This chapter has been written strategically for those who are interested in, or involved with, the application of new technologies in the rail industry. It is intended as an introductory guide for those who are largely unfamiliar with qualitative research methods. Qualitative research is particularly suited to understanding human behaviour within the social, cultural and local context. Within this context, behaviours, attitudes, beliefs, etc. acquire particular cultural meaning which is reinforced and negotiated through social relations with other humans and non-humans (such as technology). Given that the success or failure of new technologies in the rail industry occurs within a cultural context and through social relations, qualitative research is particularly relevant and useful.
Despite the double entendre or double meaning of the title, I am not interested in developing an argument for qualitative methods over quantitative methods. Neither am I interested in prescribing a rigid or rule-bound formula for conducting qualitative research. Rather, I prefer to work from a flexible ‘horses for courses’ or ‘what works best when’ approach which is driven by aims and outcomes. To help people make informed choices about when qualitative research might be most appropriate, this chapter provides discussion and guidance on the topics of what qualitative research is, what its benefits are, when it should be used, how it can be used alone or in association with other methods and how it can be used to evaluate human factors issues of new technologies in the rail industry. From a practical perspective, I discuss how to conduct qualitative research, how to collect data, how to analyse it and how it can be presented.