Qualitative Research Methods/ Sociology

Group Leader: Professor Sheila Greenfield


This research group brings together all those who use qualitative and sociological methods in their research. Our group provides guidance for developing nested qualitative and mixed methods studies that are now commonly included in clinical trials and other applied health research studies.  Members of the group develop research in collaboration with colleagues at the Institute of Applied Health Research (IAHR), the wider University and with local clinicians.

Our Research Group

Qualitative research can help to address a range of questions relevant to issues in contemporary health, healthcare and medical practice.  There are two aspects to our research activities. The first is the application and development of qualitative methods. This includes designing and leading qualitative studies as part of clinical trials and other applied health research studies.  It also involves the development of innovative qualitative methods (e.g. the involvement of community researchers) to capture the complexity of understandings of health and illness and to reach out to seldom heard groups.

The second focus of our work is on understanding the experiences of health, illness and healthcare over time. This includes experiences such as self-managing and adapting to chronic disease, facing life changing mental illness or engaging with an unfamiliar health care system after migrating to the UK. 

Qualitative Research Methodologies

Qualitative research methodologies can help to address a range of questions that would be difficult to answer adequately using quantitative research approaches.   Whilst qualitative approaches are being used in a very broad range of scenarios, some examples of areas where they are applicable include:

  • to describe and understand patients’ experience of health and healthcare.   For example, what is it like to undergo a novel treatment and how does this compare to the experience of established therapies?
  • to explore the social and cultural influences on the experience of health and healthcare, including associated beliefs
  • to understand the meanings that patients ascribe to treatments and how this influences related behaviours (e.g. self-management strategies, the decision to participate in a clinical trial or not, adherence to medication, lifestyle choices and behaviours)
  • to understand clinicians’ perspectives on contemporary healthcare issues and related clinical practice (e.g. the adoption and use of a novel surgical intervention, the prescription and use of antibiotics in primary care)

Qualitative research is particularly well placed to provide in-depth exploration and understanding of these and other issues that are relevant to health, healthcare and medical practice.  Whilst methods of qualitative data collection such as in-depth interviewing and non-participant observation are distinct from quantitative methods, they are often used alongside one another.  This may be achieved via nested qualitative studies in clinical trials or other applied health research studies, or by designing mixed-methods studies that combine qualitative and quantitative data.  In order to provide further illumination and explanation of specific healthcare issues researchers may draw on conceptual tools and theoretical perspectives from related disciplines e.g. by using sociological theory to explain why patients with chronic diseases self-manage and adapt in specific ways.


Group members draw on their research experience to inform their qualitative methods teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate levels; they are also examining PhD research both within the university and externally. Qualitative and mixed-methods PhD student projects supervised in our group also contribute to the richness of the research environment.

Find out more about SSiM teaching

Group members

Members of our research group are leading the qualitative components of major grant work funded by national bodies including NIHR (Health Technology Assessment Programme, Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation Programme, Research for Patient Benefit, Programme Grants for Applied Research). Members also serve on NIHR funding panels as qualitative and mixed-methods experts and have close ties with the NIHR West Midlands Research Design Service. In developing their own qualitative research interests, group members work with colleagues across the Institute of Applied Health Research, local NHS trusts and collaborative groups such as CLAHRC and the National School for Primary Care Research.

Group members are also involved in collaborative networks across the University; e.g. the Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS) and Complementary and Alternative Medicine Birmingham Research Alliance (CAMBRA).

Additional information on current research projects and other activities can be found on the web pages of individual research group members:

Brown Bag Seminars

These meetings are open to anyone with a qualitative interest but are especially aimed at research students and Early Career Researchers. They take place alternating between the fourth Thursday and Friday of every month from 12.30-1.30pm in one of the meeting rooms on the 2nd floor of the Murray Learning Centre. Brown Bag Seminars are an opportunity for all those doing qualitative research to informally share the work they are doing, to test run conference presentations, to get advice on any challenges they are encountering during their research, or to get feedback on early findings/project ideas from an informed (but friendly!) audience. There are also themed sessions to discuss and explore the fundamentals of qualitative research.

For further information, please contact a.lindenmeyer@bham.ac.uk