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Data are usually collected through qualitative and quantitative methods. The evaluation method that you choose depends on the size of the program, your budget, time constraints, the characteristics of the target group, how big your target group is, what information you are aiming to collect and who the information is for.
Qualitative approaches aim to address the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of a program and tend to use unstructured methods of data collection to fully explore the topic. Qualitative questions are open-ended such as ‘why do participants enjoy the program?’ and ‘How does the program help increase self esteem for participants?’.
Qualitative methods include focus groups, group discussions and interviews. Quantitative approaches on the other hand address the ‘what’ of the program. They use a systematic standardised approach and employ methods such as surveys and ask questions such as ‘what activities did the program run?’ and ‘what skills do staff need to implement the program effectively?’
Both methods have their strengths and weaknesses. Qualitative approaches are good for further exploring the effects and unintended consequences of a program. They are, however, expensive and time consuming to implement. Additionally the findings cannot be generalised to participants outside of the program and are only indicative of the group involved. Quantitative approaches have the advantage that they are cheaper to implement, are standardised so comparisons can be easily made and the size of the effect can usually be measured. Quantitative approaches however are limited in their capacity for the investigation and explanation of similarities and unexpected differences. It is important to note that for some programs quantitative data collection approaches often prove to be difficult to implement for agencies as lack of necessary resources to ensure rigorous implementation of surveys and frequently experienced low participation and loss to follow up rates are commonly experienced factors.
Is there a way to achieve both the depth and breadth that qualitative and quantitative methods may achieve individually? One answer is to consider a mixed methods approach as your design, combining both qualitative and quantitative research data, techniques and methods within a single research framework.
Mixed methods approaches may mean a number of things: ie a number of different types of methods in a study or at different points within a study, or, using a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods.[3,4]
Mixed methods encompass multifaceted approaches that combine to capitalise on strengths and reduce weaknesses that stem from using a single research design. Using this approach to gather and evaluate data may assist to increase the validity and reliability of the research.
Some of the common areas in which mixed-method approaches may be used include:
- Initiating, designing, developing and expanding interventions;
- Improving research design; and
- Corroborating findings, data triangulation or convergence.[2,4]
Some of the challenges of using a mixed methods approach include:
- Delineating complementary qualitative and quantitative research questions;
- Time-intensive data collection and analysis; and
- Decisions regarding which research methods to combine.[3,5]
These challenges call for training and multidisciplinary collaboration and may therefore require greater resources (both financial and personnel) and a higher workload than using a single method. However this may be mediated by identifying key issues early and ensuring the participation of experts in qualitative and quantitative research.
Mixed methods are useful in highlighting complex research problems such as disparities in health and can also be transformative in addressing issues for vulnerable or marginalised populations or research which involves community participation. Using a mixed-methods approach is one way to develop creative options to traditional or single design approaches to research and evaluation.
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- Taket A. 2010. In Liamputtong L (ed). Research methods in health: Foundations for evidence-based practice. Oxford University Press: South Melbourne.
- Hanson W., Creswell, J., Plano Clark, V., Petska, K., and Creswell, D. 2005. Mixed methods research designs in counseling psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology 52 (2): 224–235.
- Leech, N. and Onwuegbuzie, A. 2009. A typology of mixed methods research designs. Quality & Quantity 43: 265–275.
- Greene, J. and Caracelli, V. 2003. Making paradigmatic sense of mixed methods practice. In A. Tashakkori & C. Teddlie (Eds.), Handbook of mixed methods in social and behavioral research (pp. 91–110).Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Bowling, A. 1997. Research methods in health: Investigating health and health services. Place Published: Open University Press.
- Nastasi, B., and Schensul, S. 2005. Contributions of qualitative research to the validity of intervention research. Journal of School Psychology 43 (3): 177-195.
- Barbour, R. 2001. Education and debate. British Medical Journal 322 (7294): 1115-1117.
- Golafshani, N. 2003. Understanding reliability and validity in qualitative research. The Qualitative Repor 8 (4): 597-607.
- Ovretveit, J. 1998. Evaluating health interventions. Berkshire: Open University Press.
- Nutbeam, D., and Bauman, A. 2006. Evaluation in a nutshell. North Ryde: McGraw-Hill.