1.2.2 Qualitative approaches
As previously noted, qualitative approaches to evaluation are strongly associated with the naturalistic/interpretivist paradigms in the social sciences. The use of qualitative methods began to gain in popularity through the 1970s and 1980s in the UK and in many Western countries as concern grew over the assumed reliability of evaluation and research based on quantitative methods (Silverman, 2000). The proponents and practitioners of qualitative methodology argue that their methods allow them to analyse the “intricate composite of stakeholders’ perceptions and experiences” (Bamberger et al., 2006, p. 268) of whatever entity or phenomenon is being investigated. The belief is that as social phenomena are distinct from natural phenomena, the use of numerical data to describe complex social entities and interactions is a form of reductionism (as explained in Box 2) that produces superficial results, which are therefore misleading.
Qualitative methods have been imported from disciplines such as anthropology and sociology. They typically consist of various types of observation and interviewing, discourse analysis and other forms of inductive ethnography, and other methods designed to provide the evaluator with an insider’s understanding of whatever setting, process, interaction or entity is being evaluated.