The value of qualitative research

Friday, May 20, 2022 Canadian Blood Services trainees

This post was written by Katie Baker with help from Jaya Rastogi and Sebastian Steven. All three are Master’s students working on a project with Canadian Blood Services’ scientist, Dr. Jennie Haw. 

I’ve taken six different research methods and analysis courses in my university career. In each course, my professors dedicated one or two lectures to teaching us about qualitative methods. The rest of the semester focused on ‘robust’ and ‘objective’ quantitative methodologies, which are considered the ‘gold standard’ of scientific research. Although it may not have been intentional, the message was clear: in science, quantitative research is more valuable than qualitative research. 

When I started my master’s degree in Health: Science Technology and Policy at Carleton University, I began a collaborative project working with Jaya Rastogi, Sebastian Steven, and Dr. Jennie Haw, a sociologist at Canadian Blood Services who specializes in health, donation and qualitative research. One of her research interests is to examine how donor screening processes can be maximally inclusive while ensuring the safety of the blood supply. For our thesis project, we decided to study the views of young adults on donor criteria affecting gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM), as well as trans and non-binary individuals. 

Because our focus was on examining the views of young adults on these policies, we decided to use qualitative methods for the project. This process involved conducting semi-structured interviews with 42 research participants and then performing a thematic analysis on the interview transcripts.  
At first, Sebastian, Jaya and I were skeptical of the methodologies we would use in our project. Can we really analyze data from only 42 responses? Isn’t this going to be biased? What’s the point of collecting data if it can’t be generalized to the rest of the population?

To our surprise, we agreed that running the semi-structured interviews was one of the most gratifying experiences we have ever had conducting research. Speaking with people and asking about their experiences felt much more rewarding than analyzing blood samples or trying to interpret the meaning of vague survey responses. 

Not only was it rewarding, but the qualitative methodology also provided a window into the participants’ views and opinions that cannot be achieved with quantitative methods. The students we interviewed had so much to say, and we learned about surprising and interesting perspectives that we hadn’t thought to ask about initially. For example, the participants repeatedly expressed that they appreciated transparency on the donor screening questionnaire, even though we didn’t create any interview questions or directly ask them about this topic. Although this view could have important implications for policymakers, we would not have learned about it if we had sent out a quantitative survey with closed-ended questions. 

Through this experience, we learned that using qualitative methods can be of great value, even in a medical field. Rather than being limited by a set of pre-defined questions, qualitative methods make it possible to explore interesting and unexpected concepts. For the three of us, the main findings of this research project were not only the views of young adults on blood donation policy, but also the value of qualitative research.

two women and one man smiling in a collage

About the authors:

Katie Baker (she/her), Sebastian Steven (he/him/el) and Jaya Rastogi (she/they) are graduate students studying for their Masters of Science, Health: Science Technology and Policy, at Carleton University.

Canadian Blood Services – Driving world-class innovation

Through discovery, development and applied research, Canadian Blood Services drives world-class innovation in blood transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation—bringing clarity and insight to an increasingly complex healthcare future. Our dedicated research team and extended network of partners engage in exploratory and applied research to create new knowledge, inform and enhance best practices, contribute to the development of new services and technologies, and build capacity through training and collaboration. Find out more about our research impact

The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services nor do they reflect the views of Health Canada or any other funding agency.


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