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Why and When to Use Qualitative Assessment Approaches

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1.2. Why and When to Use Qualitative Assessment Approaches



Approximate Time (Minutes)

Instructional Activity

Introduction & Key Words


Plenary Discussion

What is a Qualitative Assessment Approach


Plenary Discussion

Differences between Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches


Plenary Discussion

Advantages and Disadvantages of Qualitative Approaches & Implications of These


Group Work (Handout 1.2), followed by group presentations and discussion

When to Use Qualitative Approaches


Plenary Discussion

Introduction to Qualitative Methods and Tools


Group Work (Exercise 1.2), followed by group presentation and discussions

Total Time

120 minutes

Session Objectives

After this session, participants will be able to:

  • Understand the meaning of the following key words: approach, method, tool, and data.

  • Highlight differences between qualitative and quantitative assessment approaches

  • Identify the  advantages and disadvantages of qualitative approaches

  • Explain when to use qualitative approaches

Session Supplies

  • Power-point 1.2: Why & When to Use Qualitative Assessment Approaches.ppt
  • Handout 1.2: Comparison of quantiative and qualitative  assessment approaches
  • Exercise 1.2: Introduction to Qualitative Methods and Tools
  • Flipchart and Markers for four working groups
  • Index Cards

Key Messages

  • There are four key words to remember in food security assessment discourse, these are:
  • “Approach”: a way of conducting an assessment and collecting data.  Assessment approaches could be qualitative, quantitative, or both (multi-method).
  • “Method”: refers to how the data are collected.
  • “Tool”: an instrument of the method through which data could be collected.
  • “Data”: is the product of the using the approach and its methods and tools. It can be qualitative or qualitative.
  • A qualitative assessment approach is a scientific approach that helps us understand the human side of an issue and identify the “intangible” factors that may not be readily apparent.
  • Qualitative approaches differ from quantitative approaches in their analytical objective; the questions they answer; design flexibility; data format; and sample size.
  • Like quantitative approaches, qualitative approaches have advantages and disadvantages.  Ideally, assessments of food and nutrition security should be based on a combined approach (qualitative and quantitative).
  • Advantages of qualitative approaches are:          
  • Due to largely open ended questions, provide ample opportunity for exploring answers with participants and questioning answers (not possible in quantitative approaches); and increase participants’ ability to respond.
  • Create rapport with participants, which is key in getting access to information.
  • Due to reciprocity of exchange that usually takes place, provide meaning to results obtained (can explain results more readily than quantitative data).
  • Do not require large samples.
  • Sometimes, could be undertaken rather fast.
  • The disadvantages of qualitative approaches are:
  • They require a high level of expertise and skills to undertake.
  • Generalization of results needs to be carefully scrutinized (not possible sometimes without quantitative approaches).
  • Results could be questioned as being subjective (need cross-checking).
  • While the value of qualitative approaches cannot be understated, qualitative approaches can be particularly useful when:
  • The causes of foods security are unknown
  • A broader understanding of the nature of a particular food security issues is needed
  • Information is needed about attitudes linked to food and livelihood security choices; or priorities, perceptions and intentions regarding food security.

Guidance Materials

Be sure to read TGS #8.

Facilitator Guidance and session preparation

This session aims at introducing participants to qualitative approaches, explaining the advantages and disadvantages of qualitative approaches, and identifying cases when qualitative approaches are particularly useful for improving the understanding of food and nutrition security.  While TGS#8 provides a good basis for this session, the facilitator may find it helpful to review other external resources on qualitative approaches.

Room Setup

Plenary discussion with a side set-up for working groups (same as previous session).

Session Activities

Introduction and Key Words

10 minutes

After introducing and explaining the session objectives (Slides 1-2), tell participants that you want to discuss and agree with them on some key terms used in the discourse on food security assessments and appraisals more generally.  

Use Slide 3 to highlight the key words.  Ask participants for definition of each word as it appears on the screen and discuss the answers given.  Ask participants that to take note of the definitions provided as they will be used throughout the training program.

What is a qualitative assessment approach

15 minutes

Ask participants to reflect on what is meant by a qualitative approach and after a few answers present Slide 4 and stress that a qualitative approach is a scientific approach:it is based on an systematic approach of investigating a problem or an issue, and is governed by rigorous processes and procedures to collect and analyze data (mention that this point will be demonstrated during the training program).  Highlight that qualitative assessment approaches place emphasis on understanding through looking closely at people's words, actions and records to develop an in-depth understanding of human behavior and the reasons that govern such behavior.    



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