Pivotal

Research in Policymaking

khWhat is Research?

Research is an investigative piece of work that is provable, contestable, and supported by a body of evidence. Moreover, it establishes facts and provides new insights into the topic studied. Research may be used to inform policy and/or used as part of a wider academic project. Academic research is typically ‘peer reviewed’ to attest to the accuracy and credibility of the work.

Why complete research?

Completing research provides solutions to areas of public and community interests, while fostering awareness among individuals, groups, and government bodies about such topics.

There are four main approaches to research:

Exploratory studies aim to look for patterns and ideas that can be tested and expanded upon in future studies.

Descriptive research can tackle what, when, where, and how questions, but it cannot answer questions why things transpire.

An Analytical approach aims to provide an explanation for why and how certain events have transpired.

Predictive studies aim to speculate on future possibilities of developments by utilising projections derived from close analyses of evidence.

Within these subsections there are two main ways of conducting research: qualitative and quantitative research.

lhd;Quantitative research

Quantitative research focuses on numbers and statistics, which involves gathering data to analyse its meaning.

This approach illustrates trends, demographic information, and differences between groups.

The emphasis is placed on facts and causes of behaviour which is studied through closed-ended questions or large data sets.

Quantitative questionnaires are often limited to predesignated answers, such as yes or no responses.

Standardised measure are used to produce, reliable, replicable and valid data outcomes.

Applications of quantitative research

This approach is used to measure a range of factors such as attitudes or defined behaviours to generalise results and inferences to a larger population.

Moreover, quantitative studies can analyse trends and interpret large data sets pertinent to societal and economic circumstances, such as productivity levels, educational attainment, obesity rates, etc.

E.g. national unemployment data published by governments and other reputable sources can be used to project how the proportion of the population not employed could change if current trends continue and/or speculate how certain policy changes could affect this issue.

Quantitative approaches are also used for political opinion polls and to measure poverty levels within specific geographical areas and/or within a particular demographic of the population.

Example quantitative research question: What proportion of young people aged 14-16 are permanently excluded from the school system in Northern Ireland?

ck;Qualitative research

Qualitative approaches typically focus on reasons, behaviours, and opinions of individuals, as opposed to numbers and statistics.

Qualitative research is completed in ‘real world’ settings and does not attempt to standardise an individual experience but instead wishes to explore the richness of individual experience or opinion.

Therefore, data for these studies can come from conversations, interviews, and responses to open questions.

The emphasis is on producing high quality research that has been rigorously analysed, is trustworthy and situated in the participant’s experience.

Applications of qualitative research

This approach is useful to help researchers understand how people think and what encourages them to behave in certain ways.

A qualitative approaches might include individual interviews or focus groups to ascertain the feelings and beliefs of individuals or groups. For example, focus groups may be completed to obtain local resident feedback to a proposed expansion of cycle lanes.

The intention is not to develop results that apply across the country but to obtain data that relates to a specific group at a specific point in time.

Thus, a qualitative approach may be useful if the research question is based on obtaining insights into people’s lived experiences.

Example qualitative research question: What are the experiences of young people aged 14-16 who are permanently excluded from the school system in Northern Ireland?


While qualitative and quantitative approaches to research are separate from each other, researchers may use them in conjunction with one another. Combining both approaches may provide a comprehensive insight into a study to provide both generalisable data to make inferences about the general population in addition to providing rich insights into individual’s insights.

s.l