One of the biggest decisions researchers make is deciding between a qualitative or quantitative approach. At UpMetrics, we feel that this is actually the wrong question to ask — especially when it comes to measuring impact and the way nonprofit organizations use data. We say this because either method will only give you a partial view of the problem. To get the whole picture, you need data from both.

Therefore, the better question to ask is this: can research be both qualitative and quantitative? The answer is yes, and there are several benefits to this hybrid method. In this article, we’ll discuss using qualitative and quantitative research together, the benefits of hybrid research, and how nonprofits can combine quantitative and qualitative research for a holistic view of their impact.

Hybrid Research

In simple terms, hybrid research involves combining quantitative and qualitative methods. But before we continue looking at how they can be combined, let’s first define quantitative and qualitative research separately.

What is Quantitative Research?

Quantitative research deals with data that can be expressed in terms of numbers and figures. Its goal is to categorize and count data, which can then be used to construct statistical models to explain the underlying assumptions. Some examples of quantitative data include average website users per day, unsubscribe numbers, donation amounts, and bounce rates. As you can see, such data can be precisely defined and measured with a high degree of accuracy. For instance, you can tell exactly the number of website visitors you’re getting.

Quantitative research is often conducted using questionnaires and surveys that can be answered within a certain range. Tests are also highly controlled and defined. For instance, quantitative questions aren’t open-ended because they are impossible to measure. 

For instance, let’s say you operate a charity that cooks home-made meals and delivers them to shelters. Quantitative research might ask the shelters to select the top three most popular menu items. This can be later measured and categorized because answers will only fall within a certain pool of choices. However, suppose you want to ask why they liked a particular dish. In that case, you’re now performing qualitative research because there’s an infinite number of responses to consider.

The big benefit of quantitative research is that you can do it at scale, thanks to the narrow range of their answers. You can, for example, send a questionnaire or survey to hundreds of people online and gather the results in real-time. As a result, quantitative research tends to be easier, less expensive, and more efficient to perform. It’s also relatively easy to process and analyze the results because you’re dealing with cold, hard numbers.

The biggest drawback of quantitative research is that it doesn’t always give the full picture. You may know that the number of monthly website visitors you’re getting has been decreasing since the start of the year, but you don’t understand why. This is where qualitative research comes in.

What is Qualitative Research?

Whereas the goal of quantitative research is precision, the aim of qualitative study is clarity. It wants to know the how and the why behind observations and hypotheses. As such, it’s often used to complement quantitative data.

For example, let’s say your nonprofit delivers monthly care packages full of household essentials to families in low-income neighborhoods. Quantitative research might tell you that your delivery delays have been increasing by an average of 7% over the past two weeks. To figure out why you then also commission a qualitative study, asking your drivers what obstacles they’re facing on the road. This is where you realize that the true reason behind the delays is construction in the area.

Qualitative research is subjective by nature. It deals with the respondent’s interpretation or opinion, which can be gathered through in-person interviews and focus groups. Often, follow-up questions are required to explain a person’s responses further. Such data opens you to more perspectives, giving you deeper insights.

However, the open-ended nature of qualitative research makes it much more difficult to analyze and process. In some cases, the responses might be so varied that it’s impossible to draw any meaningful conclusion from the data.

Qualitative data is also more expensive and time-consuming to conduct. After all, conducting one-on-one interviews with hundreds of people is not easy. Additionally, unlike quantitative research, you can’t use tools solely to gather data. In this case, the researcher is the tool.

Many respondents also prefer quantitative methods because they’re easier to answer and faster to complete. In contrast, a qualitative process like a survey requires the person to think, elaborate, and explain their points in detail. This can be mentally taxing or take up too much time in people’s busy schedules, leading to fewer willing participants. It can also lead to incorrect or inaccurate responses if people are rushing through the questionnaires. 

