Supporting your decisions to get the most out of every qualitative investment


Qualitative research can help us look at problems from the perspectives of the people experiencing them. Rather than simply knowing what the challenges are, we can understand the attitudes, behaviours, and unique contextual factors that contribute to why these challenges persist and what interventions can be put in place to overcome them. Yet, despite the clear benefits, many at the foundation are hesitant to include qualitative research in their investments or feel uncomfortable managing work with qualitative components.

The aim of this platform is to support decision-makers by providing a common vocabulary around qualitative research, explaining the different approaches, and providing practical resources.

Investment objectives

For the purposes of this tool, we have identified four high level investment objectives: Explore problems and identify opportunities, Convert opportunities into interventions, Test and evaluate interventions, and Adopt interventions and scale. An investment can focus on a single objective or span across all four. Some qualitative research approaches are better suited to address an objective than others.


Design, implementation and evaluation

Adoption and scale

Explore problems and identify opportunities

Convert opportunities into interventions

Test and evaluate interventions

Adopt interventions and scale

Compare all five approaches

Research approaches

For the purposes of this tool, we have identified five qualitative research approaches commonly used at the foundation: Participatory Action Research, Ethnography, Design Research, Socio-Behavioral Research, and Implementation Research. We are defining an approach as the theoretical framework guiding the collection, analysis and interpretation of data, as well as the level of engagement with participants. Each approach has a number of research methods associated with it. Methods are the different ways of collecting and analyzing data, such as surveys, interviews and similar.

Illustration of a human and a dolphin form 'swimming' in a circle

Participatory Action Research

Conduct research with key stakeholders, not “on” them.

Illustration of a human kneeling down and taking a photo of a dolphin swimming above

Ethnographic Research

Go beyond what people say to find out what they think and feel.

Illustration of a human, wearing a snorkel and goggles, swimming together with a dolphin.

Design Research

Uncover challenges and unmet needs to build empathy and inspire.

Illustration of a human sitting with a notepad observing a dolphin swimming in the ocean. The human is above, looking down on the dolphin.

Socio-Behavioral Research

Explore attitudes and behaviors to develop theories.

Illustration of a human sitting on a boat. Below, two dolphins are swimming with a school of fish

Implementation Research

Understand the context and impact of a specific implementation.

Compare all five approaches

Research methods

A list of 30+ research methods where you can learn more about them and how they are linked with the different approaches.

Explore research methods