Q Methods Study of Vulnerability

This project aims to understand how the police, health services, education providers, social care and other agencies providing core public services in Bradford respond to and deal with people’s vulnerabilities.

Person walking through a city on an evening with their shadow cast behind them

We will explore how these services and those who use them understand and interpret the contested concept of vulnerability and how their understanding shapes people’s experiences and practice.

To explore these questions, the project will use Q methodology. This approach combines qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate the views of people directly involved in a particular topic. It offers a structured and transparent way of exploring beliefs and values. This allows the team to analyse the different points of view that exist around ‘vulnerability’ in one city and how these shape policies and practices.


Vulnerability is a well-used concept among public services in the UK. However, what this means in practice for public services, the police and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is underexplored.

The meaning of ‘vulnerability’ is subjective and the concept is used in various ways across different settings, with different outcomes and effects. The project utilises Q methodology to explore people’s opinions about vulnerability and structure them in a way that can be studied.


The research question that frames the study is: What are the impacts of how vulnerability is used in the work of policing and partner services?

The project aims to shed light on how vulnerability is interpreted and how it is used to frame public service delivery. We will look at the effect of vulnerability-based interventions in cities such as Bradford and Leeds. The project will provide a better understanding of the diverse perceptions of the role of the police in safeguarding vulnerable populations.

The study will provide rich descriptions of values, opinions and beliefs, and identify the different points of view that exist around the topic of vulnerability. This includes identifying shared meanings, issues where there are different points of view and issues where there is consensus.

This study will complement two other studies conducted by the Centre which focus on Bradford:


Q methodology integrates qualitative and quantitative dimensions. It involves presenting participants with a structured set of ‘opinion statements’ about a topic and asking them to rank responses.

These are then clustered into shared views for statistical analysis.

In addition to the data collected via statement rankings, rich qualitative data will be collected from interviews and focus groups where respondents will explain why they agreed or disagreed with certain statements and values.

The study has four stages:

  1. The team will review a range of sources including academic literature, policy documents, newspapers, interviews, and public consultations to compile and capture all important aspects and definitions of vulnerability. This work will then be used to develop a range of opinion statements.
  2. The opinion statements will be reduced to a manageable subset known as the ‘Q set’, usually including 30 to 50 statements.
  3. Participants will be asked to sort the provided statements in the Q set into rank order. Follow-up interviews will be carried out to ask people to explain their reasoning.
  4. In the final stage, people with shared views are grouped together to identify a series of common factors.


Lead investigators

Postdoctoral researchers