Purposive sampling in a qualitative evidence synthesis: a worked example from a synthesis on parental perceptions of vaccination communication
In a qualitative evidence synthesis, too much data due to a large number of studies can undermine our ability to perform a thorough analysis. Purposive sampling of primary studies for inclusion in the synthesis is one way of achieving a manageable amount of data. The objective of this article is to describe the development and application of a sampling framework for a qualitative evidence synthesis on vaccination communication.
We developed and applied a three-step framework to sample studies from among those eligible for inclusion in our synthesis. We aimed to prioritise studies that were from a range of settings, were as relevant as possible to the review, and had rich data. We extracted information from each study about country and study setting, vaccine, data richness, and study objectives and applied the following sampling framework:
1.Studies conducted in low and middle income settings
2.Studies scoring four or more on a 5-point scale of data richness
3.Studies where the study objectives closely matched our synthesis objectives
We assessed 79 studies as eligible for inclusion in the synthesis and sampled 38 of these. First, we sampled all nine studies that were from low and middle-income countries. These studies contributed to the least number of findings. We then sampled an additional 24 studies that scored high for data richness. These studies contributed to a larger number of findings. Finally, we sampled an additional five studies that most closely matched our synthesis objectives. These contributed to a large number of findings.
Our approach to purposive sampling helped ensure that we included studies representing a wide geographic spread, rich data and a focus that closely resembled our synthesis objective. It is possible that we may have overlooked primary studies that did not meet our sampling criteria but would have contributed to the synthesis. For example, two studies on migration and access to health services did not meet the sampling criteria but might have contributed to strengthening at least one finding. We need methods to cross-check for under-represented themes.