A Complex Unit Interviews Analysis Approach in Qualitative Social Work Research

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Qualitative research methods are advancing from individual analysis levels to dyadic and above to present multiple facets of reality, coinciding well with micro (individual), mezzo (family and groups) and macro (communities and society) levels in social work (SW) practices. Complex units (CU) comprise two groups with several members in each group, with each CU member having a perspective on the studied phenomenon; some perspectives are in congruence, others not. However, methodological approaches to the analysis of CUs are lacking. Based on the naturalistic–constructivist paradigm, this methodological article aims to present a Complex Unit Interviews Analysis (CUIA) approach that can be used in qualitative SW research. It includes a four-phase circular procedure: Phase 1—full analysis (i) familiarisation, (ii) coding, (iii) identifying themes; Phase 2—selective analysis of how a theme plays out in a CU (i) vertical analysis (across interviews within each CU group) and (ii) horizontal analysis (between groups of a CU); Phase 3—refining themes by analysis across CUs; Phase 4—conducting Phase 2 and Phase 3 for each theme identified in Phase 1. CUIA is illustrated using a family study case that presents multiple facets of a phenomenon’s reality by combining individual perspectives to form a CU perspective within SW and familial contexts.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)3258-3276
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2023


  • complex unit
  • constant comparative method
  • dyadic analysis
  • naturalistic–constructivist paradigm
  • qualitative interview analysis
  • social work

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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