A few days ago, a screen shot of a slide at a conference became the subject of discussion on LinkedIn. The slide (whose author was not revealed) appeared to be trying to make the point that quantitative research was superior to qualitative because qual data are so dense and are incapable of scaling. As you can imagine, the commentary that followed was less than complimentary. Apparently, the author was trying to make the point that artificial intelligence could predict NPS scores and therefore the “why?” behind those scores was irrelevant.
Now, I don’t know if this was the right interpretation of what he or she was trying to say, nor do I know the context. But, even if you believe in NPS (which I don’t), the underlying message seems wrong in so many ways:
Neither qualitative nor quantitative research is superior to the other. They have, over time, served different purposes, asked different questions and looked through different lenses to answer the same questions.
Qualitative data may indeed be dense – like a chocolate cake. It’s rich, intense, flavorful and meaningful. We relate to it and it gives our lives meaning.
To say that qualitative is not scalable is, in today’s world, laughable. Just today I witnessed a demo of a new technology that allows for scalable, real-time ethnography anywhere on the globe. Combine this with text analytics or – perhaps especially - video analytics, and you have tremendous scalability.
Long before technology started to enable an increased pace of change in our industry, qualitative research was the innovative, slightly quirky, stepchild – always diving off into new sciences and working out how they could be applied to our quest to understand better human behavior. There is a reason that the “Courage in Research” award is named after Ginny Valentine!
But, beyond all of this, the truth of the matter is that there is no distinction anymore between qualitative and quantitative research. We are all just “qua”.
Technology has enabled the merger and fusion of so many techniques and approaches to research that both the behavioral and the attitudinal combine to produce a cuisine that is both vibrant and new. It is now possible to conduct qual on such a scale that it can be analyzed quantitatively; for some time now, we have had qual embedded in quantitative surveys (indeed, the application of this technique played a large part in Obama winning in 2008). It is now becoming a norm to utilize the same sample for both qual and quant in reiterative phases of a research project – something the automotive industry has been doing for decades. And, as video analytics comes of age, we can expect to see vast amounts of video (a form of “qual”) cropping up in “quant” surveys.
The distinction between the two is, frankly, becoming just silly. After all, as the father of the bride in My Big Fat Greek Wedding says: “We may be apples and oranges. We all different, but in the end, we all fruit.”