Engaging Participants in the
meaning-making process

Participatory analysis is a method that involves bringing a group of stakeholders, such as program participants or program staff, into the data interpretation and meaning-making processes.
Participatory methods help:
  • Surface and integrate multiple perspectives, particularly the voices and thought processes of your participants
  • Build trust among stakeholders by making their voices heard and valued
  • Provide an opportunity to demonstrate commitment to putting results into action
What does participatory qualitative analysis look like?

Participants read the data and any notes on the data collection process in advance. A facilitator poses a question of interest for exploration and learning. Individually, participants brainstorm and write down what they see as the most significant themes. These themes are shared with the full group and facilitator to inform discussion. New insights or understanding gained through this interaction are captured and added to the data collection and learning process.

Facilitation Guidelines for Participatory
Data Analysis

Suggested Materials

  • Sticky wall* tutorial and half sheets of paper OR large, blank wall and large sticky notes
  • Markers
  • De-identified combined qualitative data file OR summary of preliminary themes with illustrative quotes
  • Any related quantitative data you plan to weave together with qualitative findings
*Adapted from Technology of Particpation
Advance Preparation

  • Develop guiding questions for your participatory analysis workshop and share them in advance.
  • Sample discussion questions:
  • What stood out for you as you read the notes?
  • What resonated for you?
  • What surprised you?
  • Based on what you read would you conclude the program is achieving its outcomes?
  • What actionable ideas for improving the program did you see?
  • What potential program improvements seem most consistently identified and hold great promise for better results?
  • Participants should review the data (i.e., the combined interview and/or focus group notes) in advance and be familiar with how the content relates to the workshop questions.
Tips and notes

  • Engage in the process while the data are still fresh in everyone’s minds.
  • Color code different types of data: for example, colors can represent different types of interviewees/ stakeholders, correspond to program phases or components, or denote strengths and challenges.
  • Don’t shortchange the process! Allow a fair amount of time (15-30 minutes) per discussion question. The more questions you have, the longer the process takes.

State the workshop question(s) and describe the goals and process of the session

  • Answer questions from participants as necessary about the goals and process.
  • If the group is larger than 12-15 people, consider breaking people up into smaller teams of 2-3 people.
Round One
  1. Participants take 5-10 minutes to write findings on cards—as many as they want, with a suggested minimum of 3-5 cards per person/team. They should write one idea per card in about 3-7 words and write big enough that everyone can read the card from across the room.
  2. Participants pass up their 1-2 clearest cards (aim for getting 10-15 cards total from the group).
  3. Place cards on the wall in no particular order so everyone can see them.
  4. Read each card out loud, ask if anyone has questions about the meaning of a card, ask the author to clarify intentions as necessary.
  5. Cluster the cards: group like items together.
Round Two
  1. Participants pass up 2-3 more cards with different ideas that are not already on the wall.
  2. Read cards out loud and clarify if necessary.
  3. Cluster like items together. (For example: recycling, composting, unplugging electronics at home, cutting down on waste.) It’s important to verify cards’ intent to avoid clustering cards together if the ideas behind them are disparate.
  4. Label clusters with 1-2 word descriptions of what each cluster is about (such as “pro-environmental behaviors”), and add a distinct letter or number to each one (i.e., cluster A, cluster B, etc.).
Round Three
  1. Participants mark their remaining cards with the letter/number of the cluster they belong to.
  2. Facilitator places the remaining cards accordingly.
  3. Facilitator asks if there are remaining cards that don’t belong to an existing cluster.
  4. These cards get passed up and placed—the group may decide they either fit in an existing cluster, or represent a new idea.
Naming Themes
  1. For each cluster, ask “What is our insight about this question based on the findings named in the cluster?” For example, “Youth are showing an increase in pro-environmental behaviors after our program.”
  2. Take a few minutes for the group to look at each cluster and theme and ensure that the theme names adequately convey the whole story.
Wrap-Up and Next Steps
  1. Read the question and each theme out loud.
  2. Ask the group a closing reflection question or two such as “What findings are you most excited about?” or “What is something specific you think you/the organization could do differently based on these findings?”
  3. Thank everyone for their time and participation.
  4. Optional: Integrate quantitative data. While themes are still displayed, flag the cards in which quantitative data is available to complement the group’s findings.