What's Real Research?

March 13, 2007

Qualitative research, doesn’t tell us what is going on, at best it gives us some ideas about what might be happening. And it does this in a way that may help to trigger a new way to define or crack a problem in the planner’s mind but is laughable as a means for making critical business decisions.

I don’t often come across posts that make me splutter and mutter at the screen but this post from Adlierate (via The Art of Conversation) had just that affect on me. Has Richard looked at the differences between quantitative and qualitative research methodologies? Is he a subscriber to the adage that if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count? A central concern of a quantitative approach is the generation of findings which are generalised, replicable, test theory and privilege objectivity. A qualitative approach to research views data as emergent; privileges primacy of interpretation; facilitates hypothesising in the service of theory building and seeks to generate theory from data.
I’m currently researching a Doctorate using the principles of Grounded Theory (Strauss and Corbin, 1998) a research method in which theory is arrived at through the data. The data I’m generating are very different from and yet aligned with those collected by quantitative researchers in the same area. I’m interested in looking at the meaning that is made of the phenomenon in business life, not only an academic definition of a theoretical concept. In my mind there’s no competition when it comes to which methodology works best for the task at hand. My approach is conversational, semi-structured, flexible in order to include as many types of data as possible and most importantly reflexive – I take account of my intrusion into and impact on the study by virtue of asking the questions.

So from now on I am going to reserve the name research for the real deal – actual data that reports on reality.

In a comment on this post Richard says

I should explain that my issue is not with qualitative research though, in a sense it got caught in the cross fire – think of it as polemic collateral damage.

Well I don’t think this is acceptable – too often qualitative is thrown around like it’s some subservient methodology and as a short hand for “not good enough”…Of course it’s not good enough if you don’t really know what you’re talking about in the first place. Perhaps the issue here is with good and bad research not quantitative and qualitative. In scapegoating the latter what’s really being avoided is poor research conducted from a quantitative perspective. Could I respectfully suggest that Richard’s post may be suffering from a little of that itself?

2 People reacted on this

  1. I think that one of the issues is that clients buy qualitative research as a cheaper and more flexible version of quant, ie as generating findings which are generalised, replicable, and “objective”, since it derives from “real people”. Richard is actually a fan of qual (sometimes/mostly)and his real beef is with poor quality quantitative research. I agree with your suggestion that the real distinction is between good and bad research, but in the case of qual, who is defining and safeguarding what is good qual research?

  2. Isn’t peer review an apt and appropriate way of keeping tabs on what’s “good” and “not”? I also don’t understand why qual (thanks for the shorthand, it’s killing me typing all those “t”s) should be any more cheaper than quant research…maybe the researchers are the ones who are undervaluing in the first place?

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