Tim is a world-renowned specialist in the application of technology in the field of market and opinion research and is probably the most widely-published writer in the field. His roots are in data analysis, programming, training and technical writing. These days, as principal at meaning he works with researchers, users of research data and technology providers around the globe, as an independent advisor. He is quite passionate about improving the research process and empowering people through better use of technology.

In Brief

What it does

Analysis software for qualitative research data now with multimedia support, allowing integrated analysis of textual transcripts, native audio files, video recordings and other source materials. Offers a wide range of analytical and visualisation methods to support both rapid and in-depth analysis.

Supplier

QSR International

Our ratings

Score 3.5 out of 5Ease of use

Score 4 out of 5Compatibility with other software

Score 4.5 out of 5Value for money

Cost

Single user licence for commercial users £1155 plus optional annual support and maintenance for an extra £231. Upgrade from NVivo 7 £405. Volume discounts available. Substantial discounts for educational and public sector users.

Pros

  • Very flexible: offers many ways of analysing qualitative data in many formats
  • Excellent support for video and audio recordings of groups or depths
  • Offers visual as well as textual ways to handle and present data
  • Great help and tutorial material

Cons

  • Steep learning curve: not intuitive to the uninitiated
  • Limited multi-user capabilities

In Depth

NVivo, the stalwart of academic qualitative researchers, has suddenly embraced multimedia files with a passion, and in doing so, widened its appeal to a much broader spectrum of qual researchers. While video recordings of qualitative interviews and groups are now common place, handling video is often unwieldy and can force researchers to fall back on textual transcripts that fail to capture expression or nuance.

The breakthrough with NVivo 8 is its ability to import a wide range of source materials and make these easy for researchers to tag with comments and observations, including video and audio. You can also import Word files and even PDFs, and you can link them together if you have a full transcript and a video of your group.

At the heart of the tool is a multimedia player with a timeline of the video or audio. You can view and hear the recording, pause it or slow it down, or start it and stop it from any point simply by dragging a cursor to any position along a time track along the top of the window. Dragging also previews the video, giving you an extremely efficient way to cue in on the part you are interested in. As you add coding or annotations, you can apply these to the timeline. Each is then colour-coded as a band running parallel to the timeline, giving you a very useful graphic representation of the data and where themes and overlaps occur, or even simply the parts you have not yet reached.

Importing any of these file formats could not be easier – NVivo 8 recognises all the main audio and viedo files format and deals with them appropriately, including AVI, Quicktime, MPE, WMV, or for audio, MP3 and simple WAV files. And you can also output video or audio – the software will enable you to create a collage or summary for your client to view.

The power of NVivo as an analysis tool lies in its concept of nodes. Nodes let you bring together strands of data, observations or comments however you wish – used creatively, they become the essence of the analysis, mapping out the concepts and the relationships between them. For example, if working from a topic guide, each topic could be represented as a node, and nodes can be stacked within nodes to form a hierarchy. Nodes can be used more freely too, to ‘mind map’ the data in a post hoc way.

As you work through the data, you assign as many examples as you can find to each node, or attach your own observations or interpretations as you go, so that, ultimately, when you examine any node, you have a rich and relevant collection of examples and ideas for each one, as the basis of your report. Those examples coded directly in the transcript or video timeline will allow you to jump straight back to the source, so you can see the context, and in the case of video, will cue you directly to the segment where very words were being spoken. It is the moment that makes all the upstream preparation worthwhile.

NVivo 8 does support a degree of collaborative working, in that different members of a team can log into the project and any coding and annotations they make will be tagged by who did it. You can even analyse the variance in the use of coding between different users, to check for consistency. However, the software falls short of a true multi-user system, in that for users to work concurrently on, say, a large international project, you will have to provide users with their own separate versions of the project and merge the files together later.

The greatest obstacle in using the software, however, is likely to be its complexity. This is not a tool that you can easily figure out for yourself. It is one of the consequences of a design that offers a wide range of tools but does not seek to impose its own order by reducing the art of qualitative research to a series of wizards. Proper training and probably some coaching too is therefore essential.

To get the best out of many of the tools within NVivo, you really need to spend time coding and tagging your data first – which can easily take a day or two for a couple of groups.

If this level of rigour is considered overkill, or there just is not the time to achieve it, NVivo’s sister program, XSight, is more amenable to quick turnaround jobs where analysis does not have to go into such depth. But at present, XSight cannot handle audio or video. However, NVivo does not force you to do coding, and the ease by which you can analyse audio and video material makes NVivo 8 much more appealing to researchers with short deadlines to meet, as it can actually save time over other methods.

The client view

Silvana di Gregorio, owner of SdG Associates, is an independent qualitative analysis consultant with a specialty in software support and integration. NVivo is one of several qualitative analysis packages she uses to analyse data for both social policy and commercial market research projects.

“I first used the software in 1995 when I was working as an academic. At that time, academics had similar reservations to market researchers today about using software for analysis of qualitative research – but this is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how this software will support the analysis and a fear that it will reduce everything to numbers.

“Nvivo 8 has made an extraordinary leap forward, with the ability to analyse videos, audio and graphics. I think it can revolutionise ways of analysis. For example, if you code the video, NVivo adds coding stripes along the top and suddenly you have an entirely different picture of the data. It offers a new ways to analyse and also to present your data which may be more attractive to the commercial market researcher.

“With NVivo 8, you don’t have to transcribe everything, you can import the audio or video and then you can just write notes as you work through it. I have found coding directly onto the video timeline works well. With video it is quite easy to do as you can see where you want to stop: it is harder to do with audio. If there are parts that interest you, you can then do partial transcripts just on those parts.

Silvana is also impressed with the data visualisation and charting that have been introduced with NVivo 8. “These are quite straightforward to use. With a focus group, for example, you can instantly get a visual picture to show you if anyone is dominant in the group. Recently, I created a matrix query between the different speakers in two focus groups. I had coded for the different types of statements made. I simply turned the matrix query into a radar chart, with each spoke representing one of the speakers. You could quickly see there were two people who made no balanced comparisons. It offers another quick visual feel for the data. NVivo support a lot of ways of analyzing data – and I am still discovering more.”

A new book, ‘Qualitative Research Design for Software Users’ by Silvana di Gregorio and Judith Davidson, will be published by Open University Press in October.

A version of this review first appeared in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society,  May 2008, Issue 503

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