Your data is the wrong data.

“Quantitative or qualitative?” he asked in a loaded, hurried tone.

This question always exasperates me. Immediately, I think, ‘Oh, you’re one of those. Oh, brother!” and roll my eyes.

I was at a social for WordCamp St. Louis hosted by the local WordPress community. This gent had traveled all the way from Indianapolis. He said he wouldn’t be attending the second day, as he “found what he needed.” His goal wasn’t to learn anything, but to find a person to build him a WordPress site. I guess no one knows the WordPress in Indiana?

Ok, let me start at the beginning. This gent started the conversation with, “Oh, I thought she was your daughter!” when I walked up to where he and Chris were already conversing. I asked what brought him to WordCamp and what he did. He’s a consultant in the K-12 sector and teaches statistic part-time. Then he asked what I do. I said I was finishing up my PhD and before I could tell him about my study he blurts, “Quantitative or qualitative?”

You see, among researchers, there are two camps: qualitative and quantitative. Each sees their own research type as better than the other. A vast majority of qualitative researchers see quantitative as good foundation for qualitative. It informs the study and points to where qualitative method should be used to go deeper. On the other hand, a vast majority of quantitative researchers refuse to recognize qualitative research as actual research at all.

I ignored his jabs and explained my study, all while he poo-pooed it.

I love Seth Godin’s example in his article: Actually, more data might not be what you’re hoping for.

So, data gave us the Kardashians.

I imagine the survey went something like this:

On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is the least and 5 is the greatest, how much do you like spray tan?

On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is the least and 5 is the greatest, how much do you like unimportant drama?

On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is the least and 5 is the greatest, how much do you like rich people whining?

And the people interpreting the results viewed the data as, “By golly! People want the Kardashians!” *

But, did they ask questions like:

What are your favorite television shows?

What about those shows makes them your favorite?

Describe television characters you enjoy watching.

Tell me about how you decide on a new television show.

Do you see how the data both are valuable, but both will get you very different information? Data gave us the Kardashians, but maybe we could have had something cooler.

So, Dr. K-12 Qualitative Consultant, you see, my aim in life is to never stop learning and never forget how to listen. Maybe you have forgotten, or maybe you’re a republican and never learned how. Just crunching numbers together with some equations, or software, doesn’t give you the nuanced answers provided by the human condition. It takes critical thinking and continued learning about society to process that information.

*Yes, I know my questions are biased. I’m doing this as an example and to be funny. Relax, Mr. or Ms. Quantitative, there is room for humor amongst all those numbers.