Choosing your approach

How to choose your approach

Your approach to the research, in other words what method you choose, depends on two main elements:

  • what you want to find out (again, go back to your research question)


  • practicalities: your capacity, timings and budget

Your capacity, timing and budget determines the scope of your research.



Realistic planning is essential: if you’re doing the research in-house, how much staff capacity you can devote to it? Your budget will have an impact on your recruitment strategy and your overall approach, e.g. whether you’re in a position to buy in external research and recruitment help.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the prospect of carrying out qualitative research. Remember that in your ongoing conversations and interactions with your audiences and users you’ve already made a start on gathering anecdotal evidence and user stories. And as an arts company the exploratory qualitative research process will come naturally.


Start from what you know

From your observation of your users and audiences combined with your existing informal interactions with them you can gauge how best to carry forward the research in a more structured way. Observation and informal exchanges are both important first steps to crafting your research approach.


Focus groups

Always be guided by your research question when choosing an approach. For an arts audience (and with non-sensitive material or participants that are not classed as vulnerable) it’s usually good to have people spark off each other, so a focus group or mini focus group is an easy way to generate conversation – all you need to do is to guide that conversation to answer your research question.  A focus group is an informal facilitated conversation with 6-8 people. A mini focus group is done with 3-4 people and is more intimate. The choice depends on your research needs and your budget.



An in-depth interview is a semi-structured one-to-one conversation and typically used when the subject matter is more sensitive or the participant has a busy diary. Interviews are logistically more flexible to fit into a working day and tend to be used for stakeholders or other arts companies or agencies.


Be creative

Our arts partners have likened the research process to a creative process because it’s open-ended and exploratory. As an arts company, you can use your creative ingenuity and invent your own approach.

top tips

  • If you’re doing your research in-house, don’t underestimate the organisational capacity and budget that your research will take. Discuss your approach with colleagues or more experienced peers and get their advice before committing valuable resources.
  • Remember that your notes from informal interactions and observations are a useful starting point. They spark ideas and might initiate opportunities for more explicit approaches to your research.
  • Focus groups tend to be conducted in the evening and you’d typically do two in an evening. All this means that they need to be planned ahead, so think carefully about your timing.

More QUAL Essentials

playing music with unusually created instruments.
What is qual?
A group of people networking inside traditional building.
Research question
John Harris talking about recruiting a sample.
Who to talk to
Bottles of brightly coloured printing ink on a shelf.
Industrial workshop space.
Artist creating sculpture at workbench.
Christopher Glasgow talking about using research results.
Acting on Results
Young people studying at desks.
Conduct & Ethics