For example, let’s say you send a questionnaire to the participants of your care package program asking for feedback on the items included. An open-ended “What new items would you like to see next month?” is less likely to get a response (or at least much less thorough responses) than if you provide a selection of items that residents can quickly check off the list.  

What is Hybrid Research?

An important takeaway here is that no research method is better than the other. To put it simply, each offers a different vantage point for looking at the same problem.

Ultimately, qualitative and quantitative research are opposites. The trait that one lacks can be compensated by the other. Thus, it’s only natural that combining quantitative and qualitative research produces a more well-rounded result. And that’s what hybrid research is – qualitative and quantitative research combined.

The hybrid method overcomes the gaps in either research approach. Hybrid research gives you the insights to explain what is happening to your organization and why it is happening. Knowing the story behind the numbers can give you a complete picture that can help you make more comprehensive and strategic decisions.

There are many approaches to combining quantitative and qualitative research. One simple strategy is to include closed and open questions in your questionnaire to gather quantitative and qualitative data simultaneously. Alternatively, you can perform a quantitative study after an initial qualitative approach (or vice versa).

In a later section, we’ll look at more ways to use quantitative and qualitative methods. For now, let’s talk about more of the benefits of going the hybrid route.

5 Benefits of Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Research

So, what are the advantages of using both qualitative and quantitative research methods? In the previous section, we lightly discussed some advantages of combining qualitative and quantitative research. Let’s take an in-depth look at these benefits. 

1. It gives a more holistic view

First, hybrid research gives you a more holistic view of the problem you’re trying to understand. Qualitative and quantitative data will provide you with a 360 perspective that allows you to determine the issue and why it’s happening. You’ll have a deeper understanding because all the required data points are there.

For example, a Yahoo study found that 83% of e-commerce customers don’t complete the checkout process. While this is a valuable insight, it’s not actionable because these companies don’t know why it’s happening.

The solution is to conduct a hybrid research method. For instance, these businesses can send an online survey that also includes qualitative questions (like “What didn’t you like about the checkout process?” or “Is there anything we can improve on the shopping experience?”).

Ultimately, the results you’ll get from a hybrid approach will be much richer. More importantly, you’ll have access to deeper insights that can help inform next steps.

2. It helps uncover hidden problems

You set out on your research journey with one problem in mind, but the hybrid method might shed light on problems you didn’t even know about. Combining quantitative and qualitative research allows you to uncover hidden issues, leading to proactive rather than reactive problem-solving.

Let’s pivot a little from our previous care package example. Instead of sending monthly care packages of household essentials, let’s say you’re a nonprofit that sends free monthly meal prep plans to low-income families. You use quantitative research and realize that your recipients are rating the quality of your meals much lower than expected. To find out why, you commission a follow-up qualitative study where you interview eight participants about their experience. 

The results of the study reveal a curious pattern. Of the respondents that indicated a dislike for the taste of the meals, almost none of them followed the cooking instructions correctly. To investigate this correlation further, you decide to conduct a hybrid survey regarding the usability of your packaging. This study reveals the root cause: the instructions on the packaging are not clear, leading to people experiencing poor results. After a quick update to the packaging instructions, your ratings start going up.

That’s the power of combined qualitative and quantitative research: it allows you to spot correlations and patterns in data that reveal deeper issues.

3. It gives more reliable results

Hybrid research is more reliable because it allows you to gather qualitative and quantitative data from the same source. Thus, it provides a more accurate correlation and better analysis.

Traditionally, organizations would run quantitative and qualitative studies separately, which don’t necessarily target the same respondents. Unfortunately, this can sometimes create wrongful correlations. Hybrid research uses quantitative research to tell you which people to target with qualitative research. 

For example, let’s say your quantitative research told you that 42% of your email list recipients haven’t made any donations to your foundation in the past year. Thanks to this quantitative research, you now know which donors to send an isolated qualitative study to so you can find out why they’re not donating. Sending a survey asking why no donations have been made to your entire email list could upset the donors who have donated in the last six months. 

