After specifying what you want to know/understand and the questions the qualitative research should answer, identify the ways to find the pieces of information necessary to find answers: these are known as data collection methods.

This presentation on qualitative research tools is not exhaustive. There is room to create other tools to fit research needs, partners and objectives. The list below serves as a guide.

For research with the objective to know the perspective of women, it is important to reach out to them and ensure they participate throughout the process. They are the ones who best know their reality and who can best help to understand it. They, in part, will shape methodology. Indigenous principles will also shape how interviews and data collection take place.

Documentation Review: it is usually worthwhile to research existing documentation on the topic chosen. The information can help to explain the context or to better understand the topic (documentation review can also help frame the issue). Documentation can help support or expand on the testimonies gathered during interviews. Documentation review can take place throughout the research process. It can focus on Written materials or Band Council resolutions, newspaper articles, previous research, books, published journals, etc.

An interview can be defined as a conversation with the purpose of getting in-depth information on a specific topic from a woman or man who is deemed an expert (the term “expert” is understood here in a broad sense, meaning people who know best the topic being researched). The selection of people is based on the nature of the information being gathered.



unlike documentation review, interviews gather information directly from people’s knowledge, life experiences, etc. These “informers” are chosen based on the different criteria set by the research’s objectives and needs. There are several types of interviews and they can be either individual or group interviews.

Individual Interview:

These are conducted between a researcher and a person with relevant information (elder, member of the community, expert, etc.).
The type of interview can be structured, semi-structured or unstructured.1

A structured interview follows a questionnaire, that is, a set of questions pre-determined by the interviewer. A semi-structured interview is more flexible. Some questions are pre-determined, but they are guidelines rather than a set list to follow. An unstructured interview is conducted like a conversation where it is the interviewee who controls the pace and sub-topics broached. In this case, questions serve mainly to prompt the person speaking.

Group interviews:

these are interviews conducted with several people at the same time. Group interviews can follow several formats. Questions to consider are: Why conduct a group interview? What do I want to learn? Why would bringing together several people at the same time be more advantageous for data collection than conducting individual interviews? Sometimes group interviews provide more information that individual ones, but at other times, the opposite is true.

Group interviews are generally called focus groups. Decide, depending on your research objectives, who should participate, then prepare questions to gather useful information in order to answer the research question.
Talking circles are often used in Indigenous communities, but consider this option carefully before choosing that route in a research context. Circles often use an object that is held while someone is speaking (stick or feather) which is passed around from person to person when it is a person’s turn to speak. A talking circle is an important practice, but it is usually not permitted to repeat the words spoken, which can be problematic in a research context. That being said, it is possible to use some techniques specific to talking circles. However, emphasize to those present that it isn’t a talking circle, but rather a group discussion where the information will contribute to the ongoing research process.

During a focus group, it is helpful to summarize your understanding of what was said, and if need be, reformulate questions, ask if someone has comments, ask follow-up questions, and look at every person present in such a way that all feel welcome to speak. Never judge what is said and the facilitator of the group discussion should welcome all opinions given by participants. In all cases, it is important to create a connection with participants and put them at ease.

Other types of group interviews 2

The World Café is another type of discussion that begins in small groups and ends in plenary (large group). It is a way of consulting people on a topic with an aim to find solutions and courses of actions. Define the shared objective and make the intention clear. Create a hospitable space. Co-construct the core issues with the group. Encourage everyone’s contribution. Connect ideas to one another. Harvest and share the fruit of all discussions. It is helpful to ask three questions: a broad exploratory one, a more focused one that arises from the first, and a third one concerning follow-up actions. This format is called World Café because the meeting space is arranged like a coffee shop, with round tables seating four to five people. Participants move to another table (except those taking note or hosting the table) after each of the three questions.

An open forum is another type of group discussion that aims to not only gather information, but also provide leads for a common understanding of an issue. An open forum usually takes place in two stages:  emergence/exploration and convergence/moving to action. The topic is already known beforehand since it was specified in the invitation to the forum. With groups taking turns, people list the sub-topics they care about. These become the forum’s agenda. Then collective exploration is done via brief oral presentations followed by individual and group commitments to take action. A convergence, a point where people come together, is thus gradually created.

The intention behind harvesting discussions is to preserve a collective memory of what was said and done to try to develop a shared understanding of an issue and find courses of action. In such meetings, gathering information is also an opportunity to mobilize and empower a group.

Life Stories:

Life stories are usually the result of a series of individual interviews conducted between a researcher and a person whose life experiences illustrate well what is being researched. It “is a research technique where the researcher seeks to understand the social environment and the social processes from a person’s experiences, but also from those of a group or organization.”

