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Qualitative Research

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Abt’s approach to qualitative research aligns with our commitment to providing clients with rigorous research and evaluation services that foster positive social impact. We use qualitative data and analysis to generate actionable insights about program implementation, outcomes, and strategy. With equity as a central pillar across our work, we collaborate with our clients to ensure that our methods and results reflect a diverse range of voices and lived experiences.

Qualitative work at Abt may stand alone or complement quantitative data analysis; it may focus on answering implementation questions, generating insights into how or why a particular program works (or does not), and/or guiding program design and development. Our customized approach ensures that we produce evidence-based, high-quality results that consistently meet the expectations and needs of our clients.

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Methods

Abt’s staff have experience collecting and analyzing qualitative data across a range of program areas and in domestic and international contexts, including housing and homelessness, health service delivery, governance and systems strengthening, workforce, and education. We carefully select data analysis tools that fit the size and scope of each project. For projects that are more exploratory in nature, we may begin by collecting information through a variety of channels, including program documents, interviews, and focus groups. Where there are clearly defined research questions, we may take a more structured approach, such as using predefined codes to organize the data.

Regardless of the data collection and analysis methods, we consistently focus on producing reliable, valid, and replicable insights that support our clients’ work and Abt’s mission of improving the quality of life and economic well-being of people worldwide.

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Relevant Experience

Participant Experiences in the Health Profession Opportunity Grants 2.0 (HPOG)

Client: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

The Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG) Program funds local career pathways programs to provide occupational education and training to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients and other low-income adults. The goal is to prepare them for occupations in the healthcare field that pay well and are expected to either experience labor shortages or be in high demand.

As part of the evaluation of HPOG 2.0, Abt conducted in-depth, in-person interviews with 153 program participants across 14 local programs. These interviews strengthened the data collected through the evaluation’s impact study, providing important insights into the participants’ lived experiences of the career pathways programs. The interviews shed light on potential “explanatory mechanisms” for some of the impact study findings. For example, the quantitative data indicated that relatively few participants advance from entry-level to more advanced training; the interviews provided important insights into the types of barriers that participants encounter and how these barriers affect participants’ training and career trajectories. Along with supplementing and enriching the impact study findings, the data from the interviews are being used to craft policy briefs that provide usable insights for program improvements.

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Evaluation of the Read by 4th Collective Impact Campaign

Client: Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation

Read by 4th is a citywide collective impact campaign that brings together organizations across Philadelphia to work collaboratively toward the common goal of ensuring that children in Philadelphia are prepared to read on grade level by the time they begin 4th grade. Abt Associates is the evaluation partner for the campaign and is helping the Free Library (the “backbone,” or managing partner of the campaign) track and assess the implementation and short-term outcomes of the campaign.

The evaluation uses both qualitative and quantitative data collection strategies. For example, Abt experts conducts focus groups, interviews, quarterly surveys of partner activities, and annual partner experience surveys. The data provide feedback to the Free Library that allows it to manage and improve the communication and collaboration with partners, such as enabling reporting on partner activities that align to key campaign outcomes.

To ensure the long-term sustainability of this monitoring and evaluation effort, prior to the end of Abt’s contract, the evaluation team will provide additional training and technical assistance to increase the capacity for the campaign staff to continue collecting and analyzing data through the annual partner experience survey and the quarterly partner surveys.

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Mortgage Journeys

Client: Fannie Mae

Fannie Mae wanted to build on existing survey research on how consumers shop for mortgages, to better understand the lived experiences of these consumers.

The Abt team used an ethnographic approach to develop robust case studies of program participants through a variety of data collection strategies, including innovative weekly video diaries, regular interviews, observation of housing appointments and mortgage closings, and document review.

This approach allowed staff to spend meaningful time and build rapport with homebuyers, which fostered the sharing of important, and often sensitive, information – including homebuyers’ challenges (e.g., prior denials of credit, family emergencies) and evolving circumstances and feelings about the home purchase.

The results revealed how home purchase was prolonged and non-linear for most of the participants—variations not usually evident from one-time data collection or baseline and follow-up interviews. Additionally, the ethnographic approach made it clear that by the time participants reached the final stage of a home purchase, the time pressure to close was too intense and they were too emotionally taxed by the home search process to follow best practices in shopping for a mortgage—precisely when shopping around could have the biggest benefit. These insights can help inform how and when Fannie Mae and other organizations that offer affordable mortgage financing interact with their customers.

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Twinings Tea/SHOPS Plus

Client: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

In 2018, USAID’s Abt-led SHOPS Plus project partnered with Twinings Tea and conducted a rapid qualitative assessment to identify the health care gaps and opportunities for women working for the company’s tea suppliers in Eastern Kenya. The goal of this research was to inform the design of an innovative pilot to better connect these women to health products and services.

Using observations and multi-lingual focus group discussions with workers, managers, and health educators in Eastern Kenya, the Abt team gathered meaningful, community level data that reflected the lived experiences of the workers and service providers. These discussions highlighted the important role that “chamaas” – cooperative savings and income-generation groups that are often exclusively female – play in the social and economic life of women in this region.

The Abt team used a rapid analysis workshop to identify and interpret themes in the data. This assessment revealed that, while conveniently located public health care facilities existed in Eastern Kenya, the products and services that women sought were often not available.

Abt generated several pilot options for increasing access to health-care related services. The team then convened multiple “co-creation workshops” with a broad range of stakeholders, including Twinings’ Kenya-based suppliers, local government stakeholders, and community groups representing tea factory and farm workers. Through these workshops, a pilot was selected that built upon existing infrastructure and social capital to improve and sustain a community health clinic.

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Contact Us

Headshot_Kathry Stillman

Lianne Fisman, Ph.D.

Senior Associate
SEP
Cambridge, MA
617-520-3823
Lianne_fisman@abtassoc.com

Headshot_Fiona Mactaggart

Anna Jefferson, Ph.D.

Senior Associate
SEP
Durham, NC
617-520-2898
Anna_jefferson@abtassoc.com

Headshot_Fiona Mactaggart

Jackie Mendez, MA

Associate
SEP
Cambridge, MA
617-520-3621
Jackie_Mendez@abtassoc.com

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