you can not only read this manual, but you can contribute to it. Anybody can create an account using the 'Log in / create account' link at the top right, and start contributing. To find out more about contributing, visit the Help:Contents page.

7 Hopes and fears

In putting together this manual we are aware of some assumptions that we need to reflect upon:

  • We believe strongly in the value of qualitative research, but we consider that “quality qualitative research” is imperative. We do not believe that these sessions, by themselves, will be sufficient to shape good qualitative researchers. Rather, we hope to support some initial steps towards participants considering, learning and engaging with the processes that are essential for good qualitative research. The skills being developed in courses run with the help of this manual require further practice, reflection and updating.
  • Despite hosting this manual on the internet, we are not assuming that the only people who will find this useful and are likely to be interested will have access to the internet. We would encourage you to share these materials with other colleagues who might find them useful. As mentioned above, printable versions of the material are available from this website. We strive to find the most accessible ways of sharing this information and any thoughts from you on how best to do this will be very welcome.
  • In no way do we think that we have covered all the important issues in qualitative research. We are fully aware of the fact that we have engaged with only some of the central skills and a whole world of research methods and other issues still remain unaddressed. So we cannot stress strongly enough how much we would welcome feedback on any points which you feel “should” be included in any basic course engaging with qualitative research -- and session plans, handouts, PowerPoints and so on to help make these suggestions a reality. We would also welcome information on how the manual worked for you – the changes that you made or did not make; how easy or complicated the handouts were; any essential readings that would be useful to share with others. And if you decide eventually not to use the materials for some reason, do let us know: all feedback will be incredibly valuable. Hosting it on the web as an Open Educational Resource will hopefully make this task much simpler, and we hope to develop a community of qualitative research practice that will be much more stimulating, rewarding and interactive than is possible through the use of other media.

As a final note, we repeat: we see this manual as a starting point, not a final product. We know we have not addressed many key philosophical issues that many people (ourselves included) believe should be thoroughly discussed before a researcher goes into the field: but such discussions can be found elsewhere and we do not want to replicate these excellent resources. We believe that training courses based on this manual have the ability to lay strong foundations for people to go on to become good qualitative researchers, even though the manual addresses only a limited range of issues. We hope that you will be inspired to use it, and with your ingenuity adapt and improve it.

Nidhi Singal, University of Cambridge

Roger Jeffery, University of Edinburgh

Cc-by-nc-sa-narrow.png Singal, N., and Jeffery, R. (2008). Qualitative Research Skills Workshop: A Facilitator's Reference Manual,, Cambridge: RECOUP (Research Consortium on Educational Outcomes and Poverty, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. (original page)