The research approach of the study is qualitative. A qualitative research elicits detailed oral and written accounts or narratives of cases, events, phenomenon or situation (Rubin & Rubin, 1995). By deriving detailed information, qualitative research supports the collection of comprehensive data by encompassing the immeasurable aspects of a topic subject of the research (Alasuutari, 2004). Utilising the qualitative approach contributes a number of benefits to the present study.
One is the provision of an understanding of what is happening by covering the complexities of a phenomenon and the inter-linkages among factors or variables to support an accurate interpretation of the situation (Robson, 2002). Policymaking is a complex process so that employing the qualitative approach is necessary to ensure that not only will the context of policymaking be considered but also the in-depth consideration of the factors adding to the complexity of policymaking to draw understanding, insights and implications towards improving policymaking to address problems better.
A second benefit is in-depth look into a phenomenon to support insights into impacts and implications that is not possible by considering quantifiable data (Robson, 2002). A full understanding of policymaking on a health issue, particularly on HIV/AIDS, at the national government level in the case of South Africa, requires consideration of impacts and implications in terms of relationships and variables that is not possible in using quantitative data. A third benefit is deriving understanding of the phenomenon based on the perspective of the parties involved in the case or situation (Robson, 2002).
While the study considers secondary data, the documents and reports were from the South African government and international institutions with involvement in making policies and providing guidelines for national policymaking respectively. A last benefit is providing reasons for the occurrences (Robson, 2002). Policymaking on HIV/AIDS in South Africa has its strengths and weaknesses and understanding these requires consideration of qualitative data such as the historical development of policymaking in the country and the factors that strongly influence the policymaking process and its outcomes.
The qualitative approach applies to the study because providing an understanding of the complexities of policymaking on the health issue of HIV/AIDS in the context of the millennium development goals requires the gathering of in-depth or rich data. This comes from documents issued by the South African government and national institutions involved in pursuing the adoption of the millennium development goals in national policymaking. The qualitative approach also fits the use of multiple sources in a case study.
The required data to meet the purpose of the present study is secondary data, which refer to concepts, definitions, ideas, theories, statistics, results of previous studies, and official reports either comprising raw data or complete published works. There are three categories of secondary data, which are 1) documentary data, 2) interview-based data, and 3) data compiled from multiple sources. Documentary data is the outcome of works collecting primary data such as studies and investigative documents or reports. Interview-based data come from answers to interviews or questionnaires already analysed for a given purpose.
Data compiled from multiple sources include documents, papers or reports using various sources to create a work addressing a given purpose. (Patton, 1990; Lofland & Lofland, 1995) Secondary data serve as the bases or foundation and context of researches or studies. Collecting secondary data has its benefits and downsides. On benefit is data collection in a manner that saves on money and time because all information can be found from a single venue such as the library and online databases. Another benefit is the easy accessibility and availability of information.
Last benefit is the ability to compare existing secondary data with the data requirements and purpose of study to support the importance of conducting the study. However, a downside is there could be insufficient data due to limited access to information. Another downside is that existing secondary data may not match the requirements of the study. (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill, 2003) To justify the collection of secondary data, the downsides need resolution. All available sources of data should be exhausted and data needs siphoning to select only relevant data.