Our research is of little value if the outcomes are not deemed useful in some way. This is true for all types of research. Whether it is qualitative, quantitative, or a mixed methods approach, the “carrot” that dangles ahead of the research team is the promise of reaching worthwhile, actionable conclusions and recommendations for the users and sponsors of the research. Achieving this objective – reaching the “carrot” of useful research – is the product of the quality measures put into place at the data collection, analysis, and reporting phases of the research design.
The Total Quality Framework (TQF)* offers a way of thinking about these quality measures in a qualitative research design. The TQF is comprised of four inter-related components, each having to do with a stage of the research process. Recent articles in Research Design Review have discussed three of these components – Credibility pertaining to data collection, Analyzability having to do with the processing and verification of qualitative data, and Transparency relating to the reporting of details associated with data collection, analysis, and the drawing of interpretations.
The fourth component of the TQF is Usefulness or the “ability to do something of value with the outcomes.” The ultimate strength of the Usefulness component is a function of the rigor – the attention to quality – within the Credibility (data collection), Analyzability (analysis), and Transparency (reporting) components. In this way, the Usefulness component relies on each of the other components independently as well as collectively. The goal is to maximize the value of a qualitative research study for the researchers affiliated with the study, the research sponsors, and the users of the research such as researchers working in comparable fields or contexts as well as students investigating the research topic for the first time. The TQF Usefulness component was briefly discussed in RDR back in 2012 – see “Designing Qualitative Research to Produce Outcomes You Can Use.”
Broadly speaking, the Usefulness component addresses the question, “What can and should be done with the study now that it has been completed?” Specifically, the usefulness of a qualitative study will be determined in varying degrees from study to study depending on the research question and the particular objectives. When evaluating usefulness, researchers may ask,
- Has the study confirmed or refuted important hypotheses?
- Has the study identified important knowledge gaps that future research should try to help close?
- Has the study offered recommendations for action that are worthy of further testing or worthy of actionable next steps?
- Has the study demonstrated the value of using new or refined methods for gathering qualitative data?
- Has the study demonstrated new or refined methods for analyzing qualitative data?
In keeping with the important role of useful qualitative research, it is recommended that a “Usefulness of the Study” section be included in the final research document. The intended purpose of this section is to explain the researcher’s views on how the study should be interpreted, acted upon, or applied in other research contexts. Regardless of whether the consumers of the research agree with the stated views, this section serves as an important reminder of the researcher’s responsibility to impart their knowledge and perspectives associated with the ultimate goal – useful qualitative research giving people the ability to do something of value with the outcomes.
* The Total Quality Framework is fully discussed in Roller, M. R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (2015). Applied qualitative research design: A total quality framework approach. New York: Guilford Press.