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2015 Webinar Profile

Introduction to Qualitative Methods for Human Factors Analyses
Presented by Wayne Zachary, CHI Systems Inc. and Starship Health Technologies, LLC
Tuesday, March 10

Human factors has deep roots in psychology and in quantitative and experimental methods. As the breadth of the field has grown to include organizational, user-experience, root cause, front end, and other types of formative and exploratory analysis, professionals increasingly need qualitative methods in their toolkit. Qualitative methods are fundamentally different from the experimental/survey methods that most practitioners are taught and require a change in mindset to accompany the change in techniques.

This introductory-level webinar is appropriate for a broad audience of human factors practitioners and students. It may also be of interest to practitioners and students in related fields such as usability, user-experience, and policy/public health program design.

The webinar introduces the basic skills, methods, and mindset of qualitative research for human factors analyses, focusing on the two key tools of the trade: talking to people (i.e., interviewing) and participatory observation of interactions and behavior in a natural context (i.e., participant observation).

Interviewing and participant observation are most often used in domains or contexts in which the goal is to expose how a first-hand participant or user experiences and thinks about the system, domain, task, or environment. Rather than testing hypotheses (as in an experiment) or collecting distributions of data (as in a survey), the practitioner must be concerned first and foremost with listening to what the informant (interviewee) is saying and drawing out the tacit as well as the spoken concepts. This core skill of listening is discussed, as are other practical skills, such as getting people to talk to you in the first place, learning to differentiate a good from a not-so-good informant, getting people to open up about the subjects you want to pursue, and keeping the interview going.

Zachary will also discuss broader study design issues of dealing with idiosyncratic versus shared understanding, recruiting interviewees, and heterogeneity. He will introduce group interviews and focus groups as special examples of qualitative interviewing, in addition to participant observation and its challenges and associated skills.

This webinar also presents basic concepts and skills associated with rigorous qualitative data analysis. Qualitative data are analyzed differently from experimental and/or survey (i.e., quantitative) data. They are created and analyzed in various forms, ranging from the most empirical forms such as audio/video recordings, progressing to interpretive records and journals, and finally to analytical artifacts, which are constructed according to the goals of the analysis. For example, if the goal is to analyze how the participants think about a work task or domain, the final analytical artifact may be a concept map or a cognitive task analysis. Main forms of analysis and their mapping to common goals of qualitative method studies are also discussed.


Wayne Zachary is a researcher, technologist, and entrepreneur living in suburban Philadelphia, PA. He founded and was the long-time CEO of CHI Systems Inc. and is a director and senior adviser there. He is also managing partner of Starship Health Technologies, LLC, and is an independent consultant. Wayne has a career-long interest in qualitative methods and in techniques to translate qualitative data into computational and mathematical models.

Wayne holds a PhD in anthropology from Temple University along with advanced study in computer science. He has conducted qualitative and mixed-methods studies in diverse domains, including national defense, aerospace, health care, pharmaceuticals, parks and recreation, and ethnographic studies of differing military, business, and non-Western cultural settings. He is the author of more than 100 conference, journal, and monograph publications. He has served on the United States Defense Science Board panel on Advanced Decision Architecture and on the editorial board of Human Factors and Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making.

If you are an HFES member, all webinar recordings and handouts will be available at within 5 business days of the presentation. If you are not an HFES member and you register for a webinar, you will be e-mailed a copy of the webinar recording and handouts also within 5 business days.