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Concept of Data Collection; Types of Data; Issues to be Considered for Data Collection; Methods of Primary Data Collection; Questionnaire Method; Interviews Method; Focus Group Discussion (FGD); Participatory Rural Appraisal/ Assessment (PRA); Rapid Rural Appraisal/ Assessment (RRA); Observation Method; Survey Method; Case Study Method; Diaries Method; Principal Component Analysis (PCA); Activity Sampling Technique; Memo Motion Study; Process Analysis; Link Analysis; Time and Motion Study; Experimental Method; Statistical Method; Methods of Secondary Data Collection; Methods of Legal Research.
Topics Covered
9.1 Concept of Data Collection
9.2 Types of Data
9.3 Issues to be Considered for Data Collection
9.4 Methods of Primary Data Collection
9.4.1 Questionnaire Method
9.4.2 Interviews Method
9.4.3 Focus Group Discussion (FGD)
9.4.4 Participatory Rural Appraisal/ Assessment (PRA)
9.4.5 Rapid Rural Appraisal/ Assessment (RRA)
9.4.6 Observation Method
9.4.7 Survey Method
9.4.8 Case Study Method
9.4.9 Diaries Method
Principal Component Analysis (PCA)
9.4.11 Activity Sampling Technique
Memo Motion Study
Process Analysis
Link Analysis
Time and Motion Study
Experimental Method
Statistical Method
9.5 Methods of Secondary Data Collection
9.6 Methods of Legal Research
Chapter - 9 Methods of Data Collection Page
Basic Guidelines for Research SMS Kabir
Data collection is the process of gathering and measuring information on variables of interest, in an
established systematic fashion that enables one to answer stated research questions, test
hypotheses, and evaluate outcomes. The data collection component of research is common to all
fields of study including physical and social sciences, humanities, business, etc. While methods vary
by discipline, the emphasis on ensuring accurate and honest collection remains the same. The goal
for all data collection is to capture quality evidence that then translates to rich data analysis and
allows the building of a convincing and credible answer to questions that have been posed. Regardless
of the field of study or preference for defining data (quantitative, qualitative), accurate data
collection is essential to maintaining the integrity of research. Both the selection of appropriate
data collection instruments (existing, modified, or newly developed) and clearly delineated
instructions for their correct use reduce the likelihood of errors occurring.
Data collection is one of the most important stages in conducting a research. You can have the best
research design in the world but if you cannot collect the required data you will be not be able to
complete your project. Data collection is a very demanding job which needs thorough planning, hard
work, patience, perseverance and more to be able to complete the task successfully. Data collection
starts with determining what kind of data required followed by the selection of a sample from a
certain population. After that, you need to use a certain instrument to collect the data from the
selected sample.
Data are organized into two broad categories: qualitative and quantitative.
Qualitative Data: Qualitative data are mostly non-numerical and usually descriptive or nominal in
nature. This means the data collected are in the form of words and sentences. Often (not always),
such data captures feelings, emotions, or subjective perceptions of something. Qualitative
approaches aim to address the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of a program and tend to use unstructured methods of
data collection to fully explore the topic. Qualitative questions are open-ended. Qualitative methods
include focus groups, group discussions and interviews. Qualitative approaches are good for further
exploring the effects and unintended consequences of a program. They are, however, expensive and
time consuming to implement. Additionally the findings cannot be generalized to participants outside
of the program and are only indicative of the group involved.
Qualitative data collection methods play an important role in impact evaluation by providing
information useful to understand the processes behind observed results and assess changes in
people’s perceptions of their well-being. Furthermore qualitative methods can be used to improve
the quality of survey-based quantitative evaluations by helping generate evaluation hypothesis;
strengthening the design of survey questionnaires and expanding or clarifying quantitative evaluation
findings. These methods are characterized by the following attributes -
they tend to be open-ended and have less structured protocols (i.e., researchers may change the
data collection strategy by adding, refining, or dropping techniques or informants);
they rely more heavily on interactive interviews; respondents may be interviewed several times
to follow up on a particular issue, clarify concepts or check the reliability of data;
they use triangulation to increase the credibility of their findings (i.e., researchers rely on
multiple data collection methods to check the authenticity of their results);
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generally their findings are not generalizable to any specific population, rather each case study
produces a single piece of evidence that can be used to seek general patterns among different
studies of the same issue.
Regardless of the kinds of data involved, data collection in a qualitative study takes a great deal of
time. The researcher needs to record any potentially useful data thoroughly, accurately, and
systematically, using field notes, sketches, audiotapes, photographs and other suitable means. The
data collection methods must observe the ethical principles of research. The qualitative methods
most commonly used in evaluation can be classified in three broad categories -
In-depth interview
Observation methods
Document review.
Quantitative Data: Quantitative data is numerical in nature and can be mathematically computed.
Quantitative data measure uses different scales, which can be classified as nominal scale, ordinal
scale, interval scale and ratio scale. Often (not always), such data includes measurements of
something. Quantitative approaches address the ‘what’ of the program. They use a systematic
standardized approach and employ methods such as surveys and ask questions. Quantitative
approaches have the advantage that they are cheaper to implement, are standardized so
comparisons can be easily made and the size of the effect can usually be measured. Quantitative
approaches however are limited in their capacity for the investigation and explanation of similarities
and unexpected differences. It is important to note that for peer-based programs quantitative data
collection approaches often prove to be difficult to implement for agencies as lack of necessary
resources to ensure rigorous implementation of surveys and frequently experienced low
participation and loss to follow up rates are commonly experienced factors.
The Quantitative data collection methods rely on random sampling and structured data collection
instruments that fit diverse experiences into predetermined response categories. They produce
results that are easy to summarize, compare, and generalize. If the intent is to generalize from the
research participants to a larger population, the researcher will employ probability sampling to
select participants. Typical quantitative data gathering strategies include -
Experiments/clinical trials.
Observing and recording well-defined events (e.g., counting the number of patients waiting in
emergency at specified times of the day).
Obtaining relevant data from management information systems.
Administering surveys with closed-ended questions (e.g., face-to face and telephone interviews,
questionnaires etc).
In quantitative research (survey research), interviews are more structured than in Qualitative
research. In a structured interview, the researcher asks a standard set of questions and
nothing more. Face -to -face interviews have a distinct advantage of enabling the researcher to
establish rapport with potential participants and therefore gain their cooperation.
Paper-pencil-questionnaires can be sent to a large number of people and saves the researcher
time and money. People are more truthful while responding to the questionnaires regarding
controversial issues in particular due to the fact that their responses are anonymous.
Mixed Methods: Mixed methods approach as design, combining both qualitative and quantitative
research data, techniques and methods within a single research framework. Mixed methods
approaches may mean a number of things, i.e. a number of different types of methods in a study or
at different points within a study or using a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods. Mixed
Chapter - 9 Methods of Data Collection Page
Basic Guidelines for Research SMS Kabir
methods encompass multifaceted approaches that combine to capitalize on strengths and reduce
weaknesses that stem from using a single research design. Using this approach to gather and
evaluate data may assist to increase the validity and reliability of the research. Some of the
common areas in which mixed-method approaches may be used include –
Initiating, designing, developing and expanding interventions;
Improving research design; and
Corroborating findings, data triangulation or convergence.
Some of the challenges of using a mixed methods approach include –
Delineating complementary qualitative and quantitative research questions;
Time-intensive data collection and analysis; and
Decisions regarding which research methods to combine.
Mixed methods are useful in highlighting complex research problems such as disparities in health
and can also be transformative in addressing issues for vulnerable or marginalized populations or
research which involves community participation. Using a mixed-methods approach is one way to
develop creative options to traditional or single design approaches to research and evaluation.
There are many ways of classifying data. A common classification is based upon who collected the
Data that has been collected from first-hand-experience is known as primary data. Primary data has
not been published yet and is more reliable, authentic and objective. Primary data has not been
changed or altered by human beings; therefore its validity is greater than secondary data.
Importance of Primary Data: In statistical surveys it is necessary to get information from primary
sources and work on primary data. For example, the statistical records of female population in a
country cannot be based on newspaper, magazine and other printed sources. A research can be
conducted without secondary data but a research based on only secondary data is least reliable and
may have biases because secondary data has already been manipulated by human beings. One of such
sources is old and secondly they contain limited information as well as they can be misleading and
Sources of Primary Data:
Sources for primary data are limited and at times it becomes difficult to
obtain data from primary source because of either scarcity of population or lack of cooperation.
Following are some of the sources of primary data.
Experiments require an artificial or natural setting in which to perform logical study
to collect data. Experiments are more suitable for medicine, psychological studies, nutrition and for
other scientific studies. In experiments the experimenter has to keep control over the influence of
any extraneous variable on the results.
Survey is most commonly used method in social sciences, management, marketing and
psychology to some extent. Surveys can be conducted in different methods.
It is the most commonly used method in survey. Questionnaires are a list of
questions either open-ended or close-ended for which the respondents give answers. Questionnaire
can be conducted via telephone, mail, live in a public area, or in an institute, through electronic mail
or through fax and other methods.
Interview is a face-to-face conversation with the respondent. In interview the main
problem arises when the respondent deliberately hides information otherwise it is an in depth
source of information. The interviewer can not only record the statements the interviewee speaks
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but he can observe the body language, expressions and other reactions to the questions too. This
enables the interviewer to draw conclusions easily.
Observation can be done while letting the observing person know that s/he is being
observed or without letting him know. Observations can also be made in natural settings as well as in
artificially created environment.
Advantages of Using Primary Data
The investigator collects data specific to the problem under study.
There is no doubt about the quality of the data collected (for the investigator).
If required, it may be possible to obtain additional data during the study period.
Disadvantages of Using Primary Data
1. The investigator has to contend with all the hassles of data collection-
deciding why, what, how, when to collect;
getting the data collected (personally or through others);
getting funding and dealing with funding agencies;
ethical considerations (consent, permissions, etc.).
2. Ensuring the data collected is of a high standard-
all desired data is obtained accurately, and in the format it is required in;
there is no fake/ cooked up data;
unnecessary/ useless data has not been included.
3. Cost of obtaining the data is often the major expense in studies.
Data collected from a source that has already been published in any form is called as secondary
data. The review of literature in any research is based on secondary data. It is collected by someone
else for some other purpose (but being utilized by the investigator for another purpose). For
examples, Census data being used to analyze the impact of education on career choice and earning.
Common sources of secondary data for social science include censuses, organizational records and
data collected through qualitative methodologies or qualitative research. Secondary data is
essential, since it is impossible to conduct a new survey that can adequately capture past change
and/or developments.
Sources of Secondary Data:
The following are some ways of collecting secondary data –
Published censuses or other statistical data
Data archives
Internet articles
Research articles by other researchers (journals)
Databases, etc.
Importance of Secondary Data:
Secondary data can be less valid but its importance is still there.
Sometimes it is difficult to obtain primary data; in these cases getting information from secondary
sources is easier and possible. Sometimes primary data does not exist in such situation one has to
confine the research on secondary data. Sometimes primary data is present but the respondents are
not willing to reveal it in such case too secondary data can suffice. For example, if the research is
on the psychology of transsexuals first it is difficult to find out transsexuals and second they may
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not be willing to give information you want for your research, so you can collect data from books or
other published sources.
A clear benefit of using secondary data is that much of the background
work needed has already been carried out. For example, literature reviews, case studies might have
been carried out, published texts and statistics could have been already used elsewhere, media
promotion and personal contacts have also been utilized.
This wealth of background work means that
secondary data generally have a pre-established degree of validity and reliability which need not be
re-examined by the researcher who is re-using such data.
Furthermore, secondary data can also be
helpful in the research design of subsequent primary research and can provide a baseline with which
the collected primary data results can be compared to. Therefore, it is always wise to begin any
research activity with a review of the secondary data.
Advantages of Using Secondary Data
No hassles of data collection.
It is less expensive.
The investigator is not personally responsible for the quality of data (‘I didn’t do it’).
Disadvantages of Using Secondary Data
The data collected by the third party may not be a reliable party so the reliability and accuracy
of data go down.
Data collected in one location may not be suitable for the other one due variable environmental
With the passage of time the data becomes obsolete and very old.
Secondary data collected can distort the results of the research. For using secondary data a
special care is required to amend or modify for use.
Secondary data can also raise issues of authenticity and copyright.
Keeping in view the advantages and disadvantages of sources of data requirement of the research
study and time factor, both sources of data i.e. primary and secondary data have been selected.
These are used in combination to give proper coverage to the topic.
There are several reasons why it is important to adhere to ethical norms in research. First, norms
promote the aims of research, such as knowledge, truth, and avoidance of error. For example,
prohibitions against fabricating, falsifying, or misrepresenting research data promote the truth and
avoid error. Second, since research often involves a great deal of cooperation and coordination
among many different people in different disciplines and institutions, ethical standards promote the
values that are essential to collaborative work, such as trust, accountability, mutual respect, and
fairness. For example, many ethical norms in research, such as guidelines for authorship, copyright
and patenting policies, data sharing policies, and confidentiality rules in peer review, are designed to
protect intellectual property interests while encouraging collaboration. Most researchers want to
receive credit for their contributions and do not want to have their ideas stolen or disclosed
prematurely. Third, many of the ethical norms help to ensure that researchers can be held
accountable to the public. Fourth, ethical norms in research also help to build public support for
research. People more likely to fund research project if they can trust the quality and integrity of
research. Finally, many of the norms of research promote a variety of other important moral and
social values, such as social responsibility, human rights, animal welfare, compliance with the law, and
health and safety. Ethical lapses in research can significantly harm human and animal subjects,
students, and the public. For example, a researcher who fabricates data in a clinical trial may harm
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or even kill patients, and a researcher who fails to abide by regulations and guidelines relating to
radiation or biological safety may jeopardize his health and safety or the health and safety of staff
and students.
