Qualitative measurement is a broad and complicated field of approach necessary to determine the success of a social impact endeavor. To help ensure that your initiative is prosperous, we’ve compiled an overview of measuring qualitative data (and how it differs from quantitative data) and background on the many forms of qualitative data, techniques, and methodologies. Before embarking on qualitative measurement, here are a few key concepts to consider.

What is Qualitative Measurement?

Data acquired through a qualitative measure is a type of information that describes traits or characteristics. It's gathered through surveys, interviews, or observation, and it's usually presented as a story. The qualitative data might be in the form of descriptive words that can be analyzed for patterns or significance using coding. Coding helps the researcher categorize qualitative data and do quantitative analysis by identifying themes related to the research objectives.

How to Collect Qualitative Data

Foundations can collect data for qualitative research in a variety of methods. RCTs (randomized controlled trials) have long been considered the gold standard for measuring effect by government agencies. 

In-depth interviews, in which a researcher asks questions of a person or group touched by a topic, are one form of qualitative assessment. These are determined by the researcher's questions and the study's viability in terms of time and financial resources.  


Qualitative researchers often use direct observation to obtain data. This technique aids investigators in studying phenomena in precise settings as they occur in real life. Researchers can also use written resources to do qualitative research, such as books, periodicals, newspapers, and transcripts. 

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Measurements

Before comparing the differences, let’s first layout both the quantitative and qualitative measures definition:


What are Quantitative Measures?

Numbers and graphs are used in quantitative research. It's utilized to put ideas and assumptions to the test or validate them. This sort of study may be used by businesses to develop generalizable facts about a subject. Experiments, observations recorded as numbers, and surveys with closed-ended questions are all common quantitative approaches.


What are Qualitative Measures?

Qualitative measurements are written down for deciphering ideas, thoughts, and experiences. This sort of study allows you to learn more about issues that aren't well-understood. Interviews with open-ended inquiries, observations recorded in words, and literature reviews that investigate concepts and theories are all common qualitative approaches.


When Should You Use Qualitative vs. Quantitative Measurements

When determining whether to utilize qualitative or quantitative data, a good rule of thumb is:

  • If you want to confirm or test a theory or hypothesis, use quantitative research.
  • If you want to learn more about concepts, thoughts, experiences, conduct qualitative measurement.

You can use a qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-methods approach to most research issues. Which kind you pick is determined by several factors, including:

  • Whether you're conducting inductive or deductive research
  • Your research questions
  • Whether you're conducting experimental, correlational, or descriptive research

Time, money, data availability, and responders' access are all practical issues that researchers should consider.


Although quantitative approaches generate data that can be pooled and analyzed to characterize and forecast correlations, a qualitative measurement may help explore and explain those relationships as well as contextual variations in their quality.


Qualitative research may use social analytical frameworks to understand observable patterns and trends, including the study of socially differentiated outcomes, and analyze poverty as a dynamic process rather than a static outcome.

How to Measure Qualitative Data

Results must be measured, but not every result can be tallied, recorded, or neatly fit into a framework. Some qualitative outcomes are intangible, such as "empowerment," "confidence," or "capacity." It doesn't imply you can't quantify these things just because they're tough to count. You'll need to measure them in various ways, including qualitative and mixed techniques.


Define the objective

You must first identify what you’re querying before deciding on a technique. What does "empowerment" mean in your program, for example, if it strives to empower women? Does this imply that women have some power over domestic decisions? Does this indicate that they attend community meetings? Or that they have the capability to leave a situation that makes them uncomfortable?


Select a method

To assess qualitative outcomes, you can employ a variety of techniques. Only a few are mentioned here. Combining multiple approaches to obtain diverse viewpoints might be beneficial. It would be ideal if you could alter or change techniques to fit your program's needs.


Interviews and surveys

Qualitative measurement examples are typically generated through the use of interviews and focus groups to meet with recipients and stakeholders directly to discuss their experiences and the program's results for qualitative approaches. Consider what you're measuring and whether a different approach might provide you with more valuable data.


Journals and logbooks

People in charge of a program, participants, and stakeholders can benefit from diaries, logs, and journals. Participants might also be given a journal to keep track of their experiences and ideas. Examining their diary entries may reveal if the training has influenced their thoughts or behaviors.


Photographs and art

Pictures and photographs make for excellent qualitative measures examples and may be used to assess quality, as many people find it simpler to convey changes graphically. Vulnerable youth, for example, can be encouraged to make a painting depicting their lives before and after joining the program.

The Best Ways to Communicate Qualitative Data 

Here are some methods foundations can employ to communicate the data they've acquired from qualitative data: 


Create separate outputs for each target audience

You may wish to reach out to various people, including the general public, legislators, and specialists in a specific sector. Consider producing a series of brief outputs for each of them. A summary prepared for a lay readership may lack the degree of information that a government body requires. You may also wish to highlight facts that are of particular relevance to specific readers.


Link to current events

Qualitative measurement frequently takes a highly in-depth approach to a single research issue but may also interact with broader but related themes. Consider concerns that aren't only part of a short-term media cycle but rather longer-term trends that are likely to resurface, such as housing prices or obesity, whenever feasible. It's not essential to twist your key results to make them fit; simply create a meaningful link.


Create a compelling narrative

Clearly communicating a story is the key to effectively communicating qualitative data. Individuals are more engaged by stories about people than they are by cold facts and numbers. Give your stories context and causality (this occurred to this person as a result of this), and you'll be following the same fundamental guidelines for excellent storytelling that screenwriters and novelists do.


Describe the method

When presenting qualitative data, consider that many people are unfamiliar with qualitative research and the methodologies you may have employed. Provide a brief description of your research methodology. If the reader is intrigued, provide them a means to learn more about it elsewhere, like a publication or a project website. It's preferable to tease the reader and make them desire more than to offer too much information up front. 

Challenges of Qualitative Measurement

The method of acquiring and analyzing qualitative measurement regarding a social impact assessment can be a challenging undertaking. Coupled with this predicament, qualitative measurements require a thorough, in-depth study usually necessitates expensive and time-consuming cost-benefit analysis.


At UpMetrics, we have made strides to mitigate these concerns. We think that by combining qualitative and quantitative data in one place, organizations can create a comprehensive narrative that details their effect in a compelling way that motivates action.


Contact us to learn how UpMetrics' impact analytics platform can benefit you and start collecting qualitative and relevant data to help you understand and express your impact with greater clarity.

Post by Annie Rhodes
August 18, 2021
At UpMetrics, Annie works across our Client Success, Outreach and Product teams to inspire organizations on their data journeys, empowering them and their grant partners to embrace their data and capture critical stories in order to better understand, accelerate and communicate their impact. Throughout her career, Annie has worked at the unique intersection of technology and social good. From her work in grants management at the Ford foundation to her product management and strategy roles more recently in technology, Annie has a background as an advocate for social good sector transformation and growth. Annie went to Manhattan College in the Bronx, NY, where she studied Psychology and played Div I women's soccer. She received her MBA from Pace University in NYC with majors in Management and International Business. She currently teaches a Analytics/Metrics in the Nonprofit Sector course as part of Columbia University's SPS Nonprofit Management Master's Program. She also stays involved in the community by doing some volunteering.