Using Qualitative Inquiry to Solve Social Problems

Qualitative inquiry can help us understand the meaning of social problems, moving beyond simply identifying social determinants and correlations to revealing underlying mechanisms at work. By moving closer to the problem, we can access the insider accounts—stories that can be used to motivate change and save lives. Rich data and attention to the voices of survivors, stakeholders, and gatekeepers provide openings for devising constructive solutions. In this way, qualitative inquiry equips us with evidence, action steps, prevention strategies, targeted messaging, and informed interventions.

This course will include discussion of qualitative processes that will position participants to draw nuanced conclusions to aid social problem solving. The timely issue of sexual misconduct will be threaded through the course as an example to demonstrate decision-making across the methodological life of a qualitative project:

  • Topic decision-making: What part(s) of the social problem can and should be studied?
  • Choosing respondents: Who should the participants be? How will you gain access?
  • Designing data collection strategies: For research on sensitive topics, how do you shape data collection guides? How do you obtain IRB approval? Which research methods and procedures are most ethical, efficient, and effective?
  • Developing an analysis plan: How can you capture the holistic stories of participants’ experiences?
  • Disseminating results: How can you develop convincing arguments regarding policy and practice?
  • Planning and implementing interventions: How can findings be used to inform interventions?