When words tell you more than numbers

For humanitarian assistance to be effective, we need to continuously assess and adapt our approaches. Katie Whitehouse makes the case that listening to people is a critical skill in operational research, and meaningful engagement with the population is as valuable as measuring data points.

Working as a qualitative researcher for Médecins Sans Frontières, she collects stories and experiences to better inform how to design and deliver tailored programmes. When Katie Whitehouse began her research career in a participatory health program in the United Kingdom, her mentors taught her to push the boundaries. They challenged her to approach research with what is now known as a qualitative methodology. With its emphasis on building a detailed picture of a research subject, this approach was at the time considered in broader circles to be radical. Katie later began working for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) as a researcher and health promoter, and found her match. In places like South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Myanmar, she gave the participants in her research the chance to paint a detailed picture of the reality they faced, in the process eradicating preconceived notions the research team held, and in turn helping to determine precise outcomes that produced the most effective humanitarian programmes possible.