Given the importance of ethics for the conduct of research, it should come as no surprise that many
different professional associations, government agencies, and universities have adopted specific
codes, rules, and policies relating to research ethics. The following is a rough and general summary
of some ethical principles that various codes address -
Honesty: Strive for honesty in all scientific communications. Honestly report data, results, methods
and procedures, and publication status. Do not fabricate, falsify, or misrepresent data. Do not
deceive colleagues, granting agencies, or the public.
Objectivity: Strive to avoid bias in experimental design, data analysis, data interpretation, peer
review, personnel decisions, grant writing, expert testimony, and other aspects of research where
objectivity is expected or required. Avoid or minimize bias or self-deception. Disclose personal or
financial interests that may affect research.
Integrity: Keep your promises and agreements; act with sincerity; strive for consistency of thought
and action.
Carefulness: Avoid careless errors and negligence; carefully and critically examine your own work
and the work of your peers. Keep good records of research activities, such as data collection,
research design, and correspondence with agencies or journals.
Openness: Share data, results, ideas, tools, resources. Be open to criticism and new ideas.
Respect for Intellectual Property: Honor patents, copyrights, and other forms of intellectual
property. Do not use unpublished data, methods, or results without permission. Give credit where
credit is due. Give proper acknowledgement or credit for all contributions to research. Never
Confidentiality: Protect confidential communications, such as papers or grants submitted for
publication, personnel records, trade or military secrets, and patient records.
Responsible Publication: Publish in order to advance research and scholarship, not to advance just
your own career. Avoid wasteful and duplicative publication.
Responsible Mentoring: Help to educate, mentor, and advise students. Promote their welfare and
allow them to make their own decisions.
Respect for Colleagues: Respect your colleagues and treat them fairly.
Social Responsibility: Strive to promote social good and prevent or mitigate social harms through
research, public education, and advocacy.
Non-Discrimination: Avoid discrimination against colleagues or students on the basis of sex, race,
ethnicity, or other factors that are not related to their scientific competence and integrity.
Competence: Maintain and improve your own professional competence and expertise through lifelong
education and learning; take steps to promote competence in science as a whole.
Legality: Know and obey relevant laws and institutional and governmental policies.
Animal Care: Show proper respect and care for animals when using them in research. Do not conduct
unnecessary or poorly designed animal experiments.
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Human Subjects Protection: When conducting research on human subjects, minimize harms and risks
and maximize benefits; respect human dignity, privacy, and autonomy; take special precautions with
vulnerable populations; and strive to distribute the benefits and burdens of research fairly.
Training in research ethics should be able to help researchers grapple with ethical dilemmas by
introducing researchers to important concepts, tools, principles, and methods that can be useful in
resolving these dilemmas. In fact, the issues have become so important for training in research.
In primary data collection, you collect the data yourself using qualitative and quantitative methods.
The key point here is that the data you collect is unique to you and your research and, until you
publish, no one else has access to it. There are many methods of collecting primary data.
The main methods include –
Focus Group Interviews
Activity Sampling Technique
Memo Motion Study
Process Analysis
Link Analysis
Time and Motion Study
Experimental Method
Statistical Method etc.
A questionnaire is a research instrument consisting of a series of questions and other prompts for
the purpose of gathering information from respondents. Although they are often designed for
statistical analysis of the responses, this is not always the case. The questionnaire was invented by
Sir Francis Galton (1822 - 1911). Questionnaires have advantages over some other types of surveys
in that they are cheap, do not require as much effort from the questioner as verbal or telephone
surveys, and often have standardized answers that make it simple to compile data. As a type of
survey, questionnaires also have many of the same problems relating to question construction and
wording that exist in other types of opinion polls.
Types: A distinction can be made between questionnaires with questions that measure separate
variables, and questionnaires with questions that are aggregated into either a scale or index.
Questionnaires within the former category are commonly part of surveys, whereas questionnaires in
the latter category are commonly part of tests. Questionnaires with questions that measure
separate variables, could for instance include questions on –
preferences (e.g. political party)
behaviors (e.g. food consumption)
facts (e.g. gender).
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Questionnaires with questions that are aggregated into either a scale or index, include for instance
questions that measure -
latent traits (e.g. personality traits such as extroversion)
attitudes (e.g. towards immigration)
an index (e.g. Social Economic Status).
Question Types: Usually, a questionnaire consists of a number of questions that the respondent has
to answer in a set format. A distinction is made between open-ended and closed-ended questions. An
open-ended question asks the respondent to formulate his/her own answer, whereas a closed-ended
question has the respondent pick an answer from a given number of options. The response options
for a closed-ended question should be exhaustive and mutually exclusive. Four types of response
scales for closed-ended questions are distinguished –
Dichotomous, where the respondent has two options.
Nominal-polytomous, where the respondent has more than two unordered options.
Ordinal-polytomous, where the respondent has more than two ordered options.
Continuous (Bounded), where the respondent is presented with a continuous scale.
A respondent’s answer to an open-ended question is coded into a response scale afterwards. An
example of an open-ended question is a question where the testee has to complete a sentence
(sentence completion item).
Question Sequence: In general, questions should flow logically from one to the next. To achieve the
best response rates, questions should flow from the least sensitive to the most sensitive, from the
factual and behavioral to the attitudinal, and from the more general to the more specific. There
typically is a flow that should be followed when constructing a questionnaire in regards to the order
that the questions are asked. The order is as follows -
Changing Formula
Screens are used as a screening method to find out early whether or not someone should complete
the questionnaire. Warm-ups are simple to answer, help capture interest in the survey, and may not
even pertain to research objectives. Transition questions are used to make different areas flow well
together. Skips include questions similar to ‘If yes, then answer question 3. If no, then continue to
question 5’. Difficult questions are towards the end because the respondent is in ‘response mode’.
Also, when completing an online questionnaire, the progress bars lets the respondent know that they
are almost done so they are more willing to answer more difficult questions. Classification or
demographic question should be at the end because typically they can feel like personal questions
which will make respondents uncomfortable and not willing to finish survey.
Basic Rules for Questionnaire Item Construction: The basic rules are -
Use statements which are interpreted in the same way by members of different subpopulations
of the population of interest.
Use statements where persons that have different opinions or traits will give different answers.
Think of having an ‘open’ answer category after a list of possible answers.
Use only one aspect of the construct you are interested in per item.
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Use positive statements and avoid negatives or double negatives.
Do not make assumptions about the respondent.
Use clear and comprehensible wording, easily understandable for all educational levels.
Use correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.
Avoid items that contain more than one question per item (e.g. Do you like strawberries and
Question should not be biased or even leading the participant towards an answer.
Questionnaire Administration Modes: Main modes of questionnaire administration are -
Face-to-face questionnaire administration, where an interviewer presents the items orally.
Paper-and-pencil questionnaire administration, where the items are presented on paper.
Computerized questionnaire administration, where the items are presented on the computer.
Adaptive computerized questionnaire administration, where a selection of items is presented on
the computer, and based on the answers on those items, the computer selects following items
optimized for the testee’s estimated ability or trait.
Concerns with Questionnaires: It is important to consider the order in which questions are
presented. Sensitive questions, such as questions about income, drug use, or sexual activity, should
be put at the end of the survey. This allows the researcher to establish trust before asking
questions that might embarrass respondents. Researchers also recommend putting routine questions,
such as age, gender, and marital status, at the end of the questionnaire. Double-barreled questions,
which ask two questions in one, should never be used in a survey. An example of a double barreled
question is, please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statement - ‘I feel
good about my work on the job, and I get along well with others at work’. This question is
problematic because survey respondents are asked to give one response for two questions.
Researchers should avoid using emotionally loaded or biased words and phrases.
Advantages of Questionnaires: The advantages of questionnaires are -
Large amounts of information can be collected from a large number of people in a short period
of time and in a relatively cost effective way.
Can be carried out by the researcher or by any number of people with limited affect to its
validity and reliability.
The results of the questionnaires can usually be quickly and easily quantified by either a
researcher or through the use of a software package.
Can be analyzed more scientifically and objectively than other forms of research.
When data has been quantified, it can be used to compare and contrast other research and may
be used to measure change.
Positivists believe that quantitative data can be used to create new theories and / or test
existing hypotheses.
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Disadvantages of Questionnaires: The disadvantages of questionnaires are -
To be inadequate to understand some forms of information - i.e. changes of emotions, behavior,
feelings etc.
Phenomenologists state that quantitative research is simply an artificial creation by the
researcher, as it is asking only a limited amount of information without explanation.
There is no way to tell how truthful a respondent is being.
There is no way of telling how much thought a respondent has put in.
The respondent may be forgetful or not thinking within the full context of the situation.
People may read differently into each question and therefore reply based on their own
interpretation of the question - i.e. what is ‘good’ to someone may be ‘poor’ to someone else,
therefore there is a level of subjectivity that is not acknowledged.
Questionnaires are not among the most prominent methods in qualitative research, because they
commonly require subjects to respond to a stimulus, and thus they are not acting naturally. However,
they have their uses, especially as a means of collecting information from a wider sample than can be
reached by personal interview. Though the information is necessarily more limited, it can still be
very useful. For example, where certain clearly defined facts or opinions have been identified by
more qualitative methods, a questionnaire can explore how generally these apply, if that is a matter
of interest.
Interviewing involves asking questions and getting answers from participants in a study. Interviewing
has a variety of forms including: individual, face-to-face interviews and face-to-face group
interviewing. The asking and answering of questions can be mediated by the telephone or other
electronic devices (e.g. computers). Interviews can be –
A. Structured,
B. Semi-structure or
C. Unstructured.
Face to face interviews
are advantageous since detailed questions can be asked; further probing can be done to provide rich
data; literacy requirements of participants is not an issue; non verbal data can be collected through observation; complex
and unknown issues can be explored; response rates are usually higher than for self-administered questionnaires.
Disadvantages of face to face interviews include: they can be expensive and time consuming; training of interviewers is
necessary to reduce interviewer bias and are administered in a standardized why they are prone to interviewer bias and
interpreter bias (if interpreters are used); sensitive issues maybe challenging.
Telephone interviews
yield just as accurate data as face to face interviews. Telephone interviews are advantageous as they:
are cheaper and faster than face to face interviews to conduct; use less resources than face to face interviews; allow to
clarify questions; do not require literacy skills. Disadvantages of telephone interviews include: having to make repeated calls
as calls may not be answered the first time; potential bias if call backs are not made so bias is towards those who are at
home; only suitable for short surveys; only accessible to the population with a telephone; not appropriate for exploring
sensitive issues.
Structured Interviews
Characteristics of the Structured Interview
The interviewer asks each respondent the same series of questions.
The questions are created prior to the interview, and often have a limited set of response
There is generally little room for variation in responses and there are few open-ended questions
included in the interview guide.
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Questioning is standardized and the ordering and phrasing of the questions are kept consistent
from interview to interview.
The interviewer plays a neutral role and acts casual and friendly, but does not insert his or her
opinion in the interview.
Self-administered questionnaires are a type of structured interview.
When to Use a Structured Interview:
Development of a structured interview guide or questionnaire
requires a clear topical focus and well-developed understanding of the topic at hand. A well-
developed understanding of a topic allows researchers to create a highly structured interview guide
or questionnaire that provides respondents with relevant, meaningful and appropriate response
categories to choose from for each question. Structured interviews are, therefore, best used when
the literature in a topical area is highly developed or following the use of observational and other
less structured interviewing approaches that provide the researcher with adequate understanding
of a topic to construct meaningful and relevant close-ended questions.
Recording Interviews:
There are a range of ways to collect and record structured interview data.
Data collections methods include, but are not limited to - paper-based and self-report (mail, face-
to-face); telephone interviews where the interviewer fills in participants’ responses; web-based and
Structured interviews can be conducted efficiently by interviewers trained only to follow
the instructions on the interview guide or questionnaire. Structured interviews do not require the
development of rapport between interviewer and interviewee, and they can produce consistent data
that can be compared across a number of respondents.
Semi-structured Interviews
Characteristics of Semi-structured Interviews
The interviewer and respondents engage in a formal interview.
The interviewer develops and uses an ‘interview guide’. This is a list of questions and topics that
need to be covered during the conversation, usually in a particular order.
The interviewer follows the guide, but is able to follow topical trajectories in the conversation
that may stray from the guide when s/he feels this is appropriate.
When to Use Semi-structured Interviews:
Semi-structured interviewing, according to Bernard
(1988), is best used when you won’t get more than one chance to interview someone and when you will
be sending several interviewers out into the field to collect data. The semi-structured interview
guide provides a clear set of instructions for interviewers and can provide reliable, comparable
qualitative data. Semi-structured interviews are often preceded by observation, informal and
unstructured interviewing in order to allow the researchers to develop a keen understanding of the
topic of interest necessary for developing relevant and meaningful semi-structured questions. The
inclusion of open-ended questions and training of interviewers to follow relevant topics that may
stray from the interview guide does, however, still provide the opportunity for identifying new ways
of seeing and understanding the topic at hand.
Recording Semi-Structured Interviews:
Typically, the interviewer has a paper-based interview guide
that s/he follows. Since semi-structured interviews often contain open-ended questions and
discussions may diverge from the interview guide, it is generally best to tape-record interviews and
later transcript these tapes for analysis. While it is possible to try to jot notes to capture
respondents’ answers, it is difficult to focus on conducting an interview and jotting notes. This
approach will result in poor notes and also detract for the development of rapport between
interviewer and interviewee. Development of rapport and dialogue is essential in unstructured
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interviews. If tape-recording an interview is out of the question, consider having a note-taker
present during the interview.
Many researchers like to use semi-structured interviews because questions can be
prepared ahead of time. This allows the interviewer to be prepared and appear competent during the
interview. Semi-structured interviews also allow informants the freedom to express their views in
their own terms. Semi-structure interviews can provide reliable, comparable qualitative data.
