© Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation I Prashant Panjiar I Sam Nal uses a bed-net at her home in Phnom Dambang village, Pailin, Cambodia I 2014



Qualitative research methods are useful for assessing community needs, designing prevention campaigns, planning and evaluating interventions, and engaging community actors via participatory research. They are also useful in designing and field-testing questionnaires, and in interpreting quantitative research findings. Qualitative methods can provide deeper insight into meaning, motivations and dynamics around women and girls’ empowerment. The table below provides an illustrative list of commonly methods for qualitative data collection.


Method When to use it Key considerations when using this method to measure empowerment
FOCUS GROUP DISCUSSIONS Focus group discussions (FGDs) are useful for capturing information on attitudes or opinions and why they are held, unpacking the progress and achievements of a program, and when different perspectives and points of views of stakeholders need to be explored. They are useful for collecting data on the empowerment dimensions of decision-making, critical consciousness, and norms.
  • Be aware that FGDs are not ideal for very sensitive topics and should not be used where total confidentiality is required, for example when asking about experiences of violence.
  • The group setting can influence the responses of the individual; a dominant member of the discussion could affect the outcomes. For instance, marginalized participants may not be comfortable sharing individual or collective experiences of discrimination in access to micro-credit schemes. Well-trained and experienced facilitators can help to mediate this risk.
IN-DEPTH INTERVIEWS In-depth interviews are well suited to collecting data on social norms, attitudes and behaviors, as well processes of change, and nuances around decision-making. Interviews are also useful for collecting data on individual as opposed to collective opinions. The data captured is often valuable for triangulating or confirming data captured by other methods.
  • The gender and age of the interviewer are important because of power relations and social norms in different contexts.
  • Ensure interviews are conducted in a private and confidential space, especially if talking about sensitive topics.
EMBEDDED ETHNOGRAPHY Embedded ethnography is used to understand an ongoing process or situation. It is useful for understanding empowerment in a holistic way to see how different elements interact in a situation. Embedded ethnography also provides direct information about behavior of individuals and groups, rather than relying on what people said they did, and is helpful in identifying unanticipated outcomes.
  • Think about the power dynamics between the observe and the community and how this impacts behavior. People usually perform better when they know they are being observed. For example, if you are observing time use and social norms around the gendered division of labor, participants may be inclined to behave more favorably. See the section on overcoming measurement bias below.
  • This method requires well-qualified, highly-trained observers. They need to understand gender dynamics and the specific cultural context in order to accurately interpret what they observe.
  • Embedded ethnography is time and labor intensive and so can be more costly .
BODY MAPPING Body mapping is an interactive tool to obtain visual representation of women and girls ability to assert choice and articulate voice over resources (including bodily integrity). It is most valuable at the formative stage to understand the link between resources and expressions of agency. Body mapping can be used at the project and community level.
  • Consider comparing maps between different groups to stimulate dialogue around key constraints and opportunities for empowerment, and to highlight intersectionality.
  • Try to explore both individual and institutional constraints to understand the relationship between inequalities in access to use and control over resources and freedom of movement.
  • Ensure facilitators are well-trained and experienced.
  • Body mapping can be used both as an intervention as well as a data collection methodology.


Explore the other methods and approaches via the links below.