4. It allows you to understand your audience more deeply

Quantitative and qualitative research methods are crucial for fostering a deeper relationship with the people you’re working with. That’s because it will enable you to understand them better, thus giving you the insights required to solve their pain points.

Unfortunately, many nonprofits fall into the trap of only opting for the quantitative route. For example, they only ask people to rate their experience but never use qualitative research to find out why they. This reveals the problem, but not the solution.

Qualitative research allows you to understand them on a human level. As a result, you’ll have more empathy in your outreach strategy. For instance, let’s say your latest quantitative study revealed that your total donations have dropped in the past few months. You can try various strategies to boost fundraising, such as launching a new campaign or making new partnerships, but those aren’t guaranteed to work.

The simplest way is to simply ask people why with a qualitative study. People want to share their experience, and you will benefit from listening. For example, you might learn that donations were dropping because representatives in your call center haven’t been properly trained, resulting in frustration on the donor end. Discovering that pain point allows you to zero in on it with an informed and actionable plan. 

5. It saves time and money

The hybrid research method can help you save time by simultaneously performing qualitative and quantitative methods. You can also save money because you won’t need to pay facilitators and participants twice for separate sessions.

For example, you can provide a quantitative survey questionnaire during focus group discussions or one-on-one interviews. Conversely, you can also include qualitative questions with your online surveys. The last method helps you save even more time because you can tap into the ease and speed of conducting studies online.

In addition, nonprofit impact measurement platforms today allow you to conduct, automate, and manage qualitative and quantitative research in one unified tool. This will further save time, money, and effort.

Common Methods for Combining Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Now that you know the benefits of combining qualitative and quantitative research, the next question is: how do you do it? 

There are many approaches to consider, often referred to as research designs or topologies. Let’s cover some of the most common methods: 

Parallel Convergent Design

In a parallel convergent study (also called a triangulation design), you conduct qualitative and quantitative studies independently. You then combine the results of these two studies during analysis, giving the data from the two methods equal weight.

The parallel convergent design approach is the most time efficient among hybrid methods because you can conduct quantitative and qualitative studies simultaneously and independently. For instance, you can have one team do focus group discussions while another group hands out surveys.

But the parallel convergent approach places much more effort on the analysis phase. Analysts and researchers must do more to properly analyze the findings to spot correlations and patterns between the quantitative and qualitative data. It also requires collaborative teamwork from both sides to arrive at a consensus.

Nevertheless, the parallel convergent design can be highly effective because it allows the qualitative data to back up the quantitative data, thereby providing a well-rounded result. Thus, it’s the approach most suited for more complex questions, like how to improve your product or service.

For example, you can conduct a hybrid study to determine what people think of your organization, using quantitative (online questionnaires) and qualitative (one-on-one interviews) techniques. If you get negative reviews, you can consult the interview results to find out why.

Embedded Design

An embedded design study is primarily quantitative, with support from secondary qualitative data where applicable. In this case, the qualitative data simply enriches or “embeds” into the primary quantitative data.

The benefit of this approach is that it’s faster and less expensive than performing a full hybrid study. In some cases, it’s also easier to support quantitative data than to analyze it together with quantitative data.

However, the main difficulty in embedded design is to figure out when and how to support with qualitative data. Using it at the wrong time can lead to the wrong conclusions and action plans. Nevertheless, embedded design is useful if qualitative data can’t be used independently and must be interpreted with quantitative data.

For example, let’s say you want to conduct a study that looks at the rising uninstall rate of your nonprofit’s app. You can use quantitative methods to determine how many people have opted out of your app and ask them for feedback on why and when they uninstalled. That way, you’ll know at which point users uninstall and why.

Explanatory Design

In an explanatory design study, you’ll perform a quantitative study first. Then you’ll conduct qualitative research to explain the results from it. Explanatory design is almost always a follow-up study that isn’t planned in advance. It’s used whenever teams can’t make sense of quantitative data or if the results are highly unusual or contradictory.

