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How NVivo can support social change

26 October 2016 - BY Brenna O'Brien

Brenna O'Brien, Senior Researcher at the American Institutes for Research, writes about how NVivo can help researchers understand the commonalities and differences between social activism groups.

As a qualitative analyst, my research relies on hearing people's stories and summarizing their similarities and differences.

In such a politically diverse culture as we find ourselves here in the United States, how can people find the right organization or group to be passionate about?

NVivo 11 for Windows can be used to help inform that decision by providing important comparison points across multiple groups.


Create cases to compare social activism groups

One way to understand the array of social activism groups out there is by looking across documents that contain the mission statements, goals, and strategies of different organizations.

There are databases of statistical data and websites that provide larger categories, but I would like to see an NVivo analysis that digs deeper.

I suggest that each organization be set up as a case node with multiple sources associated with it.

The NTEE codes can be attribute values in the case classification sheet along with other factors such as geographic location, population served, and membership totals.

Use coding to gather material about goals and strategies

Once the sources have been imported and set up as cases, it’s time to do the content coding.

Why this qualitative analysis is helpful is that many organizations can support the same goal, but the strategies they use can be very different.

Take the issue of reducing the number of children killed by guns in the home, for example – coding documents can show which groups use a cartoon for kids versus a five point plan to educate parents to achieve that goal.

Code the goals and strategies so that you can compare these across groups

Find common ground between groups

A matrix coding query can be generated to have goals as rows, strategies as columns, and narrow to selected items focused on one topic at a time (e.g., gun violence):

Use a matrix to see the intersections of goals and strategies

These matrix results will display the frequency that certain strategies are referenced for certain goals, and if you change the cell content to cases coded it will show the number of organizations in those cells.

Data like this can show that there are some areas of common ground, and this can be the starting point for seeing all angles of complex issues.

Useful for leaders and supporters

For those people running progressive organizations, a qualitative analysis such as this can help them connect with likeminded groups and strengthen coalitions at a deeper level.

And for those that are on opposite ends of the spectrum, it could hopefully shine a light on some areas of agreement and compromise.

It also allows anyone interested in supporting these groups to see the bigger picture and understand the jigsaw puzzle of how all the strategies and goals fit together.

Qualitative comparisons highlight opportunities for collaboration

There are some research institutes that currently do in-depth analyses like this, and I encourage anyone interested in qualitative comparisons to use NVivo to support their work.

There is so much that we still don’t know about certain issues – the more research that can be done to help organizations collaborate on effective strategies, the more likely it is that we can come together to save lives.