Stirring it up! Collaboration between quantitative and qualitative researchers

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The author (left) and the rest of his project group 

The mixed methods approach has only recently been conceptualised,[1] but for decades public health researchers have been combining qualitative and quantitative research methods in their studies. Both qualitative and quantitative methods provide a distinctive kind of evidence. When put together, they can complement each other and generate persuasive evidence that can influence both policy and practice[2]. However, collaboration between qualitative and quantitative researchers can be challenging.

One of the major challenges is the coordination of minds that frame the world in distinct ways and perceive the world through different dimensions[3]:

  • Quantitative researchers are usually associated with the concept of logical empiricism, where an event is studied using empirical laws, e.g. the significance of an association between independent and dependant variables;
  • Qualitative researchers are usually affiliated with constructivism, which by contextualising complex events tries to understand them better[1].

Working together on a mixed method research project requires an open mind and the will to understand different perspectives, different methodologies and different epistemologies. To facilitate the dialogue between quantitative and qualitative researchers there is a need for space where scientists can meet and share ideas.

A good example of a platform that helps create that space is the Global Health Fellows Programme. The fellowship is a collaboration between Imperial College London (IC) and the University of Cape Town (UCT), which gathers young researchers from around the world to work together on a project concerning global health issues. The researchers come from different backgrounds, are equipped with different skills and view the world through different perspectives.

The fellowship consists of a 5 day course in global health, followed by a 3 week research placement at UCT. During the first part of the fellowship, researchers are divided into teams of 4 and are asked to produce a research proposal. The teams are created so that each member represents a different university, but also to include researchers with different sets of skills e.g. qualitative and quantitative researchers. As a participant in the fellowship, I was assigned to a group of researchers from the UK, South Africa and Nigeria.

Tomasz key strategies

Researchers had diverse experience: some were drawn more towards qualitative research, whereas others preferred quantitative work. The full spectrum of expertise included experience in: health economics, health systems and policy research, health education and knowledge translation, and applied social science. Together, we created a project that used a mixed methods approach to understand how knowledge from research is transferred across different countries and how that influences the uptake of diagnostic tools. Creating a project from scratch, with both qualitative and quantitative researchers, allowed me to expand my knowledge and experience in conducting mixed method research.

The second part of the fellowship was a 3 week research placement at the Health Economics Unit (HEU) of UCT. During the placement I had the opportunity to meet with researchers from HEU. I was surprised by how diverse the group of scientists working at the HEU are. There were both qualitative and quantitative researchers; people involved in health economic modelling, but also people who worked in the field of implementation science or health policy research.

Based on my experience, I think that initiatives such as the Global Health Fellows Programme are a great opportunity for hands-on practical experience of conducting research with a diverse group of scientists. It allowed me to understand other epistemologies and increased my capacity of conducting mixed method research.

 Thomasz

Tomasz Szymanski

Imperial College London

NIHR CLAHRC Northwest London


[1] Pluye, P. & Hong, Q.N., 2014. Combining the Power of Stories and the Power of Numbers: Mixed Methods Research and Mixed Studies Reviews. Annual Review of Public Health, 35(1), pp.29–45.

[2] Ritchie, J. & Lewis, J., 2003. Qualitative Research Practice: A Guide for Social Science Students and Researchers.
[3] Miller, M., Boix-Mansilla, V. & Mansilla, V.B., 2004. GoodWorkTM Project Report Series, Number 27. Thinking Across Perspectives and Disciplines.

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