I recently blogged about my growing appreciation of qualitative and mixed methods approaches to evaluation, even though I was originally trained in quantitative psychology. It turns out I’m not alone! It seems that we are in the midst of a resurgence of qualitative methods. An article by Gergen, Josselson, and Freeman was published in the January 2015 issue of American Psychologist — the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association – titled, “The Promises of Qualitative Inquiry.” The article notes the addition of the Society for Qualitative Inquiry to APA Division 5 as “an invigorating and enriching expansion in the vision of psychological inquiry and its potentials.” One aspect of the inclusion of qualitative methods in Division 5 is APA’s publication of a new bi-annual journal, Qualitative Psychology.
In my professional life, my work is multidisciplinary, but mostly bridges the worlds of psychology (from my graduate training and professional licensure) and program evaluation (from years of postdoctoral experience and hands-on evaluation of healthcare and social services. Qualitative methods are “hot” now in evaluation too – the American Evaluation Association AEA 365 blog had a week recently dedicated to qualitative evaluation-related topics (January 2015) and has another one this week.
Why the renewed interest in qualitative methods? In his article Pursuing Excellence in Qualitative Inquiry, Kenneth Gergen describes it as part of transition in psychological science, with a shift to “a new pluralism.” From my own experience, I think that the richness of description that qualitative methods allow resonates with people. Qualitative findings “make sense” to research and evaluation stakeholders – that is, the people who use the information for decision-making, program improvement, and sharing a program’s successes, challenges, and lessons learned.