Unstructured Interviews
Characteristics of Unstructured Interviews
The interviewer and respondents engage in a formal interview in that they have a scheduled time
to sit and speak with each other and both parties recognize this to be an interview.
The interviewer has a clear plan in mind regarding the focus and goal of the interview. This
guides the discussion.
There is not a structured interview guide. Instead, the interviewer builds rapport with
respondents, getting respondents to open-up and express themselves in their own way.
Questions tend to be open-ended and express little control over informants’ responses.
Ethnographic, in depth interviews are unstructured. Fontana and Frey (1994) identify three
types of in depth, ethnographic unstructured interviews oral history, creative interviews and
postmodern interviews.
When to Use Unstructured Interviews:
Unstructured interviewing is recommended when the
researcher has developed enough of an understanding of a setting and his/her topic of interest to
have a clear agenda for the discussion with the informant, but still remains open to having his/her
understanding of the area of inquiry open to revision by respondents. Because these interviews are
not highly structured and because the researcher’s understanding is still evolving, it is helpful to
anticipate the need to speak with informants on multiple occasions.
Recording Unstructured Interviews:
Since unstructured interviews often contain open-ended
questions and discussions may develop in unanticipated directions, it is generally best to tape-record
interviews and later transcript these tapes for analysis. This allows the interviewer to focus on
interacting with the participant and follow the discussion.
While it is possible to try to jot notes to
capture respondents’ answers, it is difficult to focus on conducting an interview and jotting notes.
This approach will result in poor notes and also detract from the development of rapport between
interviewer and interviewee. Development of rapport and dialogue is essential in unstructured
If tape-recording an interview is out of the question, consider having a note-taker
present during the interview.
Unstructured interviews are an extremely useful method for developing an understanding
of an as-of-yet not fully understood or appreciated culture, experience, or setting. Unstructured
interviews allow researchers to focus the respondents’ talk on a particular topic of interest, and
may allow researchers the opportunity to test out his/her preliminary understanding, while still
allowing for ample opportunity for new ways of seeing and understanding to develop. Unstructured
interviews can be an important preliminary step toward the development of more structured
interview guides or surveys.
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Informal Interviewing
Characteristics of Informal interviewing
The interviewer talks with people in the field informally, without use of a structured interview
guide of any kind.
The researcher tries to remember his/her conversations with informants, and uses jottings or
brief notes taken in the field to help in the recall and writing of notes from experiences in the
Informal interviewing goes hand-in-hand with participant observation.
While in the field as an observer, informal interviews are casual conversations one might have
with the people the researcher is observing.
When to Use Informal Interviews:
Informal interviewing is typically done as part of the process of
observing a social setting of interest. These may be best used in the early stages of the
development of an area of inquiry, where there is little literature describing the setting,
experience, culture or issue of interest. The researcher engages in fieldwork - observation and
informal interviewing - to develop an understanding of the setting and to build rapport. Informal
interviewing may also be used to uncover new topics of interest that may have been overlooked by
previous research.
Recording Informal Interviews:
Since informal interviews occur 'on the fly,' it is difficult to tape-
record this type of interview. Additionally, it is likely that informal interviews will occur during the
process of observing a setting.
The researcher should participate in the conversation. As soon as
possible, s/he should make jottings or notes of the conversation. These jottings should be developed
into a more complete account of the informal interview. This type of account would tend to be
included in the researcher's field notes. Developing field notes soon after an informal interview is
recommended. Even with good field jottings the details of an informal interview are quickly lost
from memory.
Interviews can be done informally, and ‘on the fly’ and, therefore, do not require
scheduling time with respondents. In fact, respondents may just see this as ‘conversation’. Informal
interviews may, therefore, foster 'low pressure' interactions and allow respondents to speak more
freely and openly. Informal interviewing can be helpful in building rapport with respondents and in
gaining their trust as well as their understanding of a topic, situation, setting, etc. Informal
interviews, like unstructured interviews, are an essential part of gaining an understanding of a
setting and its members' ways of seeing. It can provide the foundation for developing and
conducting more structured interviews.
Interviewing, when considered as a method for conducting qualitative research, is a technique used
to understand the experiences of others. Characteristics of qualitative research interviews –
Interviews are completed by the interviewer based on what the interviewee says.
Interviews are a far more personal form of research than questionnaires.
In the personal interview, the interviewer works directly with the interviewee.
Unlike with mail surveys, the interviewer has the opportunity to probe or ask follow up questions.
Interviews are generally easier for the interviewee, especially if what is sought are opinions
and/or impressions.
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Types of Interviews
Informal, Conversational interview:
No predetermined questions are asked, in order to remain as
open and adaptable as possible to the interviewee’s nature and priorities; during the interview the
interviewer ‘goes with the flow’.
General interview guide approach:
Intended to ensure that the same general areas of information
are collected from each interviewee; this provides more focus than the conversational approach, but
still allows a degree of freedom and adaptability in getting the information from the interviewee.
Standardized, open-ended interview:
The same open-ended questions are asked to all interviewees;
this approach facilitates faster interviews that can be more easily analyzed and compared.
Closed, fixed-response interview:
All interviewees are asked the same questions and asked to choose
answers from among the same set of alternatives. This format is useful for those not practiced in
interviewing. This type of interview is also referred to as structured.
Interviewer’s judgments:
According to Hackman and Oldman several factors can bias an
interviewer’s judgment about a job applicant. However these factors can be reduced or minimized by
training interviews to recognized them. Some examples are -
Prior Information:
Interviewers generally have some prior information about job candidates, such as
recruiter evaluations, application blanks, online screening results, or the results of psychological
tests. This can cause the interviewer to have a favorable or unfavorable attitude toward an
applicant before meeting them.
The Contrast Effect:
How the interviewers evaluate a particular applicant may depend on their
standards of comparison, that is, the characteristics of the applicants they interviewed previously.
Iterviewers’ Prejudices:
This can be done when the interviewers’ judgment is their personal likes and
dislikes. These may include but are not limited to racial and ethnic background, applicants who
display certain qualities or traits and refuse to consider their abilities or characteristics.
Preparation and Process of Conducting Interviews
Interviews are among the most challenging and rewarding forms of measurement. They require a
personal sensitivity and adaptability as well as the ability to stay within the bounds of the designed
protocol. The followings describe the preparation need to do for an interview study and then the
process of conducting the interview itself.
Role of the Interviewer:
The interviewer is really the ‘jack-of-all-trades’ in survey research. The
interviewer’s role is complex and multifaceted. It includes the following tasks –
Locate and enlist cooperation of respondents: The interviewer has to find the respondent. In door-
to-door surveys, this means being able to locate specific addresses. Often, the interviewer has to
work at the least desirable times (like immediately after dinner or on weekends) because that’s
when respondents are most readily available.
Motivate respondents to do good job: If the interviewer does not take the work seriously, why
would the respondent? The interviewer has to be motivated and has to be able to communicate that
motivation to the respondent. Often, this means that the interviewer has to be convinced of the
importance of the research.
Clarify any confusion/concerns: Interviewers have to be able to think on their feet. Respondents
may raise objections or concerns that were not anticipated. The interviewer has to be able to
respond candidly and informatively.
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Observe quality of responses: Whether the interview is personal or over the phone, the interviewer
is in the best position to judge the quality of the information that is being received. Even a verbatim
transcript will not adequately convey how seriously the respondent took the task, or any gestures or
body language that were evident.
Conduct a good interview: Last, and certainly not least, the interviewer has to conduct a good
interview! Every interview has a life of its own. Some respondents are motivated and attentive,
others are distracted or disinterested. The interviewer also has good or bad days. Assuring a
consistently high-quality interview is a challenge that requires constant effort.
Training the Interviewers:
Here are some of the major topics that should be included in interviewer
training –
Describe the entire study: Interviewers need to know more than simply how to conduct the
interview itself. They should learn about the background for the study, previous work that has been
done, and why the study is important.
State who is sponsor of research: Interviewers need to know who they are working for. They and
their respondents have a right to know not just what agency or company is conducting the research,
but also, who is paying for the research.
Teach enough about survey research: While you seldom have the time to teach a full course on
survey research methods, the interviewers need to know enough that they respect the survey
method and are motivated. Sometimes it may not be apparent why a question or set of questions was
asked in a particular way. The interviewers will need to understand the rationale for how the
instrument was constructed.
Explain the sampling logic and process: Naive interviewers may not understand why sampling is so
important. They may wonder why you go through all the difficulties of selecting the sample so
carefully. You will have to explain that sampling is the basis for the conclusions that will be reached
and for the degree to which your study will be useful.
Explain interviewer bias: Interviewers need to know the many ways that they can inadvertently bias
the results. And, they need to understand why it is important that they not bias the study. This is
especially a problem when you are investigating political or moral issues on which people have
strongly held convictions. While the interviewer may think they are doing good for society by
slanting results in favor of what they believe, they need to recognize that doing so could jeopardize
the entire study in the eyes of others.
‘Walk through’ the Interview:
When you first introduce the interview, it’s a good idea to walk
through the entire protocol so the interviewers can get an idea of the various parts or phases and
how they interrelate.
Explain respondent selection procedures, including –
Reading maps: It’s astonishing how many adults don’t know how to follow directions on a map. In
personal interviews, the interviewer may need to locate respondents who are spread over a wide
geographic area. And, they often have to navigate by night (respondents tend to be most available in
evening hours) in neighborhoods they’re not familiar with. Teaching basic map reading skills and
confirming that the interviewers can follow maps is essential.
Identifying households: In many studies it is impossible in advance to say whether every sample
household meets the sampling requirements for the study. In your study, you may want to interview
only people who live in single family homes. It may be impossible to distinguish townhouses and
apartment buildings in your sampling frame. The interviewer must know how to identify the
appropriate target household.
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Identify respondents: Just as with households, many studies require respondents who meet specific
criteria. For instance, your study may require that you speak with a male head-of-household between
the ages of 30 and 40 who has children under 18 living in the same household. It may be impossible
to obtain statistics in advance to target such respondents. The interviewer may have to ask a series
of filtering questions before determining whether the respondent meets the sampling needs.
Rehearse interview: You should probably have several rehearsal sessions with the interviewer team.
You might even videotape rehearsal interviews to discuss how the trainees responded in difficult
situations. The interviewers should be very familiar with the entire interview before ever facing a
Explain supervision: In most interview studies, the interviewers will work under the direction of a
supervisor. In some contexts, the supervisor may be a faculty advisor; in others, they may be the
‘boss’. In order to assure the quality of the responses, the supervisor may have to observe a
subsample of interviews, listen in on phone interviews, or conduct follow-up assessments of
interviews with the respondents. This can be very threatening to the interviewers. You need to
develop an atmosphere where everyone on the research team - interviewers and supervisors - feel
like they're working together towards a common end.
Explain scheduling: The interviewers have to understand the demands being made on their schedules
and why these are important to the study. In some studies it will be imperative to conduct the
entire set of interviews within a certain time period. In most studies, it's important to have the
interviewers available when it's convenient for the respondents, not necessarily the interviewer.
Interviewer’s Kit:
It’s important that interviewers have all of the materials they need to do a
professional job. Usually, you will want to assemble an interviewer kit that can be easily carried and
includes all of the important materials such as –
a ‘professional-looking’ notebook (this might even have the logo of the company or organization
conducting the interviews);
sufficient copies of the survey instrument;
official identification (preferable a picture ID);
a cover letter from the Principal Investigator or Sponsor; and
a phone number the respondent can call to verify the interviewer’s authenticity.
So all the preparation is complete, the training done, the interviewers ready to proceed, their ‘kits’
in hand. It’s finally time to do an actual interview. Each interview is unique, like a small work of art
(and sometimes the art may not be very good). Each interview has its own ebb and flow - its own
pace. To the outsider, an interview looks like a fairly standard, simple, prosaic effort. But to the
interviewer, it can be filled with special nuances and interpretations that aren’t often immediately
apparent. Every interview includes some common components. There’s the opening, where the
interviewer gains entry and establishes the rapport and tone for what follows. There’s the middle
game, the heart of the process, that consists of the protocol of questions and the improvisations of
the probe. And finally, there's the endgame, the wrap-up, where the interviewer and respondent
establish a sense of closure. Whether it’s a two-minute phone interview or a personal interview that
spans hours, the interview is a bit of theater, a mini-drama that involves real lives in real time.
Opening Remarks:
In many ways, the interviewer has the same initial problem that a salesperson has.
You have to get the respondent's attention initially for a long enough period that you can sell them
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on the idea of participating in the study. Many of the remarks here assume an interview that is
being conducted at a respondent's residence. But the analogies to other interview contexts should
be straightforward.
Gaining entry:
The first thing the interviewer must do is gain entry. Several factors can enhance the
prospects. Probably the most important factor is your initial appearance. The interviewer needs to
dress professionally and in a manner that will be comfortable to the respondent. In some contexts a
business suit and briefcase may be appropriate. In others, it may intimidate. The way the
interviewer appears initially to the respondent has to communicate some simple messages - that
you're trustworthy, honest, and non-threatening. Cultivating a manner of professional confidence,
the sense that the respondent has nothing to worry about because you know what you’re doing - is a
difficult skill to teach and an indispensable skill for achieving initial entry.
Doorstep technique:
You’re standing on the doorstep and someone has opened the door, even if only
halfway. You need to smile. You need to be brief. State why you are there and suggest what you
would like the respondent to do. Don’t ask suggest what you want. Instead of saying ‘May I come in
to do an interview?’, you might try a more imperative approach like ‘I’d like to take a few minutes of
your time to interview you for a very important study’.
