Ethiopian Qualitative Research – towards a technological platform

Qualitative Research Capacity Building Ethiopian NVivo Workshops

Organised by PATH-Ethiopia and EPHA for USAID Strengthening Communities Response to HIV/AIDS Project

NVivo software Training Attendees, Adama, Ethiopia – July 25 to 29/ 2011

To see a slide show of the workshops click here









Ethiopian Qualitative Research – towards a technological Platform

As part of its strategic commitment to building capacity in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Public Health Administration conducts ‘needs analyses’ amongst its own staff and those of its partners working on United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded projects in Ethiopia. These needs analyses are entirely consistent with USAID’s stated policy of investing in education and training in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially when it comes to pan-African programmes such as the fight against HIV/AIDS. One such project in Ethiopia is the ‘Strengthening Communities Response to HIV/AIDS Project’ which forms an integral part of a Global response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. An alliance of Ethiopian national implementation partners was formed in 2009 as part of a five year plan to offer a more coordinated pan-agency approach to the battle against HIV/AIDS. The EPHA is one of those implanting partners.

Quantitative and qualitative research underpins the knowledge gathering processes critical to success in implementing programmes such as the ‘Strengthening Communities Response to HIV/AIDS Project’. This requirement to gather and disseminate knowledge is well understood by USAID and is part of their stated policy on managing “Knowledge Management Support”:

"Use the latest collaboration tools and methods to improve results, build networks,
and retain experience"

It is generally accepted that there are excellent resources in places for managing information and knowledge in relation to quantitative data. However, as mixed methods studies become more and more popular in the knowledge gathering processes, the aforementioned needs analysis identified a gap in the skills of qualitative researchers on the ground in data management, data sharing and the latest technologies which support qualitative data analysis.

Two implanting partners, PATH –Ethiopia and the EPHA collaborated in seeking a means to address any skills deficits that may be present amongst qualitative researchers working on the ‘Strengthening Communities Response to HIV/AIDS Project’. In keeping with USAID’s policy of ‘using the latest collaboration tools’ they sought out new and existing technologies  to assist qualitative researchers in computer aided qualitative data analysis systems (CAQDAS).

A software product known as NVivo was identified as market leader in CAQDAS implementation as it out sells all of its rivals put together. NVivo is a Microsoft Sequel (SQL) supported database specifically designed for working with all sorts of qualitative data such as audio recordings, video recordings, images, spread-sheets and text files. It was developed by Microsoft Certified Partners, QSR International, who are based in Melbourne, Australia. Apart from having a data management tool to aid researchers analyse their data, the ability to share data amongst teams of researchers and principal investigators and to manage data, and by extension, researchers, across great distances, is strategically critical as part of a wider objective of deploying a technological approach to project management in Africa. The ensuing increases in efficiencies are in keeping with USAID’s desire to “Use the latest collaboration tools and methods to improve results, build networks, and retain experience”

PATH-Ethiopia and the EPHA planned an NVivo Training Workshop to address the training needs of themselves and their partners on the project. Various training agencies and consultants were contacted and a decision was made based on the tendered price and the quality of the proposal. The decision was made to award the training contract to QDATRAINING (Qualitative Data Analysis Training) a business registered in Ireland but with global training experience having trained on four continents and with particular experience of training researchers in an African Context. 

The NVivo training course had a detailed training plan which had been previously approved by the EPHA (appendix 1). Days 1 & 2 were to train researchers on how to set up a qualitative database and inform them on the requisite management decisions in terms of research planning and design.  Days 3 & 4 were designed to train researchers on how to analyse and report on their data once the qualitative database was properly set up and configured. Day 5 was to address any concerns by participants from days 1 to 4 and to focus on working in teams and the database protocols and disciplines needed for collaborative analysis including: data management, data sharing, reporting and general project management techniques necessary for working in remote teams.

The course coordinator in Ethiopia was Ashenafi Dereje who set out the ‘ground rules’ with participants at the beginning of the week. It was negotiated with the group that the workshops would run each day between 8-30 and 5-00 PM with a morning and afternoon break and lunch at 12-30 PM. Participants were requested to arrive punctually and return from breaks at the appointed times because of the incremental nature of the learning and so as not to delay the group. Participants complied in full to these request in all respects.

