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    Small, focused, well designed qualitative studies are critically important to our learning

    Dr Rebecca King, Researcher, COMDIS-HSD

    Dr Rebecca King, Researcher, COMDIS-HSD

    The recent Open Letter to the BMJ editors highlighted a concern held by many qualitative researchers. At COMDIS-HSD, we welcome the open letter to the BMJ editors and agree that there are a number of leading journals that give low priority to qualitative research

    COMDIS-HSD considers the contribution of qualitative research to intervention development and evaluation to be critical. Our portfolio of work includes:

    • Exploratory qualitative work to inform the development of context-appropriate interventions;
    • Qualitative methods being integrated into the piloting of interventions and research procedures, in order to assess their feasibility and acceptability; and
    • Qualitative methods used within process evaluations of complex interventions.

    We are confident that our learning from qualitative research contributes to more context-appropriate, better quality, more sustainable interventions that can be implemented at scale.

    However, we find that, when it comes to publication, we are constrained by a ‘quantitative paradigm’, which assesses the rigour and validity of studies based on criteria that are not always suited to qualitative research. In particular, we note bias against in-depth and focused, but sometimes quite small studies.

    Our view is that small, focused, well designed and well implemented studies can be critically important to our learning, and the lessons from them can be applied widely. Such studies should not be rejected as ‘low-priority’, but rather should be considered on their own merit i.e. based on their quality and relevance. We have observed in discussion with journal editors that it can be problematic to get reviewers who fully understand both qualitative research methods and the need for pragmatism.

    We advocate the publication of high quality, informative qualitative studies that draw on a wide range of methods, including interviewing, focus group discussions and observations, but also participatory approaches that give voice to participants and enable academics, policymakers and funders to continuously improve health services for those most in need.