How Westat Harnesses NVivo for Rapid, Precise Qualitative Data Analysis

Cynthia Robins

Westat is a recognized leader in adopting new tools and technologies to improve the research process. Although qualitative research does not always get top billing in a statistically oriented business, Westat staff have been using NVivo, a qualitative data analysis software, for 15+ years to provide our clients with fast, precise analysis of large amounts of text-based data. Westat Senior Study Director Cynthia Robins, Ph.D., who helps administer Westat’s 120 licenses and provides corporate training and support on the software, says Westat is at the forefront of using technology to code and analyze qualitative data. Dr. Robins points to a recent article co-authored by Westat Senior Study Director Lindsay Giesen, Structuring a Team-Based Approach to Coding Qualitative Data, published in the International Journal of Qualitative Methods, as evidence of our leadership in this area.

Westat’s first high-profile use of the software was to assess the impact of the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy on active duty service members and spouses. The study required coding, analyzing, and summarizing a large volume of data in about 11 months, a timeframe that Dr. Robins notes would have been impossible without the software. Yet even with the technology, nearly a dozen Westat staff were involved in coding and analyzing the qualitative data. An NVivo expert was brought in at that time to train the qualitative researchers on how to coordinate and manage team-based coding.

Lessons learned during that effort formed the foundation of Westat’s current approach to large-scale qualitative data analysis. “While the software has been a tremendous boon to our work,” Dr. Robins says, “it is our team-based approach that really sets us apart from our competitors.” In addition to Ms. Giesen’s work, Westat’s Holly Bozeman, a Senior Study Director, and Valerie Orellana, a Research Associate, presented at the 2020 NVivo virtual conference on managing a large team of coders for an education study that was redesigned as a result of COVID-19. “Through team collaboration and a well-organized NVivo database,” they stated, “the evaluation activities remained on schedule to provide a timely perspective of program impact during unprecedented times.”

Dr. Robins concludes: “Our clients recognize the rigor that Westat brings to large-scale qualitative data analysis. Over the many years we have been using NVivo, we have developed and refined procedures for team-based work that are unparalleled in the industry. These recent publications and presentations by Westat staff are excellent examples of company’s leadership in this area.”

Read other Feature Stories in this series on qualitative research:

Our clients recognize the rigor that Westat brings to large-scale qualitative data analysis. Over the many years we have been using NVivo, we have developed and refined procedures for team-based work that are unparalleled in the industry

- Cynthia Robins, Ph.D., a Westat Senior Study Director, Social Policy & Economics Research

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