Blending quantitative and qualitative research

STBY recently delivered two projects that involved a blended quantitative and qualitative approach. The first project, for a corporate client, studied the use of digital tools in office environments by combining a survey and in-depth interviews. The second project, for a public sector client, studied the use of public space by many different users. The blended research approach in both projects resulted in a better understanding of the topics on different levels.

Blended research supports both micro and macro level understanding

For one of the research projects we initially used secondary data from desk research as a starting point, and then combined primary data from quantitive and qualitative methods to investigate lived experiences in the workplace. The desk research painted the landscape of the key issues our target audience faces in the modern workplace. The quantitative survey then covered targeted user profiles in 4 countries, involving 600 participants in total. This survey helped us understand questions such as how often and how seriously people experience the issues identified earlier in their daily work. The survey covered a large number of audiences in a short period of time, and offered a macro perspective of what’s happening in the workplace globally. However, survey data lacks the rich narratives that interviews can provide through natural language storytelling. Interviews are very powerful for complementing survey insights, as they illustrate the motivations behind behavioural patterns. A face to face setting gives participants more freedom to enrich their accounts from their personal perspective and experience. The conversational nature also allows the researcher to probe further and follow up with questions from additional angles that enable the discovery of the ‘unknown-unknowns’. This qualitative in-depth part of the research included interviewing 16 participants in 2 European cities. All the data  generated through this blended approach, spanning both macro and micro level insights, were joined together at the final analysis stage and presented in a comprehensive and illustrated report.

Blended research support both prioritization and exploration

The other recent blended research project investigated ways to improve a busy public space area in the city center of Amsterdam. Lots of residents, commuters, shoppers and visitors use this street in many different ways – by car, by bicycle, by scooter or by foot. In recent years, many dangerous situations have occurred due to the growing number of users crowding the street. To solve this problem, the municipality prepared a range of potential changes to make the street safer, and STBY was asked to investigate which solutions resonated most with frequent users of the street.

To determine the priority of the issues people experience in the area, and their interest in the suggested improvements, an initial survey was sent out. We asked participants to indicate which of the potential solutions should be implemented first in order to create a safer street. This survey offered a large group of people the option to consider the potential changes and to communicate their preferences. We then organised  an in-depth Streetlab session, for which we invited frequent users of the street. A wide mix of people (such as residents, shop owners, visitors, people working in the area, and people working for the city district) shared their thoughts on improving the situation in the street by providing feedback on the suggestions of the municipality. The outcomes of both the survey and the Streetlab were analysed, combined and presented back in a follow up meeting for residents by STBY and the project team from the city of Amsterdam.

Planning and running a blended research approach

While designing a blended qualitative and quantitative research methodology, the first step is to divide the research questions into what you can answer with qualitative data and what you can get from quantitative data. The questions designed for a survey should be guided by a set of defined hypothesis, and all answer options should be clearly defined to avoid misunderstanding. While for the design of qualitative questions, the main aim is to explore and dig deeper into motivations and to capture rich narratives to better understand macro trends. Interview questions are meant as a guideline for researchers, although each interview is unique and may not follow the script strictly. The art is in leaving space for the participant to share a rich story that can be used for analysis and is relevant to the research question. 

After the all data from the study is collected and documented, the analysis stage combines a deep dive into the qualitative data with a high level summary of the patterns found in the quantitative data. Each interview is carefully codified and observations are pulled together in a shared document by the researchers from the locations involved. When an interesting pattern seems to emerge, these are checked against the quantitative data to verify its importance and frequency in the general population. While going through the survey data, any pattern that echoes or stands out against the observations in the interviews is picked up and illustrated by key quotes of observations from the deep dive.

When it comes to presenting the outcomes of blended research methods, this is where the insights from both methods are brought together and support each other. We often chose to lead with a prioritized list of key insights, where the survey data establishes a general impression and the interview data illustrates the underlying motivations, pain points and preferences. To further expand on each particular insight we will also blend in citations from the desk research, video clips and photographs from the  interviews, and infographics generated from the survey data as supporting material. The key audience for these richly illustrated and substantiated accounts are usually designers and strategists in the client team who need a compelling and inspiring story to spark their idea generation and concept development.