Qualitative methods

In this section

In this section we outline some practicalities of conducting qualitative research.  It’s accompanied by a detailed downloadable ‘how-to’ guide with top tips.


Topic guides

For every qualitative research method (apart from observation and informal interactions) you’ll need a topic guide. The topic guide lists areas that you want to explore with your group or individual and is linked to the brief – it must be designed to answer your research question.


Focus groups/mini focus groups

A focus group is a facilitated group conversation and led by your topic guide. It has to be recorded; for this you need permission from the participants and assurances about confidentiality. For the findings to be meaningful, it’s essential to conduct more than one focus group; you need to compare what emerges from different sample groups.


In-depth interviews

Interviews are used for more sensitive subject matter or time-poor participants. It’s a similar process to a focus group: use a topic guide, record the interview (getting permission first) and keep to time (usually 30-40 minutes).



An impartial facilitator allows participants to be open and honest, and lets the conversation develop without influencing participants’ responses. If you’re doing your own facilitation you need to be open to hearing criticism and negative opinions – your organisation can learn from these.


Observation and informal interactions

These can be a cheap and useful way of gathering data. It’s essential when observing your audience or users that you take field notes of your impressions and reflections. In informal interactions, try not to lead the conversation but keep it open.

Most arts companies regularly survey audiences and users after an event or performance to gather evaluation data. The key to getting a good response and not kill the connection you’ve just created is to keep it simple, short and open-ended. Be creative in your approach.

top tips

  • Be open to what emerges - go with the flow if it’s interesting and relevant, but make sure you cover all the areas in your topic guide.
  • Don’t underestimate observation as a useful method – it’s something you’re likely to do anyway.
  • Don't over-react if you hear something that you disagree with - these observations can be informative and useful.


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
Old sweeping brush propped against box of pamphlets.
Approach choices
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