Applied Quantitative and Qualitative Research for Project Cycle Management

1. Introduction

The purpose of this note is to explain what is meant by "Qualitative Research" and in the process, compare qualitative research methods with the better known "quantitative research" methods, which employ questionnaire surveys.

Qualitative or "Phenomenological" approaches to data gathering are based on a completely different paradigm from that used in the Quantitative or Positivist approach.

The Positivist approach assumes that there is an objective truth existing "out there", which can be uncovered through the scientific method which measures relationships between variables using logic and statistics.

Quantification is the tenuous route through which social sciences claim to be scientific (HOLLOWAY 1991), emphasising reliability of measurement, validity of conclusions, and replication of experiment.

The Qualitative approach on the other hand searches for respondents´ perceptions and interpretations of social phenomena within the context of social life.

Deciding which approach should be used in a given research situation really depends on the research problem. In that sense there is little meaning in evaluating one approach against the other.

Indeed the best results might come from dividing a research objective into several research questions and using the most appropriate tools available within each approach.

2. The Qualitative Approach

There appears to be no generally agreed definition of what the Qualitative Approach is. It is rather a blanket term for a wide range of techniques concerned more with interpretation and meaning of responses rather than their frequency or correlation

Qualitative research is not based on the testing of hypotheses or analysis of categoric frameworks. On the other hand, it is driven by emergent themes and idiographic descriptions.

The underlying ideology of the Qualitative approach is that behaviour can be explained only by the perspectives and highly subjective constructions of a respondent or participant, and not by any "objective truth"

Qualitative researchers respect the autonomy of participants and use their language and symbols, on their own terms, which is the socially accepted norm when we enter the territory of other people.

3. Qualitative Research Methods

The methods of Qualitative research address the important issue of access to personal views (perceptions), attitudes and information.

For most individuals, personal views, attitudes and information are restricted by psycho-social and cultural filters which determine what information can be exposed to public gaze, what information is communicable, and indeed by the very awareness of such information. The model proposed by Cooper and Branthwaite (1977) is useful for understanding these filters.

This chart clearly shows the limitations of the structured questionnaire which is amenable to quantification and statistical analysis. However, although Qualitative Research is impressionistic as opposed to conclusive, it can provide unique insights from its preoccupation with probing and understanding rather than counting and collating.

3.1 Applications of Qualitative Research

The term Qualitative Research is used to describe various kinds of social, psychological and marketing research. Some of these are, exploratory research, unstructured research, motivation research, depth interviewing, attitude and opinion research.

Some of the important techniques subsumed by the term Qualitative are:

  • Depth Interviews
  • Focus Group Discussions
  • Case Studies

In all these techniques, the emphasis is on probing, to understand cause-effect relationships. Depth interviewing is normally with individuals, while both Focus Group Discussions and Case Studies may look at group perceptions and be guided by group dynamics.

3.2 Attitude Research

An area of considerable interest to researchers on account of behaviour motivation is Attitude Research. The underlying hypothesis is that life´s experiences lead to beliefs and convictions, which form attitudes, which in turn shape and direct behaviour.

Researchers use attitude scales such as the Likert Scale, Thurstone´s Scale and Guttman Scale to measure attitudes.

Disguised methods are useful to encourage respondents or participants to talk with less inhibition. Some of these techniques have been found useful in psychological and marketing research applications:

  • Projective Techniques
  • Third Person Test
  • Word Association Test
  • Sentence Completion Tests
  • Thematic Apperception Test (TAT)
  • Story Completion Test
  • Rorschach ink blot test
  • Psychodrama
  • Cartoons (Blank Balloons)

It can be seen that all these are indirect methods of gathering often sensitive information from respondents or participants. For this reason, these techniques require considerably greater skill and experience for application and interpretation.

In many cases where direct data collection using traditional methods like questionnaire survey, which claim to be scientific, indirect methods are more appropriate.