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​Challenging perspectives and inspiring fresh approaches using qualitative research

Senior Insight Manager Daniel Stracey looks at the importance of qualitative research and how, despite the covid-19 restrictions, it can play a key role in helping the physical activity and sport sector learn and improve its offer to inactive Londoners.

Covid-19 placed our city, and the nation, on pause and everyone is feeling the effects.

Despite challenges and disruption to everyday routines, the lockdown period has been a fascinating opportunity, as a researcher, to take a step back and consider the complex needs of less active Londoners together with recently shifting attitudes and behaviours.

As Government guidelines develop, we continue to reflect on our hypotheses with regards to the impact on London Sport’s less active segments and how we might support individual efforts to overcome their respective barriers to lead healthier, more active lives.

Quantitative data such as Sport England’s Active Lives survey and the very latest tracking data can be useful to establish the impact of covid-19, including ongoing shifts in attitudes and behaviours and further considering aspects such as age, gender and life-stage, as well as mental and physical health, to develop appropriate levels of support.

However, this data is just one aspect of the research picture. It is also important to acknowledge that the city is incredibly diverse and that individual needs are complex.

In order to tackle inactivity and shape fresh, relevant and engaging interventions, we must look to delve deeper and continue to engage residents’ in appropriate levels of consultation.

This is particularly important when we consider marginalised groups, those living and working in the capital that might be different to ourselves.

Consultation and qualitative insight is critical. Not just to answer the ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions (e.g. when exploring motivations and barriers for participation), but also to avoid making too many assumptions about what residents might need or might be interested to consider.

Not least, due to the increasingly cluttered mix of activity solutions available and actively being promoted via news and mainstream media in response to covid-19.

More traditional face-to-face research methods such as focus groups and interviews simply won’t be feasible for the foreseeable future, so which methods might we instead look to consider when seeking to enhance our approach to consultation and support innovation?

Benefits of the online qualitative approach

Online qualitative research, long established in the commercial research industry, is not just something that we can consider as a substitute for focus groups and interviews during lockdown.

It is a highly versatile and effective method of engaging less active Londoners in its own right.

It is useful not only for consultation and developing human insight, but also to support the development of interventions and campaigns to target and tackle inactivity.

Professionally-managed online qualitative research can offer several distinct advantages, enhancing the ability to reach and engage populations of interest and inspire fresh thinking.

Accessible via smartphone as well as tablets and home computers, online qualitative research offers the ability to engage residents flexibly and longitudinally, for instance over the course of one week, in a variety of research exercises and tasks. 

For example, using diary-based exercises and journals, short surveys, moderated group discussions, mark up tool exercises and video upload tasks, to establish better rapport and achieve richer understanding.

In addition, we may consider the opportunity to empower and upskill research participants to achieve fresh insight through the deployment of mission-based tasks (e.g. encouraging participants to further interview friends and family to reflect on their efforts together with their thoughts in relation to any proposed interventions).

I can understand why people may prefer the clear, raw data that quantitative research provides, yet I strongly believe it is only by combining it with qualitative that we ensure we see the entire picture.

To hear more about London Sport’s online qualitative research and consultation offer, drop the Consulting Services team an email at and we will shortly be in touch. 

Daniel will be back with a follow-up blog next month on how qualitative research has helped develop effective targeting and engagement methods to reach the target audience of activity finder Get Active.




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London Sport aims to ensure Londoners live happier, healthier lives through sport and physical activity

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London Sport aims to ensure more Londoners live happier, healthier lives through sport and physical activity. Supported by the Mayor of London and Sport England, our target is to get Londoners more physically active.

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