Life stories differ from biographies in that they aim to get to know a society and its evolution, while biographies focus mainly on the interviewee. Life stories enable a more in-depth study and exploration of the different shades in a real and lived-through situation.

Participant Observation:

it is a “qualitative research technique where the researcher collects data by participating in the daily life of the group, organization, or the person being studied.”4

Non-participant observation of groups also exists. A combination of both methods is usually used. Data from observations are collected or provide research context.

Usually, a researcher’s observations depend on what she wants to see and who she is as person. Let yourself be flexible, and move away from prejudices and preconceived ideas.


once data collection methods have been determined, ask: Who should be interviewed? If group interviews were selected: Who are the people most likely to provide the various points of view or kinds of knowledge needed? Also consider the dynamics of group interviews. The way to select a sample (the people to meet with) differs from sample selection in quantitative research. The goal is not to select a large number of people representative of the entire group, but rather to select people who can provide relevant information for the research topic. It is helpful to make a list with the criteria required to be selected.


it is helpful to write down how interviews took place, questions you’ve asked yourself and different reflections you’ve made. This information can be used to provide context to the data or to take stock of what worked and what did not.

Data Collection:

documentation review and interviews provide data or information that then has to be organized. Using interview notes or recordings, it is possible to identify which pieces of information help understand the context, which provide additional knowledge of the topic and which are unimportant. Attitudes and silences can also turn out to be data. For instance, it can be worthwhile to understand that some information will never be shared in front of a group due to taboos in the community. If this is the case, alternative strategies may have to be used to gather such information.

Interview Transcripts

It is important to quickly transcribe interviews to lose nothing that was said. If an interview was not recorded, notes must be typed up as quickly as possible so details are not forgotten. If the interview was recorded, it is best to:

  • Listen again to the interview
  • Index the interview. That is, while listening, spot where the main questions/topics of the discussion occur and take note of the time codes. For example: Interview Presentation from 00:00 to 05:32; Question 1 (What does it mean to be an Indigenous woman?) from 05:32 to 10:45; etc. In this way, you know exactly what topic is being discussed and when it occurs during the interview. By the end of this process, the interview will be divided into several segments.
  • For each segment, identify what is important to remember (main points). For example, for Question 1 (What does it mean to be an
  • Indigenous woman?): legal aspect, take her place in policy-making, family dimension…
    Take stock or synthesize the main points discussed and state how respondents answered or not the questions asked.

With a transcript of each interview in hand, you can then analyze the data collected (For more information see further).

Fully analyze the research question;

Assess possible methodologies: group interviews, individual interviews, life stories, etc. Decide which method or methods are the most likely to obtain the necessary information;

Determine the criteria to select the person or people who may have information. Make a list of people to meet with;

After meeting with people, type the content (or verbatim) of interviews.

Individual Interview

To conduct a successful individual interview, you need good questions that cover all the topics you want information on, but above all, you need to know how to set a good atmosphere during the interview.

“More than the questions themselves, it is the atmosphere of the interview that will determine the quality of the answers.”

Interview Questions: the questions are determined beforehand and in line with the interview’s objective. Certain questions may also serve to verify the reliability of responses or to set a comfortable atmosphere. It is better to avoid questions that could make a person feel uncomfortable. Ask only one question per subject and be sure to follow the order of questions. Do not take too much of the person’s time. “The quality of the information often depends on choosing questions that bring out good answers.” It is therefore very important to put thought into the questions that will be asked, as well as how they will be asked. Subsidiary questions may be needed to start again after pauses.

Questions should not have value judgments. Also be careful to not give your opinion, as this could influence a person’s reasoning.

“Avoid yes or no closed-ended questions. A good question is open, simple and clear.” It can call upon several responses, while drawing upon what the person knows.

Semi-structured interviews, interviews with predetermined question but with room and time for the person to follow their ideas and illustrate them, are usually more susceptible to give good results.

Here is a list of factors that can contribute to setting a good atmosphere :

  1. Greet the respondent. Thank him or her for coming. Mention confidentiality. Introduce yourself and the project. Ask for permission to use a tape recorder. Inform the person how long the interview will take. In certain cultures, it is customary to offer tobacco to an elder when asking him or her questions.
  2. Ask the questions (Before the interview, (…) write down the questions and number them.) Respect silences when they occur. Do not make judgments. Do not ask questions that the respondent has already answered while talking. Thank the respondent for their time and knowledge.
  3. After the interview, write down all relevant information. If the interview was not recorded, immediately type your notes in order to not forget any details. Do not forget to send the person a thank-you note.

In an interview, depending on the subject, some people may remember painful experiences during the discussion. It is best to take a break, ask them if they would like to continue or not, try to say words of comfort and eventually suggest they call someone they trust to accompany them. It is better not to leave them until they are accompanied or have regained their balance.

