Most qualitative synthesis approaches are based on meta-ethnography, which is the most widely used approach in health-related research. If well-conducted and reported, meta-ethnography is effective, systematic and can produce important new conceptual understandings of complex health care issues, even in well-researched fields. Thus, meta-ethnography has great potential to improve health services, public health, and understanding of patient experiences for any health condition or service.
In a meta-ethnography, the reviewers conducting the meta-ethnography aim to produce new interpretations that transcend the findings of individual studies, rather than simply to aggregate findings. Noblit and Hare described it as ‘making a whole into something more than the parts alone imply’ (Noblit & Hare, 1988, p. 28), i.e. going beyond the findings of any individual study.
Reviewers systematically compare study concepts to identify new overarching concepts. The approach allows reviewers to preserve the original meanings of study concepts and take account of contextual impacts on findings. Meta-ethnography differs from other qualitative evidence synthesis approaches in its underpinning theory, use of the authors’ interpretations (e.g. concepts, themes) from primary qualitative studies as data, and creation of new interpretations through its unique analytic synthesis process.
George Noblit is the Joseph R. Neikirk Distinguished Professor of Sociology of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He, with Dwight Hare, developed meta-ethnography and wrote about it 1988 in a book published by Sage called Meta Ethnograpphy: Synthesising Qualitative Studies. He has since then written more about it and has consulted on several large qualitative synthesis projects. He has a forthcoming article on the meta-ethnography of auto-ethnographies as well as a book in process: The cultural construction of identity: Meta-ethnographies and theorizing. He considers himself more a practicing qualitative researcher whose work has won several awards. He specializes in the study of racialization and class formation from a decidedly critical lens. He is the editor/author of 19 books. His most recent book is: Education, equity and economy: Crafting a new intersection for Springer. He edits The Urban Review and two book series. Most recently he is the founding editor of the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education.
Dwight Hare was professor in the College of Education at Mississippi State University until he passed away in 2013. He co-authored with G. Noblit the book entitled Meta Ethnography: Synthesizing Qualitative Studies published in 1988. Some of Hare’s primary research interests throughout his career involved the use of qualitative research methods in evaluation and policy analysis. Dwight was a highly regarded doctoral advisor and mentor of young scholars. He regularly conducted evaluations for educational agencies and was the leading expert on the state of Mississippi’s education data repository. For many years, he was an advisor of the Center for Teaching Quality.