Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Research methods are conventionally divided into quantitative, qualitative and participatory each with differing underlying approaches, tools and techniques. Quantitative, qualitative and participatory approaches have different disciplinary origins, developed distinctive tools and each has developed its critique of the other approaches.In development research quantitative methods have typically been the main focus, with qualitative and participatory methods often relegated to desirable 'frills'. This is partly because of the overwhelming emphasis in many development agencies with economic economic growth and economic dimensions of poverty. In many development agencies the concern with quantification intensified over the 1990s with requirements for performance assessment and targets in logical frameworks. Pressures for quantification have further intensified to demonstrate progress on Millenium Development Goals, 'scaling up' of impacts and macro-level change.

Traditional disciplinary divides are however becoming increasingly breached. Moreover new tools and new solutions to shortcomings of old tools are continually being developed. Increasingly the emphasis is on developing an appropriate integrated mix of research methods.

Quantitative Methods
Quantitative methods as they are commonly conceived derive from experimental and statistical methods in natural science. The main concern is with rigorous objective measurement in order to determine the truth or falsehood of particular pre-determined hypotheses.

the main focus is on measuring 'how much is happening to how many people'.
the main tools are large scale surveys analysed using statistical techniques. Quantitative measurable indicators relevant to the pre-determined hypotheses are identified and combined into questionnaires.
questionnaires are then conducted for a random sample or stratified random sample of individuals, often including a control group.
causality is assessed through comparison of the incidence of the variables under consideration between main sample and control group and/or the degree to which they co-occur.
in large-scale research projects teams are composed of a number of skilled research designers and analysts assisted by teams of local enumerators.
For easily accessible overviews of the strengths and pitfalls of different statistical techniques see the website for Statsoft

For access to many further resources see the quantitative methods, statistics and quantitative database sections on the University of Amsterdam 's SocioSite

Qualitative Methods
Qualitative methods have their origins in the humanities: sociology, anthropology, geography and history. They differ from quantitative methods in aiming, not primarily at precise measurement of pre-determined hypotheses, but holistic understanding of complex realities and processes where even the questions and hypotheses emerge cumulatively as the investigation progresses.

typically focuses on compiling a selection of microlevel Case Studies investigated using a combination of informal interviews, participant observation and more recently visual media like photography and video.
questions are broad and open-ended and change and develop over time to fill in a 'jigsaw' of differing accounts of 'reality', unravelling which may be said to be generally 'true' and which are specific and subjective and why.
different sampling methods are combined: different purposive sampling techniques, identification of key informants and also 'random encounters'.
Causality and attribution are directly investigated through questionning as well as qualitative analysis of data. Computer programmes are used to deal systematically with large amounts of data.
typically requires long-term immersion of a skilled researcher in the field who engages in a reflexive process of data collection and analsysis.
For access to many further resources see the qualitative methods sections on the University of Amsterdam 's SocioSite

The Forum for Qualitative Research website brings together resources and debates in English and other European languages.

For overviews of computer analysis software see Lewins, Ann and Silver, Christina (2004) Choosing a CAQDAS (Computer-Aided Quatlitative Data Analysis) Package: A Working Paper

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