Mixed Research Methods & the Complex Mosaic of Human Reality

Sharlene Hesse-Biber at Boston College authored an article in Qualitative Inquiry in 2010 titled, “Qualitative Approaches to Mixed Methods Practice.”  In it, Hesse-Bider presents six case studies that utilized mixed-method (quantitative and qualitative) research designs that were “qualitatively driven.”  Unlike other mixed-method research where the quantitative portion is designed as central to answering the what and how questions of the research, these studies relied on qualitative methods as the primary source of insight combined with quantitative methods for supporting data.

One of the case studies deals with the gender-wage gap in the marketplace and specifically the impact of “structural factors” or processes within the workplace that contribute to this gap.  The design was a “nested” approach with closed-end questions embedded in otherwise unstructured qualitative in-depth interviews.  The research resulted in a meaningful blend of hard data pertaining to the wage gap enriched by the stories respondents shared about the workplace environment.  Or more accurately, the result was a rich knowledge of the workplace culture via respondents’ stories supplemented by numerical data.

In this research, the researcher did not attempt to analyze research findings by merging qualitative and quantitative outcomes but rather was “comfortable residing on multiple levels and in multiple realities that inform one another.”  Said another way, it was the researcher’s understanding of the complexity of human existence that was important.  To simply say that consumers, business customers, volunteers, employees are multi-dimensional misses the point.  Researchers can look at their respondents from many angles regardless of research method.  But it is the ability to fully appreciate the layers of “realities” by way of the contribution of each method in its own right that maximizes the researcher’s potential worth to the ultimate users of the research.

The true value of our work does not lie in a focus group, a survey, spying on the social media chat du jour, or a glimpse of whatever a respondent elects to reveal from their mobile device.  Our value as researchers is our ability to analyze beyond stories or the smattering of understanding from any one method, and to utilize higher level analytical skills to lay out each piece of the research and create a mosaic that brings us ever closer to the realities of the very people who are at the core of what we do.

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