QDATRAINING has considerable experience of training in African countries. This training in Ethiopia was marked by two distinct differences from our previous experiences. First, the discipline the participants brought to the event. Apart from arriving early and ready to work, not once during the workshops did participants get caught up in telephone or e-mail distractions from their respective offices which has been a feature of previous training workshops in other countries and which can frustrate trainers and fellow participants alike. Second, the general enthusiasm and work ethic which participants displayed was a credit to them and their organisations. Participants often stayed late after the workshop ended for the day or cut short breaks to finish an exercise for example. This commitment was impressive to behold.  This dedication to learning was evident despite language difficulties in some cases and regardless of levels of experience of qualitative data analysis or comfort with computers generally. 

Participants collaborated unusually well together and were very patient if people were unclear on a concept or task and actively assisted each other at all times. This collegial cooperation made for a lovely atmosphere in the workshops which was business-like yet very friendly at the same time.

Certificates were issued to all participants up to intermediate level at the end of the workshops (appendix 3) and these were organised and countersigned by PATHE-Ethiopia, The EPHA and QDATRAINING respectively.

In summary, it is our belief that the success of the workshops was enhanced by the following elements:

  • Taking participants away from their regular work environment (holding the training in Adama rather than Addis Ababa)
  • The administrative and organisational support in Ethiopia before and during the workshops (having Ashenafi Dereje available throughout the week)
  • Setting clear training objectives for the workshops and setting clear expectations with participants at the outset of the training
  • Participants knowing each other

It is evident from working with qualitative researchers in Ethiopia that there is a clear desire to improve their skills in relation to using database technologies to analyse their data, document their processes, share and  report on their data and collaborate within research teams. The levels of commitment in this regard from researchers who attended the workshop was impressive. There is no doubt that researchers who attended the workshops have up-skilled themselves significantly even from one week of intensive training. Researchers quickly came to recognise the transparency and efficiency that CAQDAS brings to qualitative data analysis.

However, moving from paper based systems to a digital platform for qualitative research in Ethiopia requires a strategic level commitment from all partners and stakeholders involved in research in Ethiopia and other African countries. Such strategies can only come from the top of the respective organisations. For example, clearly partners saw a need for up-skilling researchers in these technologies and were prepared to pay the costs of running this training event. Yet many participants were unsure if they would have access to the software post training. Paying for expensive training for researchers without affording them the opportunity to practice their new skills on live data seems somewhat counterproductive.

Ethiopian research took a step forward with advancing its capabilities in their fields of research by bringing this group of experienced researchers together for the NVivo training workshops in Adama. The next step necessary, if partners desire to build on this work, will require strategic level decisions concerning their future direction with regard to CAQDAS. Otherwise, there is a real danger of an ad-hoc approach to computer aided methods and this approach will definitely fail all concerned parties; running training without software, or indeed buying software without training is wasteful and an inefficient way to proceed with capacity building amongst the research communities in Ethiopia.

Partners must create and implement policies on the extent if any to which they intend to deploy these technologies in their research endeavours.  They must decide which technologies they will use and how they plan to implement such resources. Only then can they have a planned approach which will recognise the strategic importance of rigour in qualitative analysis and having trustworthy and believable findings. Such policies allow researchers to manage and share data using the latest efficiencies. 

For example, a simple event such as a researcher leaving a team during the lifecycle of a given project can be far better managed if the replacement can access all of the requisite documentation and coding and clearly see what the coding plan is for the project is and how much work was done before they joined and by extension what work remains along with target dates for completion. And critically, CAQDAS competencies are retained within the organisation instead of being lost when people leave.

In the short term, the training outcomes for this event are 14 researchers with better skills than they had coming into the training. Whether this up-skilling results in better research outcomes for the EPHA and its partners is contingent on the management decisions to follow this workshop. All attendees now enjoy unlimited post training, on-line, one-to-one support from QDATRAINING for the life of their first project. The ability of researchers to draw down this resource is entirely dependent on them having access to the software in the first place which, in turn, is dependent on the type of strategic decisions being made which were set out in this NVivo training article.

NVivo workshop atendees and their respective organisations




Fikrewold Haddis                    


Ashenafi Dereje


Yihunie Lakew


Aleka Gebyehu


Getie Awoke                               


Dereje Assefa                             


Amed Yusuf Omer                      


Yezihalem Atinaf                        


Aberra Wondimu                        


Zemenu Addis                             


Tinsae Mekonnen


Amelework H/Silassie


Nigussue Yoifrashewa


Elizabeth Demeke


Sources used in the creation of this article:


See the pictures from the workshop by clicking here: