Applying machine-learning to rapidly analyze large qualitative text datasets to inform the COVID-19 pandemic response: Comparing human and machine-assisted topic analysis techniques

L Towler*, Paulina Bondaronek, Trisevgeni Papakonstantinou, Richard Amlôt, Tim Chadborn, Ben Ainsworth, Lucy Yardley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Introduction:
Machine-assisted topic analysis (MATA) uses artificial intelligence methods to help qualitative researchers analyse large datasets. This is useful for researchers to rapidly update healthcare interventions during changing healthcare contexts, such as a pandemic. We examined the potential to support healthcare interventions by comparing MATA with ‘human-only’ thematic analysis techniques on the same dataset (1472 user responses from a COVID-19 behavioural intervention).

Methods:
In MATA, an unsupervised topic-modelling approach identified latent topics in the text, from which researchers identified broad themes. In human-only codebook analysis, researchers developed an initial codebook based on previous research that was applied to the dataset by the team, who met regularly to discuss and refine the codes. Formal triangulation using a ‘convergence coding matrix’ compared findings between methods, categorising them as ‘agreement’, ‘complementary’, ‘dissonant’, or ‘silent’.

Results:
Human analysis took much longer than MATA (147.5 vs. 40 hours). Both methods identified key themes about what users found helpful and unhelpful. Formal triangulation showed both sets of findings were highly similar. The formal triangulation showed high similarity between the findings. All MATA codes were classified as in agreement or complementary to the human themes. When findings differed slightly, this was due to human researcher interpretations or nuance from human-only analysis.

Discussion:
Results produced by MATA were similar to human-only thematic analysis, with substantial time savings. For simple analyses that do not require an in-depth or subtle understanding of the data, MATA is a useful tool that can support qualitative researchers to interpret and analyse large datasets quickly. This approach can support intervention development and implementation, such as enabling rapid optimisation during public health emergencies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1268223
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
Volume11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) declare financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. The study was funded by United Kingdom Research and Innovation Medical Research Council (UKRI MRC) Rapid Response Call: UKRI CV220-009. The Germ Defence intervention was hosted by the Lifeguide Team, supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, University of Southampton. LY is a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Senior Investigator and team lead for University of Southampton Biomedical Research Centre. LY is affiliated to the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Behavioural Science and Evaluation of Interventions at the University of Bristol in partnership with Public Health England (PHE).

Funding Information:
The author(s) declare financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. The study was funded by United Kingdom Research and Innovation Medical Research Council (UKRI MRC) Rapid Response Call: UKRI CV220-009. The Germ Defence intervention was hosted by the Lifeguide Team, supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, University of Southampton. LY is a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Senior Investigator and team lead for University of Southampton Biomedical Research Centre. LY is affiliated to the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Behavioural Science and Evaluation of Interventions at the University of Bristol in partnership with Public Health England (PHE).

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2023 Towler, Bondaronek, Papakonstantinou, Amlôt, Chadborn, Ainsworth and Yardley.

Structured keywords

  • Health and Wellbeing (Psychological Science)

Keywords

  • public health
  • interventions
  • qualitative analysis
  • machine learning
  • techniques
  • triangulation

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