If you’ve gotten this far without having the door slammed in your face, chances are
you will be able to get an interview. Without waiting for the respondent to ask questions, you should
move to introducing yourself. You should have this part of the process memorized so you can deliver
the essential information in 20-30 seconds at most. State your name and the name of the
organization you represent. Show your identification badge and the letter that introduces you. You
want to have as legitimate an appearance as possible. If you have a three-ring binder or clipboard
with the logo of your organization, you should have it out and visible. You should assume that the
respondent will be interested in participating in your important study - assume that you will be doing
an interview here.
Explaining the study:
At this point, you’ve been invited to come in. Or, the respondent has continued
to listen long enough that you need to move onto explaining the study. There are three rules to this
critical explanation - (1) Keep it short; (2) Keep it short; and (3) Keep it short! The respondent
doesn't have to or want to know all of the neat nuances of this study, how it came about, how you
convinced your thesis committee to buy into it, and so on. You should have a one or two sentence
description of the study memorized. No big words. No jargon. No detail. There will be more than
enough time for that later (and you should bring some written materials you can leave at the end for
that purpose). This is the ‘25 words or less’ description. What you should spend some time on is
assuring the respondent that you are interviewing them confidentially, and that their participation is
Asking the Questions:
You’ve gotten in. The respondent has asked you to sit down and make yourself
comfortable. It may be that the respondent was in the middle of doing something when you arrived
and you may need to allow them a few minutes to finish the phone call or send the kids off to do
homework. Now, you’re ready to begin the interview itself.
Use questionnaire carefully, but informally:
The questionnaire is your friend. It was developed with a
lot of care and thoughtfulness. While you have to be ready to adapt to the needs of the setting,
your first instinct should always be to trust the instrument that was designed. But you also need to
establish a rapport with the respondent. If you have your face in the instrument and you read the
questions, you'll appear unprofessional and disinterested. Even though you may be nervous, you need
to recognize that your respondent is most likely even more nervous. If you memorize the first few
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questions, you can refer to the instrument only occasionally, using eye contact and a confident
manner to set the tone for the interview and help the respondent get comfortable.
Ask questions exactly as written:
Sometimes an interviewer will think that they could improve on the
tone of a question by altering a few words to make it simpler or more ‘friendly’ don’t. You should
ask the questions as they are on the instrument. If you had a problem with a question, the time to
raise it was during the training and rehearsals, not during the actual interview. It is important that
the interview be as standardized as possible across respondents (this is true except in certain types
of exploratory or interpretivist research where the explicit goal is to avoid any standardizing). You
may think the change you made was inconsequential when, in fact, it may change the entire meaning
of the question or response.
Follow the order given:
Once you know an interview well, you may see a respondent bring up a topic
that you know will come up later in the interview. You may be tempted to jump to that section of the
interview while you're on the topic don’t. You are more likely to lose your place. You may omit
questions that build a foundation for later questions.
Ask every question:
Sometimes you’ll be tempted to omit a question because you thought you already
heard what the respondent will say. Don't assume that. If you hadn’t asked the question, you would
never have discovered the detail.
Obtaining Adequate Responses - The Probe:
OK, you’ve asked a question. The respondent gives a
brief, cursory answer. How do you elicit a more thoughtful, thorough response? You probe.
Silent probe:
The most effective way to encourage someone to elaborate is to do nothing at all -
just pause and wait. This is referred to as the ‘silent’ probe. It works (at least in certain cultures)
because the respondent is uncomfortable with pauses or silence. It suggests to the respondent that
you are waiting, listening for what they will say next.
Overt encouragement:
At times, you can encourage the respondent directly. Try to do so in a way
that does not imply approval or disapproval of what they said (that could bias their subsequent
results). Overt encouragement could be as simple as saying ‘Uh-huh’ or ‘OK’ after the respondent
completes a thought.
You can encourage more information by asking for elaboration. For instance, it is
appropriate to ask questions like ‘Would you like to elaborate on that?’ or ‘Is there anything else you
would like to add?’
Ask for clarification:
Sometimes, you can elicit greater detail by asking the respondent to clarify
something that was said earlier. You might say, ‘A minute ago you were talking about the experience
you had in high school. Could you tell me more about that?’
This is the old psychotherapist trick. You say something without really saying anything
new. For instance, the respondent just described a traumatic experience they had in childhood. You
might say ‘What I’m hearing you say is that you found that experience very traumatic’. Then, you
should pause. The respondent is likely to say something like ‘Well, yes, and it affected the rest of
my family as well. In fact, my younger sister...’
Recording the Response:
Although we have the capability to record a respondent in audio and/or
video, most interview methodologists don’t think it’s a good idea. Respondents are often
uncomfortable when they know their remarks will be recorded word-for-word. They may strain to
only say things in a socially acceptable way. Although you would get a more detailed and accurate
record, it is likely to be distorted by the very process of obtaining it. This may be more of a
problem in some situations than in others. It is increasingly common to be told that your
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conversation may be recorded during a phone interview. And most focus group methodologies use
unobtrusive recording equipment to capture what’s being said. But, in general, personal interviews
are still best when recorded by the interviewer using pen and paper.
Record responses immediately:
The interviewer should record responses as they are being stated.
This conveys the idea that you are interested enough in what the respondent is saying to write it
down. You don’t have to write down every single word you’re not taking stenography. But you may
want to record certain key phrases or quotes verbatim. You need to develop a system for
distinguishing what the respondent says verbatim from what you are characterizing.
Include all probes:
You need to indicate every single probe that you use. Develop a shorthand for
different standard probes. Use a clear form for writing them in (e.g., place probes in the left
Use abbreviations where possible:
Abbreviations will help you to capture more of the discussion.
Develop a standardized system (e.g., R=respondent; DK=don’t know). If you create an abbreviation on
the fly, have a way of indicating its origin. For instance, if you decide to abbreviate Spouse with an
‘S’, you might make a notation in the right margin saying ‘S=Spouse’.
Concluding the Interview:
When you've gone through the entire interview, you need to bring the
interview to closure. Some important things to remember -
Thank the respondent - Don’t forget to do this. Even if the respondent was troublesome or
uninformative, it is important for you to be polite and thank them for their time.
Tell them when you expect to send results - You owe it to your respondent to show them what you
learned. Now, they may not want your entire 300-page dissertation. It’s common practice to prepare
a short, readable, jargon-free summary of interviews that you can send to the respondents.
Don’t be brusque or hasty - Allow for a few minutes of winding down conversation. The respondent
may want to know a little bit about you or how much you like doing this kind of work. They may be
interested in how the results will be used. Use these kinds of interests as a way to wrap up the
conversation. As you’re putting away your materials and packing up to go, engage the respondent. You
don’t want the respondent to feel as though you completed the interview and then rushed out on
them - they may wonder what they said that was wrong. On the other hand, you have to be careful
here. Some respondents may want to keep on talking long after the interview is over. You have to
find a way to politely cut off the conversation and make your exit.
Immediately after leaving write down any notes about how the interview went -
Sometimes you will
have observations about the interview that you didn’t want to write down while you were with the
respondent. You may have noticed them get upset at a question, or you may have detected hostility
in a response. Immediately after the interview you should go over your notes and make any other
comments and observations - but be sure to distinguish these from the notes made during the
interview (you might use a different color pen, for instance).
Strengths and Weaknesses
Possibly the greatest advantage of interviewing is the depth of detail from the interviewee.
Interviewing participants can paint a picture of what happened in a specific event, tell us their
perspective of such event, as well as give other social cues. Social cues, such as voice, intonation,
body language etc. of the interviewee can give the interviewer a lot of extra information that can be
added to the verbal answer of the interviewee on a question. This level of detailed description,
whether it be verbal or nonverbal, can show an otherwise hidden interrelatedness between emotions,
people, objects unlike many quantitative methods of research. In addition, interviewing has a unique
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advantage in its specific form. Researchers can tailor the questions they ask to the respondent in
order to get rich, full stories and the information they need for their project. They can make it
clear to the respondent when they need more examples or explanations. Not only can researchers
also learn about specific events, they can also gain insight into people’s interior experiences,
specifically how people perceive and how they interpreted their perceptions. How events affected
their thoughts and feelings. In this, researchers can understand the process of an event instead of
what just happened and how they reacted to it.
Interviewing is not a perfect method for all types of research. It does have its disadvantages. First,
there can be complications with the planning of the interview. Not only is recruiting people for
interviews hard, due to the typically personal nature of the interview, planning where to meet them
and when can be difficult. Participants can cancel or change the meeting place at the last minute.
During the actual interview, a possible weakness is missing some information. This can arise from the
immense multitasking that the interviewer must do. Not only do they have to make the respondent
feel very comfortable, they have to keep as much eye contact as possible, write down as much as
they can, and think of follow up questions. After the interview, the process of coding begins and
with this comes its own set of disadvantages. Second, coding can be extremely time consuming. This
process typically requires multiple people, which can also become expensive. Third, the nature of
qualitative research itself, doesn’t lend itself very well to quantitative analysis. Some researchers
report more missing data in interview research than survey research, therefore it can be difficult
to compare populations.
A focus group discussion (FGD) is an in-depth field method that brings together a small
homogeneous group (usually six to twelve persons) to discuss topics on a study agenda. The purpose
of this discussion is to use the social dynamics of the group, with the help of a moderator/
facilitator, to stimulate participants to reveal underlying opinions, attitudes, and reasons for their
behavior. In short, a well facilitated group can be helpful in finding out the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of human
Focus group discussions are a data collection method. Data is collected through a semi-structured
group interview process. Focus groups are generally used to collect data on a specific topic. Focus
group methods emerged in the 1940s with the work of Merton and Fiske who used focus groups to
conduct consumer satisfaction. The discussion is conducted in a relaxed atmosphere to enable
participants to express themselves without any personal inhibitions. Participants usually share a
common characteristic such as age, sex, or socio-economic status that defines them as a member of
a target subgroup. This encourages a group to speak more freely about the subject without fear of
being judged by others thought to be superior. The discussion is led by a trained
moderator/facilitator (preferably experienced), assisted by an observer who takes notes and
arranges any tape recording. The moderator uses a prepared guide to ask very general questions of
the group. Usually more than one group session is needed to assure good coverage of responses to a
set of topics. Each session usually lasts between one and two hours but ideally 60 to 90 minutes.
The aim of the focus group is to make use of participants’ feelings, perceptions and opinions. This
method requires the researcher to use a range of skills - group skills; facilitating; moderating;
listening/observing; analysis. Focus groups or group discussions are useful to further explore a
topic, providing a broader understanding of why the target group may behave or think in a particular
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way, and assist in determining the reason for attitudes and beliefs. They are conducted with a small
sample of the target group and are used to stimulate discussion and gain greater insights.
The design of focus group research will vary based on the research question being studied. Below,
highlight some general principles to consider -
Standardization of questions - focus groups can vary in the extent to which they follow a
structured protocol or permit discussion to emerge.
Number of focus groups conducted - or sampling will depend on the ‘segmentation’ or different
stratifications (e.g. age, sex, socioeconomic status, health status) that the researcher identifies
as important to the research topic.
Number of participants per group - the rule of thumb has been 6-10 homogeneous strangers, but
as Morgan (1996) points out there may be reasons to have smaller or slightly larger groups.
Level of moderator involvement - can vary from high to low degree of control exercised during
focus groups (e.g. extent to which structured questions are asked and group dynamics are
actively managed).
Focus group interviews typically have the characteristics -
Identify the target market (people who possess certain characteristics).
Provide a short introduction and background on the issue to be discussed.
Have focus group members write their responses to the issue(s).
Facilitate group discussion.
Recommended size of the sample group is 6 - 10 people as smaller groups may limit the potential
on the amount of information collected, and more may make it difficult for all participants to
participate and interact and for the interviewer to be able to make sense of the information
Several focus groups should be used in order to get a more objective and macro view of the
investigation, i.e. focusing on one group may give you idiosyncratic results. The use of several
groups will add to the breadth and depth of information. A minimum of three focus groups is
recommended for best practice approaches.
Members of the focus group should have something in common which is important to the
Groups can either be put together or existing groups - it is always useful to be mindful of the
group dynamics of both situations.
Provide a summary of the focus group issues at the end of the meeting.
The purpose of an FGD is to obtain in-depth information on concepts, perceptions, and ideas of the
group. An FGD aims to be more than a question-answer interaction. In combination with other
methods, focus groups might be used to -
explore new research areas;
explore a topic that is difficult to observe (not easy to gain access);
explore a topic that does not lend itself to observational techniques (e.g. attitudes and decision-
explore sensitive topics;
collect a concentrated set of observations in a short time span;
ascertain perspectives and experiences from people on a topic, particularly when these are
people who might otherwise be marginalized;
gather preliminary data;
aid in the development of surveys and interview guides;
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clarify research findings from another method;
explore the range of opinions/views on a topic of interest;
collect a wide variety of local terms and expressions used to describe a disease (e.g., diarrhea)
or an act (e.g., defecation);
explore meanings of survey findings that cannot be explained statistically.
Steps in Focus Group Discussions (FGD)
The steps in using FGDs to study a problem are summarized below. The extent to which these steps
must be followed varies, however, depending on the training and experience of those involved in the
data collection.
STEP 1: Plan the entire FGD
What activities need to be planned?
Is there the need for a resource person.
Role of resource person in training field staff.
STEP 2: Decide what types of groups are needed
Method of sampling (selection criteria)
Composition of groups
Number of groups
Group size
Contacting and informing participants.
STEP 3: Select moderator and field team
Field staff requirements
Other staff.
STEP 4: Develop moderator’s guide and format for recording responses
Structure and sequence of topics
Wording of guide
Number of topics
Example of an FGD guide.
STEP 5: Train field team and conduct pilot test
Training hints
Training package
Theory sessions
Practice sessions
On-going revision of FGD guide.
STEP 6: Prepare for the individual FGDs
Site selection and location for FGD
Date and time
Plan for supporting materials or FGD checklist.
