Q-Sorting: A Participatory Method for Innovation Development

In preparation for the CREATE phase of our project – the cross border development of social innovations for older people – our Research Fellow, Shuks Esmene, produced some guidance for partners around alternative methods of approaching idea generation and prioritisation. Below is an explanation of how the Q-Sort approach can be used and adapted in relation to HAIRE and its tools.

An adapted Q-Sort

The Q-Sort approach is part of a larger methodology (Q-Methodology1). Q-Sorts involve participants arranging a set of statements into a grid based on how much they agree and disagree with the statements. Therefore, the approach is more suited for situations where stakeholders can be presented with a set of statements. This approach may be useful for collating stakeholder opinions on what types of innovations would benefit the local area the most.

Note: If you wish to engage stakeholders in a more ‘open’ activity to generate ideas, a different spotlight method (to be released in the coming weeks) may be more appropriate.

i. The participants

Traditionally, individuals carry out Q-Sorts. However, for HAIRE, it may be more appropriate to arrange small groups (around 4 people in each group) to take part in and agree on a Q-Sort. For consistency, you may choose to group stakeholders with common characteristics or those that are working in a similar field to carry out Q-Sorts together.

ii. The statements

Q-Sorts are usually carried out using around 20 to 60 statements. Based on HAIRE’s timeframes and the highly likely remote delivery of the CREATE sessions, it may be best to lead a Q-Sort with around 15-20 statements!

The statements should be easy to understand and, where possible, structured similarly. We recommend using no more than two sentences per statement. See below the examples from our imaginary pilot site, HAIREbridge:


The statements chosen for a Q-Sort can be led by the findings of a pilot site’s draft Community Report (these were released at the end of April 2021). However, feasibility is important, e.g., if it is unlikely that you will be able to implement a transport-related innovation / change, we recommend that a transport-related statement is not included for your Q-Sort.

iii. The grid

The grid that is used to help participants sort the statements they are presented with is usually structured as shown below:

The grid shown above may be adapted to reflect the number of statements that are presented to the participants. However, the ‘bell-shaped’ structure (i.e., where there are fewer options at the extremes of the grid compared to the middle) is important. This structure enables participants to make a judgement call (usually through discussion) as to which statements they agree and disagree with the most.

Generally, statements grouped in the categories ranging from -4 to -2 in the example show above are classed as ‘disagree’. The statements placed under -1, 0 and 1 are classed as neutral, and the statements placed under 2, 3 and 4 are classed as ‘agree’. Once more, this is not a strict rule. You may wish to adapt the numbering in your grid to make the Q-Sort easier to conduct with the specific stakeholders you wish to engage.

Note: The section at the bottom right of the image included above, listing the ‘Agree’, ‘Neutral’ and ‘Disagree’ classifications, is used to collate the statement numbers that were assigned to the respective classifications. Remember to label / number the statements you present to participants clearly!

iv. Remote delivery

A remote delivery adaptation of a Q-sort can be relatively easy to implement. A facilitator can run a Q-sort with a small group (up to 4 participants) in a break-out session. A Q-sort grid can be shared on screen and statements (referred to by their numbers) can be collectively assigned to the appropriate places on the grid through discussion. The facilitator can write the relevant statement numbers into the relevant squares of the grid as the participants agree on their position. In such a circumstance, the statements can be sent to participants prior to the session.

1 Further Notes

The Q-Sort approach is part of a larger method known as Q-Methodology. The full method involves collating all scoring grids compiled by all participants. A statistical analysis of the results is then conducted to generate a ‘best-fit’ grid for groups of participants that share certain characteristics. Further, the full method dictates that individual participants produce their own scoring grids.

Given the purpose and timeframes of HAIRE, using only the Q-Sort component of the method can help facilitate group discussions and still generate an understanding of what types of innovations would be most valued in a pilot site. Overall, we hope to build CREATE approaches that are best suited to each pilot site. Each pilot site may choose to use a combination of different participatory tasks in their CREATE activities.

Senior Cluster University

This month’s blog comes from our HAIRE colleagues at the University of Artois, who have innovated a new research institute dedicated to the study of healthy ageing.

