How is involvement in research different from qualitative research?

Board meeting - business concept it is icon .

Please send us your views….

Because this is a question we get asked all the time Bec, Derek and I wanted to develop a simple answer. Drawing on the great work from Canada [1], we have written a short list describing what we see as the key differences between qualitative research and involvement (see table below).

We would love your feedback on whether this list makes sense or could be improved in anyway. We’ll use your comments to produce a final version.

Please comment by 31 March, via this blog or tweet @KristinaStaley2 or @DerekCStewart, #QualitativeandPPI or email: 

Qualitative research project Involvement in a research project
Aims to answer a research question Aims to help select and refine a research question
Seeks people’s input as data to answer a research question Seeks people’s input to inform and influence decisions about how research is designed, delivered and disseminated
Researchers have the power to analyse the data in the way they think best Patients, the public and researchers share power to make joint decisions about the research based on their combined views
Generates evidence that may be generally useful


Generates insight and learning that may be specific to the researchers and patients/public involved and their particular project
Needs ethical approval Does not always need ethical approval (see this guidance produced by INVOLVE and NRES) but does need to reflect ethical practice
Follows a standard method Uses a flexible approach that meets the needs of the people involved
Seeks views from a representative sample Seeks a range of perspectives from people with diverse experiences
Can be done by one researcher on behalf of the team Needs many members of a team to be involved as they could each learn something different from the experience

Bec Hanley, Kristina Staley, Derek Stewart Feb 2019

[1] Doria et al. (2018) Sharpening the focus: differentiating between focus groups for patient engagement vs. qualitative research. Research Involvement and Engagement, 4:19.


2 thoughts on “How is involvement in research different from qualitative research?

  1. Hi there – I think this is a big oversimplification of “qualitative research” as there are many different methodologies. I notice the original paper looked at focus groups, which are a tool used in qualitative research (not the same thing). For example, some qualitative research might not involve people, only texts or artefacts. The way the data are analysed depends on the sort of research – it’s not “up to the researcher”, it’s aligned to the methodology they use – not just what they feel like doing. If I were doing grounded theory I would need to follow a very specific set of steps, for example.
    Not all qual research follows a standard method – some is a mix of different methods – in this case it IS up to the researcher to justify why they are blending various approaches.
    “Sampling” is generally associated with quantitative research – qualitative work can be done with one participant (or with oneself).
    Lastly, some qualitative research (like participatory action research) is done with a group of people as equal co-researchers (who may be researchers or lay people).
    I think your question of difference is more aligned with the difference between research and quality improvement – from what I can gather from the context.
    Good luck!


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