Because of its spontaneous nature, explanatory design methods are usually more time-consuming than a parallel convergent study because you can’t perform the research studies simultaneously. Sometimes, it can also be more expensive because you might need to re-hire facilitators or participants.

However, explanatory design is generally easier to analyze because you only work with one set of results. Only when the data is insufficient do you conduct further qualitative research. But even then, you still go back to your primary data set. To demonstrate, let’s look at an example of explanatory design.

Let’s say you’re conducting a study to evaluate the usability of your website. You begin with a quantitative survey to measure things like average time spent on a webpage (known as bounce rates). From the results, you realize that many people were bouncing off the website. To explain this occurrence, you conduct surveys to determine why visitors were leaving your page. You may find out that your website navigation is confusing or visitors were put off by certain language or images in your page’s content. 

Exploratory Design

The exploratory design approach is the opposite of explanatory design. Here, you use quantitative data to support your qualitative results. An exploratory design approach is useful if you’re unsure which topics to prioritize or explore. It’s also helpful to uncover hidden variables or problems you’re unaware of.

Both explanatory and exploratory studies share the similar advantages and disadvantages. Both are spontaneous in nature; thus, they have a longer time frame and possibly a higher cost than embedded or triangulation methods.

One good application of an exploratory design study is if you don’t know who your target market is yet. In this case, you can start with qualitative methods like focus groups and interviews to discover the different market segments you can cater to. Once you have potential segments, you can send a survey to get to know them or further subdivide them into sub-niches.

Exploratory studies can even help you devise new methods for your next research. You can start with a qualitative study to figure out questions, concerns, and terms that come up often. These can then be used as the basis for creating a new quantitative questionnaire.

An Example of Combining Quantitative and Qualitative Research

As we wrap up our discussion, it’s worthwhile to look at a more in-depth example of what combined qualitative and quantitative research looks like in practice.

Let’s say you run a nonprofit organization that sells t-shirts and other products that raise awareness about domestic violence, donating all proceeds to the cause. You operate a physical location, as well as an online storefront. You want to identify common patterns and insights between these two channels to improve the experience for both.

You decide to conduct a qualitative study on the physical location because it’s the easiest approach. You can instruct your staff to casually interview clients or invite them to a group discussion in exchange for an in-store discount.

But with your website, doing a qualitative study might be challenging since you’re not communicating face-to-face. Thus, you decide to opt for quantitative methods instead. For instance, you can use net promoter score (NPS) surveys that pop up at key moments of the shopping experience.

Armed with qualitative and quantitative data, you then try to analyze them and spot patterns. For example, you might realize that the ability to see the product up close is an important aspect of the offline shopping experience that’s missing in your online channel. Thus, you can implement a virtual showroom feature that enables online users to “walk” around the store.

Perhaps you discover that many online users prefer to browse products by performing a search for specific keywords. At the same time, you realize that the vast number of products you offer is overwhelming people in your physical store and they’re not able to find them — resulting in frustration and people walking out without making a purchase. With this insight, you can decide to install digital information kiosks in your showroom that enable people to search for and find the locations of specific products.

This example illustrates how a hybrid method can adapt its research method to the channel at hand. Sticking to only quantitative methods might have been challenging for the physical store. Likewise, it would’ve been difficult to gather insights from website visitors qualitatively.

Put Data to Good Use with UpMetrics

As you can see, combining quantitative and qualitative research can be highly beneficial for nonprofit organizations. Now that you have a richer data set, the next step is to make good use of it.

That’s where UpMetrics comes in. Our simple yet flexible impact measurement platform can help you grow your nonprofit with top-notch data management and collaboration features.

Discover the story behind your data. Visit our website today to learn more about our social impact measurement solutions.

Post by UpMetrics Staff
August 16, 2022