What has qualitative research ever done for us? #ElfCampfire


In February 2016, Trisha Greenhalgh and 75 senior academic colleagues from 11 countries wrote a letter calling on the British Medical Journal to rethink their decision to view qualitative research as “low priority,” “unlikely to be highly cited,” “lacking practical value,” or “not of interest to our readers”.

Researchers from McGill Qualitative Health Research Group helpfully shared their rejection letter on Twitter on 30 Sep 2015. Here’s their tweet and an excerpt from the BMJ response to their paper:

Thank you for sending us your paper. We read it with interest but I am sorry to say that qualitative studies are an extremely low priority for The BMJ. Our research shows that they are not as widely accessed, downloaded, or cited as other research.

We receive over 8,000 submissions a year and accept less than 4%. We do therefore have to make hard decisions on just how interesting an article will be to our general clinical readers, how much it adds, and how much practical value it will be.

Here in the woodland we’ve been mulling over this matter for a few weeks. We have been rereading many of the qualitative research blogs that we’ve published, especially on the Mental Elf and the Social Care Elf and we have found ourselves asking: “What has qualitative research ever done for us?”

On Wednesday 13th April (1500-1600 BST) we will be hosting an expert webinar to bring together people from the world of mental health qualitative research, to share their experiences, celebrate the achievements of specific studies/programmes, and discuss the challenges currently facing the field.

We would like you to be involved in this discussion, which starts today and will run (we hope) for a few weeks. Listed below are the questions we will be asking our expert panel on April 13th.

What has qualitative research ever done for us?

What has qualitative research ever done for us?

Questions for our #ElfCampfire discussion

  1. Why is qualitative research considered to be less important than quantitative research?
  2. What is the most important “landmark” qualitative research study in mental health?
  3. How can we weed out unreliable or irrelevant qualitative research?
  4. What is mixed-methods research and how can it help us improve mental health care?

Please share your thoughts and experiences with us by adding a comment at the end of this blog or by tweeting to @Mental_Elf. Feel free to ask questions that you would like us to put to the panel.

Our expert panel

We are delighted to have convened a group of service users, researchers and practitioners with a wealth of experience about mental health qualitative research:

  1. Sarah Carr, Associate Professor of Mental Health Research, Middlesex University
  2. Michael Coffey, Associate Professor, Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences, Swansea University
  3. Steve Gillard, Reader in Social and Community Mental Health, St George’s University
  4. Trish Groves, Head of Research, BMJ
  5. Ben Hannigan, Reader in Mental Health Nursing, Cardiff University
  6. Sarah Knowles, Research Fellow, University of Manchester
  7. Tara Lamont, Scientific Advisor, Health Services and Delivery Research (HS&DR) Programme
  8. Eimear Muir-Cochrane, Professor of Nursing, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Flinders University
  9. Steven Pryjmachuk, Professor of Mental Health Nursing Education, University of Manchester
  10. Alan Simpson, Professor, School of Health Sciences, City University
  11. André Tomlin (Chair)
  12. Douglas Badenoch (National Elf Service)

The expert video webinar will be live broadcast and free to view at 3pm UK time on Wednesday 13th April. Simply join us around the campfire to watch the broadcast, or tweet your comments and questions to #ElfCampfire.

Campfire video webinars are live broadcast expert discussions that are free to view on the web. The archive of previous campfires is for members-only.

Campfire video webinars are live broadcast expert discussions that are free to view on the web. The archive of previous campfires is for members-only.


What has qualitative research ever done for us? Elf Campfire, 13 Apr 2016.

Greenhalgh T, Annandale E, Ashcroft R, Barlow J, Black N, Bleakley A et al. (2016) An open letter to The BMJ editors on qualitative research

Photo credits

Ben Ostrowsky CC BY 2.0


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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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