Qualitative Techniques

Whereas quantitative data focuses on things you can count, like numbers and percentages, qualitative data focuses on things you can observe but that are hard to count, like changes in behaviour and attitude. Measuring these things is often done through interviews, diary entries, or other non-countable data.

It is impossible to cover here all the possible qualitative data collection and analysis techniques that could be used in a M&E context.

Reference will be made to a number of these in the text below and several techniques will be explored in more detail in relation to other types of evaluation (Theory-led, quick appraisal, self evaluation).

This section will cover:

What are qualitative techniques?

  • Qualitative data collection and analysis methods produce data that are not easily summarised in numerical form.
  • They help to explain how and why a particular project or programme operates as it does in a particular context.
  • Qualitative data is not numerical but may include images, videos, text and, above all, people’s written or spoken words.
  • They are more appropriate for understanding people’s attitudes or behaviours, beliefs, opinions, experiences and priorities. They are generated in response to questions like “Why do you think this happened?” and “How do you think this will affect you?” (socialcops.com)
  • Qualitative methods are often used to find out more about: i) Local knowledge and understanding of a given issue or programme. ii) People’s experiences, meanings and relationships. iii) Social processes and contextual factors (e.g., social norms and cultural practices) that marginalise a group of people or impact a programme (Save the Children Fund/ Open University).
  • Qualitative data analysis is a process that seeks to reduce and make sense of large amounts of information, often from different sources so that impressions that shed light on a research question can emerge (Save the Children Fund/ Open University).
  • Qualitative data analysis is a process where you take descriptive information and offer an explanation or interpretation. The information can consist of interview transcripts, documents, blogs, surveys, pictures, videos etc.

It should not be inferred that qualitative techniques lack rigour. You have to select interviewees who are well placed to provide first-hand insights into the work you are doing. You will also have to avoid selection bias when forming a focus group and be aware of your own unconscious bias when engaging in participant observation.

You may need to select a sample of the population for focus group discussion or interviews, for this you may wish to consult this document for more detail on qualitative sampling techniques.

According to Save the Children Fund/ Open University, you may select a sample of individuals with a particular ‘purpose’ in mind in different ways, including:

• Extreme or typical case sampling – learning from unusual or typical cases, e.g. children who expectedly struggle with hardship (typical) or those who do well despite extreme hardship (unusual)

• Snowball sampling – asking others to identify people who will interview well, because they are open and because they have an in-depth understanding of your issue (e.g. you may ask street children to identify other street children you can talk to).

This, in turn, may raise ethical issues relating to payment of participants and the potential bias that this can build into your study. Remember not to make perfect the enemy of the good: you need access in a way that is not harmful to participants and if this involves paying a small fee for the time of participants then so be it (assuming that you have the budget of course!).

• Random purposeful sampling – if your purposeful sample size is large you can randomly recruit respondents from it.

Common Techniques

Common qualitative techniques include:

Pros and Cons of Quantitative Techniques


  • They can provide a detailed description of participants’ feelings, opinions, and experiences
  • They shed light on the human experience in particular settings
  • They often have a flexible design
  • They can uncover surprising findings (through
    first-hand contact with target audience)


  • Policy-makers may give lower credibility to results from a qualitative approach.
  • Smaller sample size raises the issue of generalizability to the whole
    population of the research
  • They may not always be particularly rigorous
  • Can be time-consuming

Source: Adapted from Rahman

Qualitative research methods are often distinguished from quantitative techniques but in practice, they often draw upon each other and can be combined in a mixed-methods approach. Thus, quantitative surveys may include open-ended questions that can be examined qualitatively.

Some Less Common Qualitative M&E Techniques

The most common qualitative data collection and analysis are discussed under the Full and Quick 1-2-3 Method. Some of the less common techniques include:

  • seasonal calendars: a form of time-series analysis which explores and records data for specific seasons.
  • mind maps: rich pictures which are a way to explore, acknowledge and define a situation and express it through diagrams to create a preliminary mental model.
  • transect walks, which cover the same route and allow observation of people and resources.
  • spider diagrams (page 22) or evaluation wheels which are a visual method for analysing the relative importance of, or progress on, different aspects of an intervention. Each aspect is represented by one arm of the frame of the web.
  • photovoice is ‘a participatory method that enables people to identify, represent and enhance their community, life circumstances or engagement with a programme through photography and accompanying written captions. It involves giving cameras to a group of participants, enabling them to capture, discuss and share stories they find significant.
  • picture story, which allows children, in a ludic way, to get across their ideas on specific issues through drawings (storytelling) they have made. The storytelling can either be done in writing, depending on the child’s level of literacy, or verbally with a researcher. This is a cheap, rapid and non-threatening way to explore children’s views on a particular issue (e.g. barriers to female education) and to begin to identify what can be done to address any struggles faced by children.

Where to next?

To return to step 2 (Data Collection), click here.

To view the section on quantitative techniques, click here