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Methoden & Kenntnisse

Qualitative Methods of Empirical Social Research

The Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI) is an excellent partner in the field of qualitative methods of empirical social research. Depending on the research interest, different analytical approaches are used to interpret and analyse qualitative data such as typologies, actor-network-theory, or grounded theory. The ZSI uses the professional software MAXQDA for coding and analysing qualitative data.

ZSI is using a variety of different qualitative methods in its projects. Qualitative methods are usually based on communication, documents, or observation.  They reflect the impacts of the researcher’s intervention, emphasise processes and social dynamics (instead of fixed characteristics), and try to reconstruct the subjective relevancies of respondents. Among the different applications of qualitative methods, we have experience in:

  • Exploring new research fields
  • Developing quantitative tools such as questionnaires
  • Analysing case studies
  • Reconstructing complex, dynamic processes
  • Generating theories

Depending on the research interest, we use different analytical approaches to interpret and analyse qualitative data such as typologies, actor-network-theory, or grounded theory.

Selected qualitative data-collection methods:

Expert interviews
Expert interviews are quite common in social sciences because they provide a quick access to the research field. Other advantages of this method are the large amount of information that can be taken in within short time, and the fact that experts often have a scientific background, which alleviates communication.

Guideline-based/problem-centered interviews
Guideline-based and problem-centered interviews derive from the narrative interview, where the interviewee is stimulated to narrate without the interviewer interrupting them. A guideline helps to structure the interview and to focus on the topics of interest.

Focus group interviews
Focus group interviews are discussions in small groups. The advantages of this method are mainly the mutual response stimulation, the high information level, and the fast revelation of inconsistencies.

Participatory observation/observation protocols
In some case studies or evaluations, we use observation protocols to document activities that are unlikely to be fully articulated in interviews. An example of participatory observation is the participation in assembly line work to understand the daily routine of workers.

Selected analytical approaches:

Case studies and typologies
Case studies, for instance, are used to gain in-depth knowledge on specific aspects of social innovations (Relevance, innovativeness, organizational capacity, sustainability, impact). The identification of similarities and differences between cases leads to a typology, e.g. general types to which singular cases are assigned.  

Actor-Network-Theory
Actor-network-theory combines different qualitative data-collection methods (Interviews, document analysis, observation) to re-construct the development and functioning of actor-networks consisting of human and non-human (technologies, artefacts) actors.

Grounded Theory
Grounded theory is a qualitative methodology that seeks to generate new theoretical knowledge by means of extensive empirical field work and a multi-stage process of data coding and interpretation. 

Coding with MAXQDA
ZSI uses the professional software MAXQDA for coding and analysing qualitative data.
ZSI also teaches the application of qualitative (as well as quantitative) methods in the post-graduate course SOQUA.

If you are interested in our competences on qualitative methods of empirical social research, please feel free to get in touch with us.

Ansprechperson: Magª. Teresa Schäfer, (former known as Holocher-Ertl)

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