Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)

Friday, January 12, 2007: 10:00 AM-11:45 AM
Pacific C (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
Synthesizing Qualitative Studies: Why? What? How?
Speakers/Presenters:Julianne S. Oktay, PhD, University of Maryland at Baltimore
Anne Hughes, MSW, University of Maryland at Baltimore
James Drisko, PhD, Smith College
Suzanne Heurtin-Roberts, National Cancer Institute
Abstract Text:
As social work turns to evidence-based practice as a standard for the profession, there is increased need for models and methods to synthesize research results. Meta-analysis and systematic review serve this function for quantitative studies. However, there is no single model for the synthesis of results from qualitative research that is widely accepted. As more high quality qualitative research is being done in social work, metasynthesis has the potential to make an important contribution to the field. Multiple methodologies have been proposed for the integration of qualitative studies, but it is unclear which of these is most beneficial for social work. This roundtable will explore the major models of qualitative metasynthesis, consider how each fits with social work, and discuss challenges and controversies in this field. An early effort to synthesize qualitative data was meta-ethnography (Noblit and Hare, 1988). More recently, researchers in the UK have developed methods for the systematic review of qualitative “views” studies (Cochrane Qualitative Methods Group 2006; Social Care Institute for Excellence, 2006). A very substantial body of work in qualitative metasynthesis has been developed by nursing researchers. Models developed by this group include “Metasummary” (Sandelowski & Barroso, 2003) and “Meta study” (Paterson, Thorne, Canam & Jillings, 2001). Finally, “Grounded Formal Theory” has been used to build theory based on multiple qualitative studies (Kearney, 1998). Each of these models will be described, compared and illustrated using examples from published research. The roundtable will also identify important epistemological, methodological, and practical issues in the synthesis of qualitative data. Epistemological considerations include the appropriateness of combining qualitative methods with different philosophical underpinnings. Methodologically, discussion will consider the type of data, inclusion and exclusion criteria, and study quality. Practical considerations such as: what areas are appropriate for qualitative synthesis?, what will a synthesis contribute?, and how many studies are needed for a synthesis? are important as well.

Discussants: James Drisko, PhD, Smith College School for Social Work, will raise questions about the possibility of combining studies from different qualitative traditions, quality criteria appropriate for inclusion, and the underlying epistemology of metasynthesis itself.

Suzanne Heurtin-Roberts, PhD, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, will provide a pragmatic assessment of the methodology, raising questions about the value of this approach to a major national research agency.


Cochrane Qualitative Research Methods Group & Campbell Process Implementation Methods Group,

Kearney, M.H. (1998) Ready-to-Wear: Discovering Grounded Formal Theory. Research in Nursing & Health 21, 179-186.

Noblit, G.W. & Hare, R.D. (1988). Meta-ethnography: Synthesizing qualitative studies. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Paterson, B.L., Thorne, S.E., Canam, C. & Jillings, C. (2001) Meta-study of Qualitative Health Research: A Practical Guide to Meta-Analysis and Meta-Synthesis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Sandelowski, M. & Barroso, J. (2003). Creating metasummaries of qualitative findings. Nursing Research, 52(4), 226-233.

Social Care Institute for Excellence. (2006). How knowledge works in social care, report 09-Using qualitative research in systematic reviews: Older people's views of hospital discharge. Lond

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