STEP 7: Conduct the FGD
Conducting the Discussion
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Wrap-up summary
Collecting and managing information in FGD.
STEP 8: Analyze and interpret FGD results
How much analysis is required
Transcripts; and log book
Writing the report
Interpretation of findings
Example of format of an FGD report.
Identify suitable discussion participants and invite a small group to a meeting at an agreed place and
time. The ideal number of participants is six to eight, but be flexible about numbers - do not turn
away participants after they had arrived at the meeting and do not pressure people to come to the
meeting. Be psychologically prepared for the session; you will need to remain alert to be able to
observe, listen, and keep the discussion on track for a period of one to two hours. Make sure you
arrive at the agreed place before the participants, and be ready to greet them. Maintain a neutral
attitude and appearance, and do not start talking about the topic of interest before the official
opening of the group discussion. Begin by introducing yourself and your team (even if the
participants have already met them individually), and ask participants to introduce themselves.
Explain clearly that the purpose of the discussion is to find out what people think about the
practices or activities depicted by the pictures. Tell them that you are not looking for any right or
wrong answer but that you want to learn what each participant's views are. It must be made clear to
all participants that their views will be valued. Bring the discussion to a close when you feel the topic
has been exhausted, and do nor let the group discussion degenerate into smaller discussions. Be
sincere in expressing your thanks to the participants for their contributions. Refreshments may be
served at the end of the meeting as a way of thanking the participants and maintaining good rapport
with them.
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Conducting FGD
The following guideline may be provided for conducting FGD.
Selection of topic:
It is appropriate to define and clarify the concepts to be discussed. The basic
idea is to lay out a set of issues for the group to discuss. It is important to bear in mind that the
moderator will mostly be improvising comments and questions within the framework set by the
guidelines. By keeping the questions open-ended, the moderator can stimulates useful trains of
thought in the participants that were not anticipated.
Selecting the study participants:
Given a clear idea of the issues to be discussed, the next critical
step in designing a focus group study is to decide on the characteristics of the individuals who are
to be targeted for sessions. It is often important to ensure that the groups all share some common
characteristics in relation to the issue under investigation. If you need to obtain information on a
topic from several different categories of informants who are likely to discuss the issue from
different perspectives, you should organize a focus group for each major category. For example a
group for men and a group for women, or a group for older women and group for younger women. The
selection of the participants can be on the basis of purposive or convenience sampling. The
participants should receive the invitations at least one or two days before the exercise. The
invitations should explain the general purpose of the FGD.
Physical arrangements:
Communication and interaction during the FGD should be encouraged in every
way possible. Arrange the chairs in a circle. Make sure the area will be quite, adequately lighted,
etc., and that there will be no disturbances. Try to hold the FGD in a neutral setting that
encourages participants to freely express their views. A health center, for example, is not a good
place to discuss traditional medical beliefs or preferences for other types of treatment. Neutral
setting could also be from the perspective of a place where the participants feel comfortable to
come over and above their party factions.
Conducting the Session
One of the members of the research team should act as a ‘facilitator’ or ‘moderator’ for the
focus group. One should serve as ‘recorder’.
Functions of the Facilitator: The facilitator should not act as an expert on the topic. His/her
role is to stimulate and support discussion. S/he should perform the following functions -
Introduce the session -
S/he should introduce himself/herself as facilitator and introduce the
recorder. Introduce the participants by name or ask them to introduce themselves (or develop
some new interesting way of introduction). Put the participants at ease and explain the purpose
of the FGD, the kind of information needed, and how the information will be used (e.g., for
planning of a health program, an education program, et.).
Encourage discussion -
The facilitator should be enthusiastic, lively, and humorous and show
his/her interest in the group’s ideas. Formulate questions and encourage as many participants as
possible to express their views. Remember there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. Facilitator
should react neutrally to both verbal and nonverbal responses.
Encourage involvement -
Avoid a question and answer session. Some useful techniques include
asking for clarification (can you tell me more?); reorienting the discussion when it goes off the
track (Saying - wait, how does this relate to the issue? Using one participant’s remarks to direct
a question to another); bringing in reluctant participants (Using person’s name, requesting
his/her opinion, making more frequent eye contact to encourage participation); dealing with
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dominant participants (Avoiding eye contact or turning slightly away to discourage the person
from speaking, or thanking the person and changing the subject).
Avoid being placed in the role of expert -
When the facilitator is asked for his/her opinion by a
respondent, remember that s/he is not there to educate of inform. Direct the question back to
the group by saying ‘What do you think?’ ‘What would you do?’ Set aside time, if necessary, after
the session to give participants the information they have asked. Do not try to give comments on
everything that is being said. Do not feel you have to say Something during every pause in the
discussion. Wait a little and see what happens.
Control the timing of the meeting but unobtrusively -
Listen carefully and move the discussion
from topic to topic. Subtly control the time allocated to various topics so as to maintain
interest. If the participants spontaneously jump from one topic to the other, let the discussion
continue for a while because useful additional information may surface and then summarize the
points brought up and reorient the discussion.
Take time at the end of the meeting to summarize, check for agreement and thank the
participants: Summarize the main issues brought up, check whether all agree and ask for
additional comments. Thank the participants and let them know that their ideas had been
valuable contribution and will be used for planning the proposed research/intervention/or
whatever the purpose of FGD was. Listen to the additional comments made after the meeting.
Sometime some valuable information surfaces, which otherwise may remain hidden.
Advantages and Disvantages of FGD
Focus groups and group discussions are advantageous as they -
Are useful when exploring cultural values and health beliefs;
Can be used to examine how and why people think in a particular way and how is influences their
beliefs and values;
Can be used to explore complex issues;
Can be used to develop hypothesis for further research;
Do not require participants to be literate.
Disadvantages of focus groups include -
Lack of privacy/anonymity;
Having to carefully balance the group to ensure they are culturally and gender appropriate (i.e.
gender may be an issue);
Potential for the risk of ‘group think’ (not allowing for other attitudes, beliefs etc.);
Potential for group to be dominated by one or two people;
Group leader needs to be skilled at conducting focus groups, dealing with conflict, drawing out
passive participants and creating a relaxed, welcoming environment;
Are time consuming to conduct and can be difficult and time consuming to analyze.
Participatory rural appraisal/ assessment (PRA) is a set of participatory and largely visual techniques
for assessing group and community resources, identifying and prioritizing problems and appraising
strategies for solving them. During the 1980s, PRA was firstly developed in India and Kenya, mainly
supported by NGOs operating at grass-roots level. Until today PRA evolved so fast in terms of the
methodology, the creation of new tools and specifically in the different ways it is applied. It is a
research/planning methodology in which a local community (with or without the assistance of
outsiders) studies an issue that concerns the population, prioritizes problems, evaluates options for
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solving the problem(s) and comes up with a Community Action Plan to address the concerns that have
been raised. PRA is particularly concerned that the multiple perspectives that exist in any
community are represented in the analysis and that the community itself takes the lead in evaluating
its situation and finding solutions. Outsiders may participate as facilitators or in providing technical
information but they should not ‘take charge’ of the process.
In PRA, a number of different tools are used to gather and analyze information. These tools
encourage participation, make it easier for people to express their views and help to organize
information in a way that makes it more useful and more accessible to the group that is trying to
analyze a given situation. It is also called ‘Participatory Learning for Action (PLA)’, is a
methodological approach that is used to enable farmers to analyze their own situation and to develop
a common perspective on natural resource management and agriculture at village level.
Key Tenets / Principles of PRA
Participation: Local people’s input into PRA activities is essential to its value as a research and
planning method and as a means for diffusing the participatory approach to development.
Teamwork: To the extent that the validity of PRA data relies on informal interaction and
brainstorming among those involved, it is best done by a team that includes local people with
perspective and knowledge of the area’s conditions, traditions, and social structure and either
nationals or expatriates with a complementary mix of disciplinary backgrounds and experience. A
well-balanced team will represent the diversity of socioeconomic, cultural, gender, and
generational perspectives.
Flexibility: PRA does not provide blueprints for its practitioners. The combination of techniques
that is appropriate in a particular development context will be determined by such variables as
the size and skill mix of the PRA team, the time and resources available, and the topic and
location of the work.
Optimal Ignorance: To be efficient in terms of both time and money, PRA work intends to gather
just enough information to make the necessary recommendations and decisions.
Triangulation: PRA works with qualitative data. To ensure that information is valid and reliable,
PRA teams follow the rule of thumb that at least three sources must be consulted or techniques
must be used to investigate the same topics.
Organizing PRA
A typical PRA activity involves a team of people working for two to three weeks on workshop
discussions, analyses, and fieldwork. Several organizational aspects should be considered –
Logistical arrangements should consider nearby accommodations, arrangements for lunch for
fieldwork days, sufficient vehicles, portable computers, funds to purchase refreshments for
community meetings during the PRA, and supplies such as flip chart paper and markers.
Training of team members may be required, particularly if the PRA has the second objective of
training in addition to data collection.
PRA results are influenced by the length of time allowed to conduct the exercise, scheduling and
assignment of report writing, and critical analysis of all data, conclusions, and recommendations.
A PRA covering relatively few topics in a small area (perhaps two to four communities) should
take between ten days and four weeks, but a PRA with a wider scope over a larger area can take
several months. Allow five days for an introductory workshop if training is involved.
Reports are best written immediately after the fieldwork period, based on notes from PRA team
members. A preliminary report should be available within a week or so of the fieldwork, and the final
report should be made available to all participants and the local institutions that were involved.
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PRA Tools
PRA is an exercise in communication and transfer of knowledge. Regardless of whether it is carried
out as part of project identification or appraisal or as part of country economic and sector work,
the learning-by-doing and teamwork spirit of PRA requires transparent procedures. For that reason,
a series of open meetings (an initial open meeting, final meeting, and follow-up meeting) generally
frame the sequence of PRA activities. Common tools in PRA are
Mapping: Making a community map is probably the best approach for you to get started, and for a
community to get started. Take a group on a walk through the community, and let them draw a map
of the area. Let the map include communal facilities, personal and family buildings, assets and
liabilities. Do not draw the map for them. One method is for individuals or small groups to each make
a separate map, then, as a group exercise later, all the small groups of individuals prepare a large
map (e.g. using newsprint or flip chart paper) combining and synthesizing what is included on all the
maps. Valuable information over and above that shown on scientifically produced maps can be
obtained from maps drawn by local people. These maps show the perspective of the drawer and
reveal much about local knowledge of resources, land use and settlement patterns, or household
characteristics. You can encourage community members to draw their map on the ground, using
sticks to draw lines. Drawing the map on the ground, like drawing a large map on the wall, gives you
and the participants a chance to easily make the drawing process a group process.
Models: If the community members add sticks and stones to a map scratched onto the ground, they
are making a simple model - a three dimensional map. Do not draw the map or construct the model
for the participants; encourage them to all contribute. As you watch them, note if some facilities
are made before others, if some are larger in proportion than others. This will give you some insight
into what issues may be more important than others to the participants. Make notes; these will
contribute to your sociological understanding of the community. Make a copy on paper of the map or
model as a permanent record. Maps and models can later lead to transect walks, in which greater
detail is recorded
Creating a Community Inventory: The inventory, and especially the process of making it, is the most
important and central element of participatory appraisal. The process of making the community
inventory is sometimes called semi structured interviewing. If it were perfectly unstructured, then
it would be a loose conversation that goes nowhere. A ‘Brainstorm’ session, in contrast, is highly
structured (The brainstorm has its uses, especially in the project design phase of community
empowering). Making the inventory is somewhere in between these two. You also allow the discussion
to be a little bit free, especially in allowing participants to analyze their contributions to making the
inventory. You do not work with a set of specific questions, but you might best prepare a check list
of topics to cover and work from that so that you cover all topics. When you prepare your check
list, remember that you should include both assets and liabilities in the community. Include available
facilities, including how well they are working, or not working. Include potentials and opportunities as
well as threats and hindrances, both possible and current. Remember that this is an assessment. Aim
for an inventory that assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the community. Your job is not to
create the inventory, but to guide the community members to construct it as a group.
Focus Group Discussions: There may be a range of experiences and opinions among members of the
community or there may be sensitivity in divulging information to outsiders or to others within the
community. This is where a focus group discussion can be useful. It is best here if you do not work
alone, but as a facilitation team of two or three facilitators, one leading the discussion and another
making a record. The discussion topics chosen should be fewer than for the general community
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inventory. First conduct separate sessions for the different interest groups, record their
contributions carefully, and then bring them together to share as groups their special concerns. It
is important to be careful here. While you recognize the different interest groups in the community,
you do not want to increase the differences between the groups - to widen the schism. You are not
trying to make all the different groups the same as each other, but to increase the tolerance,
understanding and co-operation between them. Special focus groups gives you the opportunity to
work separately with different groups that may find it difficult at first to work together; but you
must work towards bringing them together.
Preference Ranking: When you are working with a community with different interest groups, you may
wish to list preference rankings of the different groups, and then look at them together with the
groups together. Preference ranking is a good ice-breaker at the beginning of a group interview, and
helps focus the discussion.
Wealth Ranking: This is a particularly useful method of (1) discovering how the community members
define poverty, (2) to find who the really poor people are, and (3) to stratify samples of wealth. This
is best done once you have built up some rapport with the community members. A good method here
is to make a card the name of each of the households in the community on it. Select some members
of the community. Ask them to put these cards into groups according to various measures of wealth
and to give their rationale (reasons) for the groupings. How they categorize members of the
community, and the reasons they give for making those categories and for putting different
households into each category, are very revealing about the socio-economic makeup of the
Seasonal and Historical Diagramming: Seasonal and historical variations and trends can be easy to
miss during a short visit to the field. You can attempt various diagramming techniques can help
explore changes in - rainfall, labor demand, farming (fishing, hunting, herding) activities, wood supply
for fuel, disease incidence, migration for employment, food stocks and many other elements that
change over time. The diagrams you produce can be used as a basis for discussions for the reasons
behind changes and implications for the people involved.
Institutional Mapping: Information about the social organization of the community and the nature of
social groups is difficult to get in a short visit. Complex relationships between rich and poor
segments of the community, family ties and feuds, and political groups cannot be untangled in a few
weeks. Using participatory appraisal methods can be useful here. One way to understand the less
sensitive aspects of social interaction in a community is to ask key informants to construct a ‘Venn
diagram’. This technique is simply a collection of circles, each of which represents a different group
or organization active in the community. The size of each circle reflects the relative importance of
the group represented-the smaller the circle, the less influential the group. The amount of overlap
between two circles represents the amount of collaboration or joint decision making between two
Participatory Mapping: Create a wall or ground map with group participation. Members should do the
marking, drawing and coloring with a minimum of interference and instruction by outsiders. Using
pencils, pens or local materials (e.g. small rocks, different colored sands or powders, plant material)
members should draw maps that depict/illustrate certain things. Each group member is then asked
‘to hold the stick’ to explain the map or to criticize it or revise it. Create resource maps showing the
location of houses, resources, infrastructure and terrain features-useful for analyzing certain
community-level problems. Create social maps, showing who is related to whom and where they live.
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Seasonal Calendars: These charts show monthly changes in climate (rainfall or temperature) or
agricultural activities (agricultural hours worked, different activities undertaken, crop cycles). The
calendars are useful in identifying planting and harvesting times, labor constraints and marketing
Matrices: These are grid formats used to illustrate links between different activities or factors.
They are useful in information gathering and analysis.
Important Techniques of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)
Village Transect: A transect is constructed with the help of local inhabitants by walking through the village. The major
objective of a transect is to identify the types of land-use, opportunities and constraints to the agricultural or rural
development. The application of a transect is to identify and explain the cause and effect relationships between
topography, soils, natural vegetation, cultivation and other production activities and human settlement patterns.
Procedure - Draw an outline map of the village. Ask villagers to select one or more routes which cover the main variations in
topography. Ask two or more people to accompany you to the edge of the village. Stop when you arrive at the edge of a new
topography zone; record the characteristics and distance covered by the last zone. When the transect is completed prepare
a chart summarizing the major features encountered. When more than one transects has been completed, prepare a
combined chart, compare results and generate questions and hypothesis for latter enquires.
Social and Physical Maps: The social and resource map is used to show the relative location of different households,
resource points, roads, canals, crop fields, residential areas, markets, educational institutions, co-operative societies, etc.
The villagers are asked to draw a social map of the village usually on the ground using a pointed stick. A social map drawn by
villagers should encourage maximum participation and interaction of the villagers.
Procedure - Select a suitable space. Mark paths and other landmarks from the residential part of the village on the ground.
Sub-divide the village into para or other units to enable the available informants to provide accurate information. Ask the
informant to identify the position of each household, and write the name on a strip of paper, which can then be placed on
the map. Use appropriate symbols and materials to build on any further information, which may be required about assets,
group membership, etc. Start recording on a separate sheet of paper as soon as the locations of the households have been
Seasonality Exercise: To identify the times of year at which people suffer from particular hardship like unemployment,
diseases, rainfall, draught and some other allied aspects of the rural life. To take appropriate safety nets or other remedial
Procedure - Consider all the months in a year either in Bangla or in English year. Lay out the matrix on the ground
considering months along one axis and the items of a particular phenomenon along the other axis. To get information with
degree of differentiation by the villagers use sticks, seeds and other locally available materials. Count the number of seeds
or sticks by row and column. Consider this number as score of the respective item. Assign rank according to score.
Chapati or Venn Diagrams: To identify the institutions in a community. To show how the various external institutions
involved in the delivery of services. To show how they relate to each other.
Procedure - Cut a large circle of paper to represent the major institutions with which you are concerned (Village or Para).
Cut or draw oval shapes to represent outside institutions with linkages in the village and place these overlapping with the
outer edges of the circle (size can be used to indicate relative importance). Cut or draw further circles of appropriate sizes
to represent institutions wholly contained within the village. Relate these to each other through overlaps where these exist,
through incorporation where one institution lies entirely within another and through separate location where there is no
overlap. Check that the basic diagram is correct before reproducing a clean version on another sheet of paper.
Wealth Ranking: Means of dividing households into different economic categories. This can be used to identify target group
members before an activity is launched or to determine the extent to which targeting has proved successful after the
Procedure - List each household name on a card together with other information. Identify the criteria which they use in
distinguishing between the better and less well off households. Keeping the criteria in mind request the participants to
place the cards in a small number of piles. The category of each household to be recorded at the bottom of the card.
Finally, count the number of households in each pile and record accordingly.
Preference Ranking: Ranking means placing something in sequential order. Preference ranking is a tool that helps us
prioritizing the problems.
Procedure- Organize one focus group representing relevant stakeholders. Make a list of all the problems to be prioritized.
Identify criteria on which problems are to be prioritized. Criteria can be identified through comparing the problems by pair
wise. Define all of the criteria positively. For example ‘tastes good’, ‘not tasted bad’, or ‘easy to cook’, ‘not hard to cook’,
then select a suitable symbol for each one. Decide whether you will ask the informant to rank items on a simple yes/no
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basis, or whether you want to assign scores (say from one to three). Lay out the matrix on the ground with the problems
along one axis and the criteria along the other. Ask the informant to rank or score each item against each criterion, using
seeds or available material. This can be done on a scale of 1-3 or by allocating a fixed number of seeds for each criterion.
When the exercise is completed verify the results with the participants. Put the most favored items at the top; the least
favored at the bottom, the most powerful criteria on the left, and the weakest on the right.
Sequence of Techniques
PRA techniques can be combined in a number of different ways, depending on the topic under
investigation. Some general rules of thumb, however, are useful. Mapping and modeling are good
techniques to start with because they involve several people, stimulate much discussion and
enthusiasm, provide the PRA team with an overview of the area, and deal with noncontroversial
information. Maps and models may lead to transect walks, perhaps accompanied by some of the
people who have constructed the map. Wealth ranking is best done later in a PRA, once a degree of
rapport has been established, given the relative sensitivity of this information. Preference ranking
is a good icebreaker at the beginning of a group interview and helps focus the discussion. Later,
individual interviews can follow up on the different preferences among the group members and the
reasons for these differences.
Seven major techniques used in PRA
1. Secondary data reviews - books, files, reports, news, articles, maps, etc.
2. Observation - direct and participant observation, wandering, DIY (do-it-yourself) activities.
3. Semi-structured interviews - this is an informal, guided interview session, where only some of
the questions are pre-determined and new questions arise during the interview, in response to
answers from those interviewed.
4. Analytical game - this is a quick game to find out a group’s list of priorities, performances,
ranking, scoring, or stratification.
5. Stories and portraits - colorful description of the local situation, local history, trend analysis,
6. Diagrams - maps, aerial photos, transects, seasonal calendars, Venn diagram, flow diagram,
historical profiles, ethno-history, timelines, etc.
7. Workshop - local and outsiders are brought together to discuss the information and ideas
Modified PRA Tools: Resource Map; Social Map; Wealth Ranking Objectives; Local Perceptions of Malnutrition Mapping
Objectives; Venn Diagram on Institutions; Resource Cards; Seasonal Calendar; Income and Expenditure Matrix; Daily
Activity Clocks; Focus Group Discussion; Semi Structured Interview; Community Workshop; Daily Evaluation and Planning
Resource Map: It is a tool that helps us to learn about a community and its resource base. The primary concern is not to
develop an accurate map but to get useful information about local perceptions of resources. The participants should develop
the content of the map according to what is important to them. The objective is to learn the villagers’ perceptions of what
natural resources are found in the community and how they are used.
Social Map: It is a map that is drawn by the residents and which shows the social structures and institutions found in an
area. It also helps us to learn about social and economic differences between the households. The objectives are – to learn
about the social structures and the differences among the households by ethnicity, religion and wealth; to learn about who
is living where; to learn about the social institutions and the different views local people might have regarding those
Wealth Ranking Objectives: To investigate perceptions of wealth differences and inequalities in a community; to identify
and understand local indicators and criteria of wealth and well-being; to map the relative position of households in a
community. Ranking and mapping methods are used. Carry out the exercise with a few key informants who know the
community well.
Local Perceptions of Malnutrition Mapping Objectives: To identify various forms of malnutrition prevalent in the community;
to understand the local perceptions of malnutrition; to map nutritionally vulnerable households. Ranking, mapping and matrix
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methods are used. Carry out the interview with one or more key informants (Community Health Worker; Traditional Birth
Attendant; Home Agent; Traditional Healer; Teacher etc.).
Venn Diagram on Institutions: It shows institutions, organizations, groups and important individuals found in the village
(Kushet), as well as the villagers view of their importance in the community. Additionally the Diagram explains who
participates in these groups in terms of gender and wealth. The Institutional Relationship Diagram also indicates how close
the contact and cooperation between those organizations and groups is. The objectives are to identify external and
internal organizations/groups/important persons active in the community; to identify who participates in local
organizations/ institutions by gender and wealth; to find out how the different organizations and groups relate to each
other in terms of contact, co-operation, flow of information and provision of services.
Resource Cards: Resource picture cards are useful for facilitating a discussion about who uses and controls resources in a
fun and non-threatening way. They show very clearly the resource base of both men and women. This can lead to discussions
about differences between men’s and women’s priorities and their need for resources. The objective is to learn about
differences between men and women in use and control over resources.
Seasonal Calendar: A seasonal calendar is a participatory tool to explore seasonal changes (e.g. gender-specific workload,
diseases, income, expenditure etc.). The objective is to learn about changes in livelihoods over the year and to show the
seasonality of agricultural and non agricultural workload, food availability, human diseases, gender-specific income and
expenditure, water, forage, credit and holidays.
Income and Expenditure Matrix: It is a tool that helps us to identify and quantify the relative importance of different
sources of income and expenditures. The tool also helps us to understand how secure or how vulnerable certain groups of
people incomes are. In the Expenditures matrix, we can see if all, most or only some of people's total income is spent to
meet basic needs - food, water, clothing, shelter, health care, education. We can also ask whether people have any money
left over to save or to invest in tools, fertilizer, or other important items that could help them in their work. The objective
is to learn about sources of income (cash and kind) and how income is proportionality spent by gender and wealth.
Daily Activity Clocks: Daily activity clocks illustrate all of the different kinds of activities carried out in one day. They are
particularly useful for looking at relative work-loads between different groups in the community. Comparisons between
clocks show who works the longest hours, who concentrates on a few activities and who does a number of tasks in a day, and
who has the most leisure time and sleep. The objective is to learn what different people do during one day and how heavy
their workloads are.
Focus Group Discussion: Semi-structured group interview, ranking and matrix methods are used. The objectives are
understand local perceptions of nutrition and household food security; identify and understand constraints in the household
and community to achieving nutrition and household food security; identify and understand mechanisms in the household and
the community to cope with nutrition and household food insecurity; identify what community, household and individual
resources are required to obtain nutrition and household food security.
Semi Structured Interview: Semi-structured group interview, ranking and observation methods are used. The objectives
are – understand why members of a household (that was mapped as being affected by malnutrition) have nutrition-related
health problems and why other households are not affected; identify constraints and opportunities in the household and
community for household members to achieve nutrition security.
Community Workshop: ‘Group Discussion’ and ‘Presentation’ are used as methods. The objectives are – to present the main
findings and conclusions of the appraisal to the community at large; to provide an opportunity to the community for
discussion of the main findings of the appraisal; to reach a consensus on the way forward and the roles and responsibilities
of the community, the community support staff and the project. Organize a meeting with the community at large, ensuring
that men and women are equally represented, as well as people from different socio-economic groups and ages.
Daily Evaluation and Planning Meeting: Every afternoon the PRA team comes together to reflect the process of day, to
present the results gathered, to evaluate the results and to plan for the next day. The objectives are to present the
results of the day; to summarize and structure the results according to the key questions and according to related
‘Strength and Weaknesses’ inside the community and according to ‘Opportunities and Threats’ identified outside the
community; to compare the results of the different groups and to identify differences and correspondences; to enable the
PRA team to elaborate new relevant key questions and a program for the next day.
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Using of PRA
PRA supports the direct participation of communities, with rural people themselves becoming the
main investigators and analysts. Rural people set the priorities; determine needs; select and train
community workers; collect, document, and analyze data; and plan and implement solutions based on
their findings. Actions stemming from this research tend to serve the local community. Outsiders
are there to facilitate the process but do not direct it. PRA uses group animation and exercises to
facilitate information sharing, analysis, and action among stakeholders. PRA is an exercise in
communication and transfer of knowledge. Regardless of whether it is carried out as part of project
identification or appraisal or as part of country economic and sector work, the learning-by-doing and
teamwork spirit of PRA requires transparent procedures. For that reason, a series of open meetings
(an initial open meeting, final meeting, and follow-up meeting) generally frame the sequence of PRA
activities. A typical PRA activity involves a team of people working for two to three weeks on
workshop discussions, analyses, and fieldwork.
Scope of PRA
PRA is used –
To ascertain needs;
To establish priorities for development activities;
Within the scope of feasibility studies;
During the implementation phase of projects;
Within the scope of monitoring and evaluation of projects;
For studies of specific topics;
For focusing formal surveys on essential aspects, and identifying conflicting group interests.
Areas of Application
Natural resource management
Poverty alleviation/women in development programs
Health and nutrition
Preliminary and primary education
Village and district-level planning
Institutional and policy analysis.
Advantages of PRA
Identification of genuine priorities for target group.
PRA allows local people to present their
own priorities for development and get them incorporated into development plans.
Devolution of management responsibilities.
