Qualitative research: best practices

This 2020 report from the Building Evidence in Education (BE2) working group is an excellent resource offering guidance on how to conduct high quality qualitative research.

A core messages of the report is that the choice of methods follows a choice of methodology which is grounded in a research paradigm and situated in assumptions, theories, and beliefs of reality (ontoloy) and how we know what we know (epistemology). This nestedness or embeddedness of specific qualitative methods and procedures is central not only to reflect on as a researcher, but also to make explicit in research reports.

At the heart of the report is the discussion of 9 methodologies that are connected to three research paradigms (interpretative/constructionist, critical, and deconstructive) (see Figure 3 from the report to the left).

The report makes a great introductory read to qualitative research not just for educational researchers. The authors offer some very accessible explanation of traditionally hard-to-grasp key concepts like ontology, epistemology, paradigm, methodology, and methods, how they relate, and why they matter and illustrate those using examples from educational research. This in sum makes it the report a highly recommended read for students using qualitative research approaches and designs!

Authors’ abstract: In order to develop education policies, structures and systems that create sustainable development, it becomes even more important than ever to understand what works, and in particular, in which contexts. Qualitative research methods play an important role in program evaluation, especially with a focus on research contextualization, but often they are considered “second class” when compared to quantitative evaluations. When researchers want to know ‘what works’, quantitative methods are commonly selected instead of qualitative methods. However, without good qualitative data to contextualize these findings, ‘how or why things work’ can often remain obscured. This guidance note addresses this gap to help commissioners of research and researchers design and implement qualitative research that use a high level of rigor.

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