Qualitative Research

People gathered around a large desk Qualitative consultation gets beyond the simple questionnaire and tries to uncover what people really think. It can also be used to seek ideas and solutions or for gaining a better understanding of people's thoughts.

Increasingly the emphasis is on actively engaging with people, whether staff, stakeholders or members of the public to come up with real solutions to real problems.

ORS has a permanent team of full-time researchers who are able to effectively facilitate qualitative research projects in-house and subsequently provide clear, insightful and useful reports. We also have facilities for electronic analysis of qualitative information to maximise the evidence base for conclusions.

Results from these studies are inevitably influenced by the small number of participants - and whilst the findings can prove invaluable, care must be taken when expanding the results out to the whole population.

It is generally not possible to statistically quantify the results of qualitative research, so quantitative methods may need to be used to support the findings.

Focus Groups

Focus groups are conversational forums typically comprising of 8-10 people. They are commonly held with members of the public, employees, businesses, organisations and stakeholders. The group structure can be constituted as such to ensure a good representation.

For example, public focus groups can be homogenous or heterogeneous in composition, defined by age, gender and socio-economic status or tenure type.

They involve in-depth discussions of pre-existing views, points of controversy and future aspirations lasting for up to two hours. They aim to engage participants in the open-ended exchange of ideas with a mind to reflecting on the views of others as well as offering their own past experiences.

The framework for this approach is conceptual rather than an attempt to provide statistical representation.

The point is to identify recurrent concerns and ideas that will inform an ongoing debate.

Review Panels or Citizens Juries

Twelve to sixteen people are selected to match a rough cross-section of the local community. They then hear from a variety of specialist 'witnesses' and are usually able to discuss as broad or narrow range of issues as they see fit over a half-day period.

The emphasis of the Scrutiny/Review Panel is much less on the facilitator and encourages panellists to take control themselves, by interrogating the professional 'witnesses' and debating the issues amongst themselves in order to reach a set of conclusions to highlight future priorities.

The Scrutiny/Review Panel rests upon the concept of participatory representation. The decisions reached derive their value from the extensive opportunity for deliberation, with the conclusions being informed, considered and collective.

Stakeholder Forums

Stakeholder Forums are larger group discussions conducted with professionals who have a vested interest in the topic and represent the views of their company or organisation.

They commonly last between 3 and 5 hours depending upon the complexity of the subject. The format normally consists of a brief introduction outlining the themes and aims of the session, followed by, in some cases, specialist presentations and an in-depth participant examination of the salient issues, which can often involve practical interactive workshops.

The discussion is usually concluded by a feedback session to summarise the ideas produced.


These can involve a number of different techniques, and are most commonly used with groups where a more discursive method would be inappropriate.

Depending upon who is attending, numbers can be between 12 and 20.

The workshop involves a series of hands-on exercises designed to establish priorities, views and expectations; they normally last about 3 hours.

The technique can be particularly beneficial when working with certain groups, for example, children or young people who might prove disruptive in a more formalised and structured environment as it gets them to focus on issues without feeling pressurised or under scrutiny.

Participatory Appraisal

Participatory Appraisal is a methodology where each group of participants moves through various stages.

Firstly, they are presented with 'the problem' and technical issues are clarified.

The participants look at their perceptions of the current situation, identify barriers or gaps, and propose solutions or areas for change. Normally, sessions are undertaken by groups of peers, with people choosing to participate and deciding their own level of participation.

Internet Technology

Our methods also incorporate the latest technology and ideas. In a straightforward sense, structured email interviews are carried out with respondents unable to commit to a specific interview time. The use of internet technology also links to the idea of participatory representation.

In particular, closely moderated chat rooms are established for members of the public to discuss topics freely. this eliminates the lack of participation that can sometimes be witnessed in a more formal meeting scenario.

To conclude, we have vast experience of dealing with a broad range of important social issues such as health, housing, education and social inclusion. Our clients similarly vary, including the business and voluntary sectors; central and local government as well as health organisations and the emergency services.

The reports that we produce are carefully planned and written with a view to ensuring they are user-friendly and accessible. We always welcome new challenges and look forward to constantly innovating in the future to meet our clients' needs.