This tool provides step-by-step guidance for workforce partnership collaboratives to collect and use qualitative data to better understand the experiences of all program stakeholders and make timely program improvements; describes how qualitative research is embedded into a learning community partnership and informed by the work of SkillUp Washington.

The purpose of this briefing paper is to provide practical guidance for workforce collaboratives interested in embedding qualitative research into their Learning Community Partnership (LCP). The content in this report is informed by the work of SkillUp Washington, a Seattle-based workforce funder collaborative. The qualitative research conducted by SkillUp has acted as a catalyst for program improvements and funder investments.


This work complements, and is intended to be reviewed in tandem with, quantitative approaches. The qualitative research strategies presented in this report are aimed at developing a comprehensive view of how different workforce development programs are working from the vantage point of workforce participants, instructors, navigators, college administrators, employers, and other key partners.


This report is part of a series of Evaluation Tools, which “provides tangible advice and recommendations on how local organizations including regional funder collaboratives and industry partnerships, can collect and utilize qualitative and quantitative information to improve their work.


This briefing paper is based on the assumption that the workforce collaborative or partnership has an LCP in place that includes people who plan, manage, implement, and share responsibility for improving or sustaining the program. It also assumes that LCPs: (1) have a strong interest in learning why, when, and how their workforce programs are meeting their goals, contractual requirements, and other shared LCP-determined knowledge and capacity building aims; (2) place a high priority on understanding the qualitative factors accelerating/hindering different outcomes, including enrollment, certificate and credential acquisition, training, job placement and retention rates, and employer engagement; and (3) are interested in integrating and utilizing qualitative and quantitative data to learn about the work under way in order to make timely program improvements.


Major Findings & Recommendations

Steps to “Create a Rich and Layered Data Trail” include:

1. Establish a Learning Community.

2. Plan, Implement, and Analyze Qualitative Data.

a. Identify Research Questions. Identify key qualitative questions that the LCP members want to be able to answer "along the way" to tell why the project is or is not progressing as planned toward achieving contractual outcomes.

b. Choose Qualitative Data Collection Methods. The LCP may want to select representative samples of participants who agree to be the LCP’s "consultants" by partnering in different qualitative research activities

c. Document Participant Pathways to Change. Qualitative data collectors (external evaluators and/or existing workforce program staff or partners) may want to pay particular attention to documenting pre/post changes in the lives of participants at set intervals to determine reasons for changes, and to inform timely interventions.

d. Analyze Data. Collect and merge qualitative data, including descriptive data, demographic data, previous education and employment, and quantitative data (academic performance, learning gains, training completion, credentials, job placement, retention, and post-program education/training/wage outcomes) to create a greater understanding of the factors which promote participant skill gains, employment, and income.

3. Act on Learning. The LCP should meet on a routine basis to review and discuss the results of the qualitative research and merge datasets to share their observations about what the data means, and recommend changes needed to improve workforce program practices. 

The LCPs' use of qualitative data will be most productive when data is gathered from multiple audiences at set time intervals, discussed and used soon after to ensure timely intervention. The qualitative data brings workforce performance data to life and provides insight into how different partners can all work together in a forward thinking manner, to use their shared experiences to promote the success of participants and respond to the hiring needs of employers. This information, when strategically timed and integrated, paves the way for all involved to capture impressions about the work to date and cultivate this information to inform the work that lies ahead.