Thanks to Julie Varlet at the University of Artois for this contribution to our team blog, and thanks to our intrepid intern Valentine for the excellent translation (which you will find if you scroll down.) Contact details for the team at the University of Artois are included at the end of the English translation. 

Permettre aux personnes âgées de rester à domicile tout en favorisant le lien social est un défi pour notre société et nécessite une gamme de services adaptés et un savoir-faire innovant. L’université d’Artois, entend y contribuer grâce au Cluster Senior University, un institut de formation et de recherche, dont la formation « Management Sectoriel – Parcours Cadres de direction des établissements du secteur social et médico-social ».

La formation se donne pour objectif de former les futurs directeurs et cadres de direction du secteur social et médico-social en assurant une montée en compétences et en qualification dans un secteur qui ne cesse d’évoluer. Elle vise à assurer une prise en charge de qualité des publics vulnérables. L’objectif de la formation est de former les professionnels de demain capables de répondre aux nouveaux besoins et aux nouvelles attentes des seniors. L’enjeu de la recherche est de permettre des innovations au service de la qualité de vie des seniors. Cependant, avant d’entreprendre toutes actions visant à favoriser leur maintien à domicile tout en luttant contre leur isolement en milieu rural, il était nécessaire de comprendre l’environnement dans lequel ces personnes évoluaient. Ce fut le challenge pour l’année 2021 pour les 22 étudiants issus du Master 1 « Management sectoriel ». Ceux-ci ont travaillé en collaboration avec les partenaires des Flandres Intérieures afin de produire un diagnostic démographique, de l’accessibilité et des services du territoire par le biais de la boite à outils HAIRE. Tout l’enjeu de ce travail repose maintenant sur les actions à mettre en œuvre afin de lutter contre cet isolement rural en Flandre Intérieure.

Favoriser le maintien des personnes âgées au domicile tout en étant en mesure de répondre aux besoins des publics fragiles et dépendants constituera d’ailleurs leur problématique future. Ce pourquoi les étudiants du Master étudient actuellement une gamme d’innovation sociale, en rupture par rapport à l’existant ou se basant sur une solution existante pour significativement l’améliorer. Ces nouvelles solutions, intégrant les besoins repérés dans le discours des personnes âgées, seront proposées aux partenaires français lors des ateliers CREATE, voués à la conception d’innovations locales.


The Senior Cluster University: a training and research institute

Enabling older people to stay at home while strengthening their social connections constitutes a major challenge for our society, one that requires an array of tailor-made services and innovative skills. The University of Artois figured out a way to rise to the task: we created The Senior Cluster University, a training and research institute that offers the training programme ‘Leadership and Management Course in Health and Social Care’.

This course aims to:

  • train future directors and executives in Health and Social Care by improving their skills and qualifications in a sector that is constantly evolving.
  • ensure that vulnerable groups are properly taken care of.
  • train future professionals so they can tend to the ever-evolving needs and desires of older people.
  • foster innovation for the benefit of the quality of life of older people.

However, before we could undertake actions to combat isolation in rural areas and enable older people to stay at home, it was essential that we first gained a better understanding of the environment these people lived in. This is precisely what the 22 students who completed their ‘Master 1: Leadership and Management’ aimed for in 2021. They worked alongside partners in the Flandres Intérieures [area in the Hauts-de-France region] to make a ‘demographic diagnosis’ of the accessibility and services particular to each locality using the HAIRE toolkit. The study’s significance and practical utility will be brought to bear through the initiatives that are to be put in place to combat rural isolation in Flandre Intérieure.

The next challenge will be to enable older people to stay in their own homes, and to tend to the needs of vulnerable and dependent groups. The Masters students are therefore studying a wide range of innovative social initiatives; some of them are a clean break from existing solutions, while others are based on existing solutions with the aim of improving them significantly. These new solutions, which take into account the needs that older people have expressed in conversation, will be brought forward to the French partners during the “CREATE workshops”, which are all about ideating local innovations.


For further information, please contact:

Julie Varlet, Post-doctorante  06 37 62 59 96

Cécile Carra, Professeure des universités, responsable scientifique