An important goal of PRA is to encourage self-reliant
development with as much of the responsibility for the management and implementation of
development activities devolved to local people themselves. This can greatly improve the
efficiency of development work and eliminate many of the problems regarding proprietorship of
development activities at the community level.
Motivation and mobilization of local development workers.
Participation in PRA by local
development workers, whether from NGOs, government or other agencies can greatly increase
the motivation and level of mobilization in support of the project or program of which it is part.
Where changes in development approaches are being introduced, such as a shift to a more
integrated development planning mechanism, a PRA-type activity which illustrates how these new
mechanisms will work on the ground can help to ensure better understanding and commitment by
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local workers. This is one reason why involvement of people from different administrative and
organizational levels can be vital so that commitment is built up right through the chain.
Forming better linkages between communities and development institutions.
PRA can assist in
forming better links between communities and the agencies and institutions concerned with rural
development. A PRA which encourages a better understanding of the environmental issues at
stake in local communities and develops activities which enable them to benefit from better
management could also lead to better monitoring of mangrove exploitation by the communities
themselves. PRAs involve intensive interaction between communities and outsiders which can
have lasting effects in breaking down the barriers of reticence and suspicion which often
characterize these relationships.
Use of local resources.
Where local people have had more say in the design of projects they are
also more likely to design activities which make full use of existing resources.
Mobilization of community resources.
Greater commitment from the community can also mean
greater mobilization of community resources for development and less reliance on outside inputs.
This can take the form of labor inputs, savings or time devoted to management functions.
More sustainable development activities.
This combination of effects will generally lead to more
sustainable development activities which are less reliant on support from outside agencies and is
technically, environmentally and socially appropriate to local conditions.
These benefits from participation can only be realized where the full implications of participation
for the development agencies which are encouraging it have been taken into account and
accommodated and the institutions involved are willing to support the sort of long-term changes in
social, political and institutional frameworks which proper participation, and PRA, can set in motion.
Where this is not the case, many of the following disadvantages can come into play.
Weaknesses of PRA
The term PRA itself can cause difficulties.
PRA need not be rural, and sometimes is not even
participatory, and is frequently used as a trendy label for standard RRA techniques.
Raising expectations which cannot be realized.
One of the most immediate and frequently
encountered risks in PRA is that it raises a complex set of expectations in communities which
frequently cannot be realized given the institutional or political context of the area. This can be
due to the political situation, the local power and social structure or simply too bureaucratic
inertia in institutions which are supposed to be supporting development. In some cases the
intended aim of the PRA may be to deliberately raise expectations ‘at the grassroots’ so as to
put pressure on the institutional and political structures above to change. However, not all
development agencies are in a position to support such activities and there is a risk that agencies
which are not properly equipped to respond to PRA-type planning may use the approach
If PRA becomes part of the global development agenda, there are risks of hijacking -
When this occurs, the PRA agenda is externally driven, and used to create legitimacy for
projects, agencies and NGOs.
Local expectations can easily be raised. If nothing tangible emerges, local
communities may come to see the process as a transient external development phenomenon. Lack
of feedback to the community adds to the sense of disappointment.
Failure to take account of stratification in communities.
The fact that PRA is often carried out
with the community as a whole can mean that stratification within the community, whether by
wealth, social status, gender or ethnic group, can often be obscured and ignored.
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The empowerment implications of PRA, and the power of its social analysis, can create
threats to local vested interests, although less so than with PAR (Participatory Action
Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) emerged in the late 1970s in response to some of the problems with
large-scale, structured questionnaire surveys. It provided an alternative technique for outsiders
often scientists carrying out research into agriculture to quickly learn from local people about
their realities and challenges. RRA practitioners worked in multi-disciplinary teams and pioneered
the use a suite of visual methods and semi-structured interviews to learn from respondents. While it
was largely about data collection, usually analyzed by outsiders, RRA contained the seeds from which
other primary methods grew in the 1980s. Reflections on RRA led to the development of
Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), which focused more strongly on facilitation, empowerment,
behavior change, local knowledge and sustainable action. It was developed in response to the
disadvantages of more traditional research methods, including - the time taken to produce results,
the high cost of formal surveys and the low levels of data reliability due to non-sampling errors.
RRA is a bridge between formal surveys and unstructured research methods such as depth
interviews, focus groups and observation studies. In developing countries, it is sometimes difficult
to apply the standard marketing research techniques employed elsewhere. There is often a paucity
of baseline data, poor facilities for marketing research (e.g. no sampling frames, relatively low
literacy among many populations of interest and few trained enumerators) as well as the lack of
appreciation of the need for marketing research. The nature of RRA is such that it holds the
promise of overcoming these and other limitations of marketing research.
Unfortunately, there is no generally accepted definition of RRA. RRA is more commonly described as
a systematic but semi-structured activity out in the field by a multidisciplinary team and is designed
to obtain new information and to formulate new hypotheses about rural life. A central characteristic
of RRA is that its research teams are multidisciplinary. Beyond that, the distinction between RRA
and other research methodologies dependents upon its multidisciplinary approach and the particular
combination of tools that in employs. A core concept of RRA is that research should be carried out
not by individuals, but by a team comprised of members drawn from a variety of appropriate
disciplines. Such teams are intended to be comprised of some members with relevant technical
backgrounds and others with social science skills, including marketing research skills. In this way, it
is thought that the varying perspectives of RRA research team members will provide a more
balanced picture. The techniques of RRA include interview and question design techniques for
individual, household and key informant interviews; methods of cross-checking information from
different sources; sampling techniques that can be adapted to a particular objective; methods of
obtaining quantitative data in a short time frame; group interview techniques, including focus-group
interviewing; methods of direct observation at site level, and use of secondary data sources. RRA is
an approach for conducting action-oriented research in developing countries.
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Many ‘definitions’ of RRA have been offered by different people who have worked on it, but there
are always others who object to those definitions because they are not what they think RRA is or
should be. The fact that it is difficult to give a precise definition to RRA is a reflection of the fact
that it is very flexible - it is a tool which can be used in a lot of different situations to achieve very
different objectives. Not surprisingly everybody seems to think RRA is what they have used it for.
So it is probably best to avoid ‘definitions’ and just describe the features which most RRAs seem to
have in common. RRA essentially consists of the following –
an activity carried out by a group of people from different professional fields or disciplines
which usually aims to learn about a particular topic, area, situation, group of people or whatever
else is of concern to those organizing the RRA
it usually involves collecting information by talking directly to people ‘on the ground’
it uses a set of guidelines on how to approach the collection of information, learning from that
information and the involvement of local people in its interpretation and presentation
it uses a set of tools - these consist of exercises and techniques for collecting information,
means of organizing that information so that it is easily understood by a wide range of people,
techniques for stimulating interaction with community members and methods for quickly
analyzing and reporting findings and suggesting appropriate action.
These features are just about the ‘bottom line’ with RRA but everything else is fairly flexible within
the guidelines described below.
RRA Guidelines
Structured but flexible:
RRA is a structured activity requiring careful planning, clear
objectives, the right balance of people involved and a good choice of tools and techniques for
use in the field. At the same time, it is flexible enough to respond to local conditions and
unexpected circumstances. Progress is reviewed constantly so that new information can be
understood and the focus of the RRA redirected.
Integrated and interdisciplinary:
RRA helps ‘outsiders’ to learn about rural conditions by looking
at them from many points of view. This means having people participating with a variety of
different technical and scientific skills and a balance of different institutional outlooks. This
requires an integrated development approach which cuts across institutional and disciplinary
Awareness of bias:
Researchers and development workers who are trying to understand rural
conditions can be biased by their urban attitudes, their own professional and personal priorities,
the type of transport they use, the language they speak. The people researchers talk to can be
biased as well by their limited experience, their customs and beliefs and their own interests and
those of their families. RRA seeks to avoid biases by being aware of them and by being
systematic in taking into account different points of view and different sets of interests.
Accelerating the planning process:
RRA tries to shorten the time it takes to get from knowing
nothing about an area or a situation to deciding what development interventions might be best
for that area by using key informants, careful observation and by exploiting the knowledge and
experience of local people. The information produced is analyzed ‘on the spot’ and presented in a
form which is more easily used by planners and which can be discussed and understood by local
people themselves.
Interaction with and learning from local people:
Whatever the purpose of the RRA it must
involve the people who are the intended ‘beneficiaries’ of any eventual development activities.
RRA should give them the opportunity to describe their lives and conditions. The people carrying
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out an RRA must be prepared to listen to local people and learn from them. Participation by local
people can take many forms but any RRA will involve intense interaction between researchers,
planners, traditional and formal authorities and local people.
Combination of different tools:
The RRA approach uses a combination of communication and
learning tools. These tools help outsiders to observe conditions in a concise but systematic way.
They also allow local people to present their knowledge, concerns and priorities to outsiders. The
combination of different tools and techniques builds up a more complete picture where
different viewpoints can be compared and contrasted. The systematic cross-checking of
information collected in different ways by different people from different sources can
increases accuracy and comprehensiveness.
During an RRA, what has been learnt is constantly reviewed and analyzed in the field.
This is usually done in workshops carried out at regular intervals. This means the focus of the
RRA, the tools used and the people talked to can be adjusted constantly.
Obviously, these guidelines leave plenty of room for the people using RRA to decide exactly what
they want to do with it. For example, if the most important thing for the people organizing the RRA
is to collect information quickly, they might want to structure the activity more carefully so that
things move faster. If one of the principal concerns is to get local people involved as much as
possible, the structure of the RRA would probably have to be looser and more time allowed for
getting to know the people and putting them at ease.
RRA Teams
The composition of the team which carries out an RRA is extremely important in determining the
outcome of an RRA. Obviously, the composition of an RRA team depends very much on the objectives
of the RRA and the particular concerns which it is addressing.
Gender Considerations:
Gender bias is particularly important for RRA teams. For male
researchers, women in many rural communities are difficult to contact and talk to and may
remain almost invisible to anyone visiting the community for a short time. However all aspects of
rural conditions studied by an RRA team will have gender dimensions which need to be taken into
The composition of teams carrying out RRAs should be dictated by a careful
consideration of the objectives of the appraisal, the issues which are thought to be of
importance in the area and the need to have a balanced set of disciplinary, institutional and
gender viewpoints represented on the team. As a minimum requirement, there should be a
balance between specialists in the biological and physical sciences and specialists in the social
sciences. However, the need for different formal backgrounds should not be overemphasized.
The important point is to have people who can contribute different ways of looking at rural
conditions - so, when organizing an RRA, it might be possible for people to ‘cover’ different
disciplines at the same time if they have the relevant experience.
Levels of Expertise:
One of the risks of RRA is that it tends to rely on the knowledge,
experience and ‘sensitivity’ of team members to come to conclusions about rural conditions.
These conclusions cannot then be tested or checked against ‘hard data’. This means that a great
deal depends on the skills of team members. As a result, it has always been regarded as
important to have experienced and skilled people on RRA teams. Obviously this is preferable, but
RRA does not depend only on the skills and experience of its team members to overcome the
risks of coming to faulty conclusions due to lack of hard data. It is the combination of different
viewpoints and the systematic use of cross-checking during an RRA that counts perhaps more
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than individual skills. The presence on the team of ‘authoritative’ experts, with a wide range and
depth of experience in their fields, can be an advantage as they bring new knowledge and
experience to bear on local problems. However, such ‘experts’ also have to be willing to listen and
learn from the activity. Frequently, those who are most qualified are also most likely to impose
their own biases and interpretations on the work of the team. Experts who are not willing to
learn something new during an appraisal can create more problems than they solve. In such
circumstances it can be better to have a less experienced specialist who is willing to learn
something new than a highly experienced expert who is sure that s/he knows everything already.
RRA Experience:
At least one member of the team should have experience in carrying out RRAs.
This person can act as trainer in RRA techniques and as facilitator, guiding the rest of the team
through the process of carrying out the RRA and making sure that the activity keeps on track.
Mix of Institutions:
The involvement of people from the institutions and agencies which will
implement RRA recommendations is important. It can ensure that the subsequent involvement of
different agencies is based on the same understanding of the local situation and a similar
interpretation of local needs and priorities. Where many agencies are involved a few key
personnel have to be selected either because of their skills or because they are likely to play a
leading role in the future. Team members from different agencies can also contribute a range of
perspectives to the RRA and improve the depth of understanding achieved. RRAs can provide an
opportunity for people from different levels of the hierarchy of development agencies and
institutions to work together. Involvement of such a range of people in an RRA can lead to a
better understanding both of the conditions of ‘target’ communities and of the different
priorities and problems of workers at different administrative and organizational levels i.e.
regional planners and village extension workers.
Language Ability:
As many of the team as possible should be able to communicate directly with
local people in their normal language. Use of translators and interpreters is clumsy and risky.
Advantages of RRA
The approach is responsive and flexible to new learning and conditions on the ground.
Achieves a complex understanding of processes and dynamics and connections between different
disciplines, activities and sets of conditions.
The analysis and interpretation of findings is carried out during the appraisal providing
opportunities for cross-checking.
Weaknesses of RRA
The findings will not be statistically ‘sound’, even if RRA teams can use ‘quick and dirty’ sampling
methods to make sure that they cover a reasonable number of people or households in a
particular area.
Risk that the information gathered by an RRA is not very ‘representative’ but is a collection of
‘particular cases’ which do not tell researchers very much about general conditions.
RRA is very dependent on the skills of the people carrying it out and having the right
combination of experience and viewpoints on the team.
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Some Principles that are shared by PRA and RRA
Offsetting biases through different perspectives, methods and tools, sources of information,
people from different background and places, background of team members - spatial, person,
gender, age groups, interest groups, key informants, wealth groups, seasonal, professionals,
Rapid and progressive learning - flexible, interactive.
Be gender sensitive at all times.