In all cases, an interview should finish on a positive note emphasizing the experience shared and the importance of the testimony to the research. It must be as clear as possible to the person who gave their time and knowledge how the information will be used by the research team. It is important to give interviewees information concerning the next research phases and how they will be contacted again.


Does discrimination still exist against the Métis in the community? This question contains a value judgment (the Métis are discriminated against). On the other hand: Who is part of the community? Who is not part of the community? According to you, according to the Band Council? These are more neutral questions.

Make an interview chart to ensure all desired subject are addressed;

Record the interview or quickly type it immediately after;

Have a strategy in case a person experiences emotional difficulties;

End on a positive note and explain the following research phases.

Group Interview

The quality of a group interview depends greatly on the ambiance set and group dynamics. Sometimes, two or three ill-intentioned people can adversely affect the ambience for the entire group. Some tools can help establish and maintain a good ambiance and ensure a positive facilitation.

A-Common Principles for Quality (From the Art of Hosting, L’art du leadership participatif-Guide des méthodes, votre cahier de bord -Résultat d’un travail collectif)

  1. Create a hospitable space (it may be helpful to agree on a code of conduct, e.g. respect and listen)
  2. Set the context and the purpose of the conversation
  3. Explore questions that matter
  4. Listen together to discover what people are really saying
  5. Encourage and honour everyone’s contributions
  6. Make visible the group’s discoveries and knowledge
  7. Harvest individual and collective discoveries

Focus on what matters. Suspend judgment. Encourage speaking with intention. Listen carefully to one another. Together deepen your reflections and questions. Link and connect your ideas. Slow down. Be conscious of your impact on the group. Accept diverse opinions. Contribute with your mind and heart. Play. Doodle. Draw. Have fun.

After the meeting, go over notes and ask another person to do so also. Ask yourself what the common themes are, whether there is a pattern, if new questions emerge and what the conclusions are. Share results with the group in writing if a meeting is not possible.

Make an interview chart;

Draft a code of conduct to share with and propose to participants;

Plan to have strategies in place to cope with sensitive situations;

Offer to record (or not) the interview and determine who will take notes;

End on a positive note recognizing everyone’s contribution, summarizing the main points and communicating the next steps of the research project.

B- A Group Discussion Facilitator’s (from the Toolbox)

  1. Clarifying Content:
    • Clearly defining the common objective and the words that will be used;
    • Reformulating to clarify and thus ensure a shared understanding;
    • Making connections between various interventions;
    • Prompting the discussion when necessary. Summarizing the ideas put forward to take stock and reorient the discussion if needed.
  2. Controlling the process:
    • Stimulating everyone to participate;
    • Encouraging people who often speak to reduce the length of their contributions by suggesting they summarize, and asking other people to comment. One can also avoid looking at people who tend to monopolize discussions;
    • Informing participants of the time available to the group for the meeting;
    • Giving the floor fairly.
  3. Managing Socio-Emotional Aspects:
    • Greeting and showing interest in each participant;
    • Ensuring a calm and relaxed atmosphere;
    • Remaining objective. “People can get involved in more explosive conflicts and make subjective remarks to others. The role of the facilitator is to cool down the situation by reformulating their words in objective terms. It is important to make the distinction between the content and its socio-emotional power, thus enabling participants to move beyond the opposition between individuals.” It may be helpful to remind participants of the code of conduct adopted at the beginning of the meeting.
    • Encouraging verbalizing: “When the atmosphere is tense, it is a good idea to allow participants to express their feelings.”

In some cases, people may recall painful experiences during discussions and want to leave the group. Make sure qualified people (e.g. social workers) are on hand to help.

Finally, it is important to end on a positive note highlighting the contribution of each person. Remember to once again state how the interview helps the research project and inform participants of the next research steps and timeline. People should know if more is expected of them or not.

Helpful Questions: How can I facilitate a group discussion to achieve the research’s objectives while simultaneously respecting participants? How can sensitive topics be broached without generating hostility? How can Indigenous principles be applied to research tools? What can be done when someone monopolizes the discussion and moves away from the topic? How do I determine whether a person is moving away from the topic or rather presenting it from a different angle not previously considered? Should the discussion be recorded or not? If it is, should interviews be transcribed or only notes be taken?

[1] Community Tool Box, Chapitre 3, section 12
[2] This section draws heavily on: Art of Hosting 
[3] Jean-Pierre Deslauriers, Recherche qualitative, guide pratique, Montréal, McGraw Hill, 1991 
[4-5-6-7]  Jean-Pierre Deslauriers
[8] Heavily drawn from Health Canada: Toolbox, Community Action Resources for Inuit, Métis and First Nations. 
[10] Health Canada, Toolbox, Community Action Resources for Inuit, Métis and First Nations