I have been using the qualitative data analysis software QDA Miner since 2015. I used it multiple times for my doctoral research in global public health. It was very useful for coding my interview transcriptions and a variety of policy documents related to my PhD research topic. In addition, thanks to the handy “Code by keyword” feature of the software and subsequent statistical and graphic analyses, I was able to perform a quantitative semantic discourse analysis of forum threads illustrated by beautiful graphs.
In 2016, I was approached by Provalis© to become a Provalis Research trainer for QDA Miner. At the time I was convinced of the relevance of teaching Western-based softwares to diverse audiences. Since then, I have trained dozens of PhD and Master students as well as junior researchers across the globe, and especially in Bamako, Mali’s beautiful capital city. It has been quite a fulfilling exercise and one that I thought deserved a timely and critical reflection. So here are some accounts of the experience.
I was first invited by the research NGO Miseli to train 24 students and research assistants in Bamako for three days, in February 2017. I enjoyed having a large amount of time. I was able to spend a lot of hands-on time with different individuals. The trainees had the opportunity to ask for clarifications or specific questions. While the software has a French interface, most of the standard QDA Miner training exercises were only available in English – a language rarely spoken in Mali – so I had to translate some of the content or develop my own exercises in French. I also adapted the exercises to the audience, i.e. using contextualised examples from Francophone West Africa. The audience was fairly homogenous. Most people had received training in anthropology or sociology. So apart from language and geographic location, it was easy to tailor the examples to the participants’ backgrounds. I believe this strategy paid off, because I continued to receive questions and support queries from trainees on their specific research project, even a few months after I had left Bamako. Crucially, some trainees, with whom I spent a lot of time, became local reference people and took over my “customer service” role.
A few weeks after that training, I was invited in March-April 2017 by the Association des Jeunes Docteurs et Doctorants du Mali (AJDM) at the University of Bamako to give a similar training course, but this time over just two days. The challenge was that I had less time, and more people to train – including senior scholars willing to refresh their coding skills using technology. This time I had no less than 37 participants with extremely diverse backgrounds, including economists, geographers, management scholars, education researchers, anthropologists, etc. It was a bit more difficult to adapt the content. This group had a very heterogeneous level of qualitative research skills but the main issue was the lack of time. Two days were not enough to explore all of QDA Miner’s assets. I tried to identify one or two people with advanced qualitative research methods skills and a good command of IT tools, so that I could repeat the same “train future trainers” or “cascade training” strategy as the one I had applied in the first group of trainees. However, it was not as successful, precisely because of the lack of time. Indeed I couldn’t get into enough details in order for me to meaningfully “pass along” the expertise of the software.
In 2018, I trained a group of PhD and Master students from Université de Montréal in QDA Miner. The easy part was that I could re-use most of the training content (in French) developed in 2017. And even though that group was actually more culturally diverse than the trainees I had in Bamako, they shared a common background (public health). This was a key enabling factor for the success of the training. I was also physically present in Montreal even after the training session, so I could continue to help several students with their projects in more meaningful ways than I could with the Mali researchers.
More recently, in August 2019, back in Bamako I trained no less than 45 junior researchers from the University of Bamako on the software. They had the same diverse background as the group in 2017, and again I had only two days to train them. This was a peculiar training session, because I was also teaching them some theoretical approaches to qualitative research analysis, and one I was particularly keen on introducing: the decolonial approach. By then I had started questioning Western scientific theories and methods being uncritically taught to indigenous or black audiences. But I was surprised to discover that most of the researchers attending the training session had never heard of it. So, there was a huge sense of irony for me having to start a training session on a most certainly Western tool. I expressed my own doubts about this out loud, but the trainees were adamant. They had always received Western method training and while they expressed much interest in the decolonial approach and endeavoured to explore it further, they assured me they were happy to continue using Western research tools. After all, the decolonial approach was not only about questioning Western ways of doing science, it was also recognizing this scientific heritage, taught for decades in all parts of the world, and promoting “hybridation” mechanisms. Decoloniality was indeed about valuing and incorporating indigenous and non-Western approaches to science.
So, we did the “standard” QDA Miner training I was used to. This time, I made sure to identify one trainee to trigger the cascade training method I had used previously. So in addition to the two-day training, I spent at least 3 hours of one-to-one coaching sessions with the trainee I had identified. All group members knew him well so they could easily go to him after the training session in case there were some aspects that needed clarifications. In addition, I offered to support trainees with their individual projects, and several did reach out to me electronically after I returned to Canada.
So what’s the takeaway message? Well, knowing your audience (where do they come from? what is their training background?) ahead of time will surely help you tailor your training content. But what matters most – and this will be no surprise to most of you – is the time you can dedicate to trainees during those sessions, as well as the time to train those who can easily pass on the knowledge after you leave. And always, always shed a critical eye on the tools you teach, regardless of the type of audience.
By Lara Gautier, Post-doctoral Fellow
Department of Sociology, McGill University. Lara is a trainer of QDA Miner.
If you are interested in hiring Lara for training you can find her bio and contact information on the trainer section of our website https://provalisresearch.com/resources/training/trainers-2/