Reversal of roles - learning from, with and by local people, eliciting and using their symbols,
criteria, categories and indicators; and finding, understanding and appreciating local people’s
Focused learning - not finding out more that is needed and not measuring when comparing is
enough. We are often trained to make absolute measurements and to give exact numbers, but
often relative proportions, trends, scores or ranking are all that is needed for decision making
and planning of activities.
Seeking for diversity and differences - people often have different perceptions of the same
Attitude - in order to make the PRA or RRA workshops as success, it is most important build a
positive relationship with local women and men. Outsiders must have an attitude of respect,
humility and patience, and a willingness to learn from the local people.
Potential Differences between RRA and PRS
Responding to needs of development
workers and agencies
Responding to needs of communities and target groups
More emphasis on efficient use of
time & achievement of objectives
More emphasis on flexibility to adapt to time frame of
Communication and learning tools used
to help outsiders analyze conditions
and understand local people
Communication and learning tools used to help local people
analyze their own conditions and communicate with
Focus of RRA decided by outsiders Focus of PRA decided by communities
End product mainly used by
development agencies and outsiders
End product mainly used by community
Enables development agencies and
institutions to be more ‘participatory’
Enables (empowers) communities to make demands on
development agencies and institutions
Can be used purely for ‘research’
purposes without necessarily linking to
subsequent action or intervention
Closely linked to action or intervention and requiring
immediate availability of support for decisions and
conclusion s reached by communities as a result of the PRA
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Observation is a fundamental way of finding out about the world around us. As human beings, we are
very well equipped to pick up detailed information about our environment through our senses.
However, as a method of data collection for research purposes, observation is more than just
looking or listening. Research, simply defined, is ‘systematic enquiry made public’ (Stenhouse, 1975).
Firstly, in order to become systematic, observation must in some way be selective. We are
constantly bombarded by huge amounts of sensory information. Human beings are good at selectively
attending to what is perceived as most useful to us. Observation harnesses this ability; systematic
observation entails careful planning of what we want to observe. Secondly, in order to make
observation ‘public’, what we see or hear has to be recorded in some way to allow the information to
be analysed and interpreted. Observation is a systematic data collection approach. Researchers use
all of their senses to examine people in natural settings or naturally occurring situations.
Observation of a field setting involves -
prolonged engagement in a setting or social situation;
clearly expressed, self-conscious notations of how observing is done;
methodical and tactical improvisation in order to develop a full understanding of the setting of
imparting attention in ways that is in some sense ‘standardized’;
recording one’s observations.
Use of Observational Method
There are a variety of reasons for collecting observational data. Some of these reasons include -
When the nature of the research question to be answered is focused on answering a how- or
what-type question.
When the topic is relatively unexplored and little is known to explain the behavior of people in a
particular setting.
When understanding the meaning of a setting in a detailed way is valuable.
When it is important to study a phenomenon in its natural setting.
When self-report data (asking people what they do) is likely to be different from actual
behavior (what people actually do). One example of this seen in the difference between self-
reported versus observed preventive service delivery in health care settings.
When implementing an intervention in a natural setting, observation may be used in conjunction
with other quantitative data collection techniques. Observational data can help researchers
evaluate the fidelity of an intervention across settings and identify when 'stasis' has been
Classification of Observational Method
Observational methods can be classified as follows –
Casual and Scientific Observation: An observation can be sometimes casual in nature or sometimes it
may act scientifically. An observation with a casual approach involves observing the right thing at
the right place and also at the right time by a matter of chance or by luck whereas a scientific
observation involves the use of the tools of the measurement, but a very important point to be kept
in mind here is that all the observations are not scientific in nature.
Natural Observation: Natural observation involves observing the behaviour in a normal setting and in
this type of observation, no efforts are made to bring any type of change in the behavior of the
observed. Improvement in the collection of the information and improvement in the environment of
making an observation can be done with the help of natural observations.
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Subjective and Objective Observation: All the observations consist of the two main components, the
subject and the object. The subject refers to the observer whereas the object refers to the
activity or any type of operation that is being observed. Subjective observation involves the
observation of the one’s own immediate experience whereas the observations involving observer as
an entity apart from the thing being observed, are referred to as the objective observation.
Objective observation is also called as the retrospection.
Direct and Indirect Observation: With the help of the direct method of observation, one comes to
know how the observer is physically present in which type of situation is he present and then this
type of observation monitors what takes place. Indirect method of observation involves studies of
mechanical recording or the recording by some of the other means like photographic or electronic.
Direct observation is relatively more straight forward as compared to the indirect observation.
Participant and Non Participant Observation: Participation by the observers with the various types
of operations of the group under study refers to the participant type of observation. In participant
observation, the degree of the participation is largely affected by the nature of the study and it
also depends on the type of the situation and also on its demands. But in the non participant type of
observation, no participation of the observer in the activities of the group takes place and also
there occurs no relationship between the researcher and the group.
participant observation is often used to understand the culture and behavior of groups
of individuals.
participant observation is often used when researchers believe individuals
would change their behavior if they knew it was being recorded. Participant observation allows
researchers to observe behaviors and situations that are not usually open to scientific observation.
Participant observers may sometimes lose their objectivity or may unduly influence the individuals
whose behavior they are recording.
Structured and Unstructured Observation: Structured observation works according to a plan and
involves specific information of the units that are to be observed and also about the information
that is to be recorded. The operations that are to be observed and the various features that are to
be noted or recorded are decided well in advance. Such observations involve the use of especial
instruments for the purpose of data collection that are also structured in nature. But in the case of
the unstructured observation, its basics are diametrically against the structured observation. In
such observation, observer has the freedom to note down what s/he feels is correct and relevant to
the point of study and also this approach of observation is very suitable in the case of exploratory
Structured observations are set up to record behaviors that may be difficult to observe using
naturalistic observation. Clinical and developmental psychologists often use structured observations.
Problems in interpreting structured observations can occur when the same observation procedures
are not followed across observations or observers, or when important variables are not controlled.
Structured observation is more likely to be carried out by those operating from a ‘positivist’
perspective, or who at least believe it is possible to clearly define and quantify behaviors.
Unstructured observation is more likely to be carried out by those operating from an ‘interpretive’
or ‘critical’ perspective where the focus is on understanding the meanings participants, in the
contexts observed, attribute to events and actions. Positivist and critical researchers are likely to
be operating from a ‘realist’ perspective, namely that there is a ‘real world’ with ‘real impact’ on
people’s lives and this can best be studied by looking at social settings directly.
Controlled and Un-controlled Observation: Controlled observations are the observations made under
the influence of some of the external forces and such observations rarely lead to improvement in
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the precision of the research results. But these observations can be very effective in the working if
these are made to work in the coordination with mechanical synchronizing devices, film recording
etc. Un-controlled observations are made in the natural environment and reverse to the controlled
observation these observations involve no influence or guidance of any type of external force.
Covert and Overt Observation: Covert observations are when the researcher pretends to be an
ordinary member of the group and observes in secret. There could be ethical problems or deception
and consent with this particular method of observation. Overt observations are when the
researcher tells the group s/he is conducting research (i.e. they know they are being observed).
Type of Obser-
vational Method
Advantages Disadvantages
Particularly good for observing specific
Provides ecologically valid recordings of natural
Spontaneous behaviors are more likely to
Ethics: Where research is undisclosed
consent will not be obtained, where
consent is not obtained - details may
be used which infringe confidentiality.
Allows control of extraneous variables.
Reliability of results can be tested by repeating
the study.
Provides a safe environment to study
contentious concepts such as infant attachment.
The implementation of controls may
have an effect on behavior.
Lack of ecological validity.
Observer effect.
Observer bias.
Gives a broad overview of a situation.
Useful where situation/subject matter to be
studied is unclear.
Only really appropriate as a ‘first step’
to give an overview of a situation /
concept / idea.
Gives an ‘insiders’ view.
Behaviors are less prone to misinterpretation
because researcher was a participant.
Opportunity for researcher to become an
‘accepted’ part of the environment.
Observer effect.
Possible lack of objectivity on the part
of the observer.
Avoidance of observer effect Observer is detached from situation
so relies on their perception which may
be inaccurate
Recording Behavior in Observational Method
The goals of observational research determine whether researchers seek a comprehensive
description of behavior record or a description of only selected behaviors. How the results of a
study are ultimately summarized, analyzed, and reported depends on how behavioral observations
are initially recorded.
Fieldnotes: Participant observers may use multiple methods to gather data. One primary approach
involves writing fieldnotes. There are several guides for learning how to prepare fieldnotes -
Researchers may be interested in creating or using a template to guide a researchers’
Templates or observational coding sheets can be useful when data is collected by inexperienced
Templates or observational coding sheets should only be developed after observation in the field
that is not inhibited by such a template.
Theories and concepts can be driven by templates and result in focused data collection.
Templates can deflect attention from unnamed categories, unimagined and unanticipated
activities that can be very important to understanding a phenomenon and a setting.
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Qualitative Records of Behavior: Observation can provide rich qualitative data, sometimes described
as ‘thick description’ (Geertz, 1973), for example, where the relevant phenomena have been
carefully observed and detailed field notes have been recorded. Typically, the researcher would not
approach the observation with pre-determined categories or questions in mind. Because of this
openness, observation in qualitative research is often referred to as unstructured.
Quantitative Measures of Behavior: Researchers often obtain quantitative measures such as
frequency or duration of occurrence when they seek to describe specific behaviors or events.
Quantitative measures of behavior use one of the four levels of measurement scales: nominal,
ordinal, interval, and ratio. The term ‘systematic’ observation is usually associated with observation
undertaken from the perspective of quantitative research where the purpose is to provide reliable,
quantifiable data. This usually involves the use of some kind of formal, structured observation
instrument or schedule. The observation method being used will clearly identify - the variables to be
observed, perhaps by means of some kind of behavioral checklist; who or what will be observed; how
the observation is to be conducted; and when and where the observations will take place.
Analysis of Observational Data
Data Reduction: Observational data are summarized through the process of data reduction.
Researchers quantify the data in narrative records by coding behaviors according to specified
criteria, for example, by categorizing behaviors. Data are summarized using descriptive measures
such as frequency counts, means, and standard deviations.
Observer Reliability: Inter-observer reliability refers to the extent to which independent
observers agree in their observations. Inter-observer reliability is increased by providing clear
definitions about behaviors and events to be recorded, by training observers, and by providing
feedback about discrepancies. High inter-observer reliability increases researchers' confidence
that observations about behavior are accurate (valid). Inter-observer reliability is assessed by
calculating percentage of agreement or correlations, depending on how the behaviors were measured
and recorded.
Influence of the Observer: If individuals change their behavior when they know they are being
observed (reactivity), their behavior may no longer be representative of their normal behavior.
Research participants may respond to demand characteristics in the research situation to guide
their behavior. Methods to control reactivity include unobtrusive (non-reactive) measurement,
adaptation (habituation, desensitization), and indirect observations of behavior. Researchers must
consider ethical issues when attempting to control reactivity.
Observer Bias: Observer bias occurs when observers’ biases determine which behaviors they choose
to observe and when observers’ expectations about behavior lead to systematic errors in identifying
and recording behavior. Expectancy effects can occur when observers are aware of hypotheses for
the outcome of the study or the outcome of previous studies. The first step in controlling observer
bias is to recognize that it may be present. Observer bias may be reduced by keeping observers
unaware (blind) of the goals and hypotheses of the study.
Chapter - 9 Methods of Data Collection Page
Basic Guidelines for Research SMS Kabir
Advantages and Disadvantages of Observational Method
What and how you observe depends very much on your subject of study. Researchers who prefer
more security from the beginning might consider systematic observation. This involves using an
observation schedule whereby teacher and/or pupil behavior is coded according to certain
predetermined categories at regular intervals. The strengths of systematic observation are –
It is relatively free of observer bias. It can establish frequencies, and is strong on objective
measures which involve low inference on the part of the observer.
Reliability can be strong. Where teams of researchers have used this approach, 80% reliability
has been established among them.
Generalisability. Once you have devised your instrument, large samples can be covered.
It is precise. There is no ‘hanging around’ or ‘muddling through’.
It provides a structure for the research.
The weaknesses are –
There is a measure of unreliability. Qualitative material might be misrepresented through the
use of measurement techniques.
Much of the interaction is missed.
It usually ignores the temporal and spatial context in which the data is collected.
It is not good for generating fresh insights.
The pre-specification of categories predetermines what is to be discovered and allows only
partial description.
It ignores process, flux, development, and change.
There has been lively debate about the pros and cons of systematic and unsystematic observation.
In general, systematic observation is a useful technique and can be particularly strong where used in
conjunction with more purely qualitative techniques.
Survey research is often used to assess thoughts, opinions, and feelings. Survey research can be
specific and limited, or it can have more global, widespread goals. Today, survey research is used by
a variety of different groups. Psychologists and sociologists often use survey research to analyze
behavior, while it is also used to meet the more pragmatic needs of the media, such as, in evaluating
political candidates, public health officials, professional organizations, and advertising and marketing
directors. A survey consists of a predetermined set of questions that is given to a sample. With a
representative sample, that is, one that is representative of the larger population of interest, one
can describe the attitudes of the population from which the sample was drawn. Further, one can
compare the attitudes of different populations as well as look for changes in attitudes over time. A
good sample selection is key as it allows one to generalize the findings from the sample to the
population, which is the whole purpose of survey research.
Surveys provide a means of measuring a population’s characteristics, self-reported and observed
behavior, awareness of programs, attitudes or opinions, and needs. Repeating surveys at regular
intervals can assist in the measurement of changes over time. These types of information are
invaluable in planning and evaluating government policies and programs. Unlike a census, where all
members of a population are studied, sample surveys gather information from only a portion of a
population of interest. The size of the sample depends on the purpose of the study. In a statistically
valid survey, the sample is objectively chosen so that each