Understanding the qual/quant trade-off
Neuroscientists tell us that stories underpin the basic neurological processes of human understanding
The narrative arc and a focus on characters give the human mind a coherent picture , easily understood , recalled , and shared .
Quantitative researchers focus on scale on causation but fail to provide coherence and participant focus . Qualitative research , by contrast , focuses on coherence and participant focus but lacks scale and causation .
Telling stories is how you cohere thick description .
Mario Luis Small’s excellent summary “ How To Conduct A Mixed Methods Study , ”
Note - Location 95
So I wrote “ Managing The Private Sector Research Project ” in the Sage Handbook of Research Management ( Ladner , 2015 ) to outline the key , and distinct , concerns that applied researchers must consider when managing their research .
A mixed-methods example: stories as a network
narrative analysis , a research method that dissects stories and focuses less on what happened and more on how individuals come to make sense of what happened
key aspects to mixing methods : using mathematical methods to explore what are essentially qualitative concepts provides an opportunity for deeper understanding .
What are mixed methods: mixing objectivism and constructivism
In their classic book , The Social Construction of Reality , Berger and Luckman describe this process : “ Through reifications , the world of institutions appears to merge with the world of nature ”
The Matrix is a system , Neo . That system is our enemy . But when you're inside , you look around , what do you see ? Businessmen , teachers , lawyers , carpenters . The very minds of the people we are trying to save . But until we do , these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy . You have to understand , most of these people are not ready to be unplugged . And many of them are so inured , so hopelessly dependent on the system , that they will fight to protect it . The Matrix , 1999
constructivists use the term gender instead of sex because it emphasizes this social negotiation process .
Existentialist psychotherapist Rollo May calls this experience “ the encounter , ” or the act of falling in love with your subject matter , without regard for specific outcomes .
Qualitative researchers can augment this richness by sketching out some kind of scale and causation . How often did a particular workaround happen ? You do not need to predict this incidence in the population at large , but you can at least show how often it happened in your study . Show causation in a different way : how people interact with objects , social structures and other people , and how they make decisions . Instead of zeroing on a single independent variable that causes an effect in a single dependent variable , qual researchers can paint a holistic picture of what forces affect any one thing to cause another thing .
Why mix methods?
Bryman ( 2006 ) outlines five methodological reasons for mixing methods : Complementarity : deepen or enhance other data Expansion : expanding the inquiry to ask different questions Development : use one method to inform and improve the other Triangulation : corroboration of earlier data Initiation : resolving earlier contradictory findings
He cautions strongly that researchers who do not state a methodological reason for mixing methods risk mixing for mixing’s sake — and ultimately undermining the quality of the insights uncovered .
Ways to mix methods
How to mix methods, step by step
managing the research project is about creating a shared sense of purpose and continually communicating that purpose to the wider team .
Mixing methods also requires that you frame your objectives early . This involves understanding your stakeholders ’ needs and establishing a shared understanding about the choices and methodological and practical trade - offs the team has collectively agreed upon . As the project progresses , your general task is to steer the ship back toward that shared understanding .
In this stage of the project , your goal is to give everyone a clear , shared understanding of what the project will achieve . This entails learning your stakeholders ’ needs , detailing the resources at your disposal , and then describing your approach to best meet those needs and resource constraints . Share the outcome of this process in the form of a shared artifact , either as a document or a diagram , and continually draw stakeholders ’ attention back to that shared understanding by using the artifact as a touchstone . As Stahl ( 2006 ) notes , shared artifacts are key to creating shared knowledge , particularly if that shared knowledge is a result of a negotiation process . The artifact itself becomes the symbol of the negotiated understanding about what the project is all about .
Schedule time to listen to what they want , and then even more importantly , repeat that back to them in concrete ways .
Showing them a baseline of what resources you have , and the demands on those resources , starts a productive conversation .
While it’s completely acceptable to have beliefs instead of hypotheses , a deductive approach requires a crisp , falsifiable statement . Help your stakeholders sharpen their deductive questions into falsifiable statements , which can then be proven true or false . Don’t let people off the hook . If they want to establish scale and causation , they have to follow the scientific method .
Unlike a deductive study , an inductive study does not set out to falsify a belief .
In Strauss and Corbin’s famous description , “ The researcher begins with an area of study and allows the theory to emerge from the data ” ( Strauss , A . , & Corbin , 1998 , p . 12 ) . This is grounded theory , or theory that is grounded in the data that are collected .
As Cresswell ( 2011 ) tells us , quantitative research will measure pervasiveness of things we already know , and qualitative research will uncover things we don’t know much about .
Whatever type of artifact you decide on , ensure that it’s easily accessible to everyone and is regularly seen without anyone having to put in much effort to look for it . Refer to it often in communications and meetings . It will become the thing that reminds your stakeholders that they cannot have everything , and in fact , they already agreed to compromise .
Clear understanding is the core of concerted action .
The research design should also clearly emphasize inductive or deductive approaches , the sequencing of the data collection activities , as well as the concepts you intend to focus on ( for the qual portion of the study ) and the specific variables you will measure ( for the quant portion of the study ) .
In an inductive - dominant approach , you are focusing first on that luxurious understanding of your subject matter . You are stepping back and then diving into The Encounter . You may not have a great grasp on scale or causation , but you will have deep understanding . If you choose a deductive - dominant approach , you will focus first scale and causation of what causes what . You may come up short in your pursuit to luxuriate in the customer , and you might not have the deepest understanding of your context . But you will be able to count the incidence of a thing and test what affects what . In either case , prepare your stakeholders — and yourself — for what you will and will not have .
Table 3 : Types of Simultaneous Research Designs
Think through the kinds of stories that will grab stakeholders ’ attention , but also that tell a story that is complemented by the quant data ,
As you prepare your report , ask yourself , “ Is this something a participant would say is important , or is just what I think is important ? ”
one of the hallmarks of ethnography is the ability to describe the entire system , based on the views of individuals within that system who may not see its whole form .
without a coherent understanding of a system, and how participants of that system think and feel, it’s unlikely you will be able to intervene effectively to fix that system.
Conclusion: to mix or not to mix?
As F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”
experiments are valuable , but the real error of positivism is the sin of “actualism”, or the belief that proving something experimentally in a lab always extends to all other contexts. The problem with objectivism is not the belief that we can show causation, but that proving causation in a single instance is somehow proving causation in all instances