When we do qualitative research, our clients often wonder how representative the qualitative data is of the target population they are working with. It’s a valid question. To answer, I have to go back to the purpose of conducting qualitative research in the first place.
The purpose of qualitative research is to understand people’s perceptions, opinions, and beliefs, as well as what is causing them to think in this way. Unlike quantitative research, the purpose is not to generalize the results to the population of interest. If eight out of ten participants in a focus group share the same opinion, can we say that 80% of people believe that particular opinion? No, definitely not, but you can be pretty confident that it will be a prevalent opinion in the population.
While qualitative data is not statistically representative of a population, we still have guidelines that we follow to make sure we are capturing reliable data. For example, we suggest conducting at least three focus groups per unique segment. Qualitative research is fluid by nature, so data gathered from across three groups allows us to see consistent themes and patterns across groups, and assess if there are any outliers or themes exclusive to one group that may not be representative of the unique segment as a whole.
Still not sure which methodology will best be able to answer your research questions? We can help you choose!