The study of citizens’ quality of life has grown in both scope and sensitivity over the past four decades. Governments and private organizations place great value in assessing quality of life at national, regional, and local levels. With increased interest, however, comes greater scrutiny of the methodology involved in both collecting and analyzing data. The two dominant methodologies—quantitative and qualitative— have now been joined by a mixed method approach that combines elements of both quantitative and qualitative approaches. However, as Heather Dunning explains, there is, to date, a lack of critical examination of these mixed methods. In A Mixed Method Approach to Quality of Life in Saskatoon, Dunning undertakes just such an examination and points the way to more effective mixed method approaches.
Quantitative quality of life studies rely on statistics (also known as objective data), such as census data or telephone surveys, to inform their conclusions. Qualitative studies utilize subjective data, chiefly interviews with residents, to understand what people want for a better quality of life, and whether those goals are being reached. There are, of course, strengths and weaknesses to each approach, relating to confirmation and comprehension of the results. Confirmation involves comparing two different sets of data to assure that they reach the same conclusion, thereby validating that conclusion. Comprehension refers to whether interpretation of the data improves our understanding of a particular research question. Mixed method approaches are increasingly seen as achieving these twin goals. However, as Dunning states, whether utilizing both quantitative and qualitative data can actually achieve this is not yet understood.
Research aims, data collection, and techniques for analyzing such differing sets of data influence the comprehension and confirmation of mixed method quality of life studies. To explore this methodological concern, Dunning examined four questions from a CUISR quality of life study that utilized both a quantitative and qualitative approach (a telephone survey and an interview schedule, respectively). Though Dunning found an overall lack of confirmation in the four studied questions, these deficiencies nevertheless helped gain better insight by forcing the researcher to look at the data from a fresh perspective, something that likely would not have occurred in a single method approach. Likewise, Dunning concludes that considerable sensitivity and flexibility is necessary on the part of the researcher to realize each question’s particular needs and characteristics. While this does not preclude a mixed method approach, it certainly suggests considerable caution in its use. Further to this point, Dunning lists several benefits of the mixed method approach, including the revelation of additional and more refined questions to be added to future iterations of the study, refinement of existing questions, and enhancement of project terminology.
The results of this methodological examination, Dunning hopes, will lead to better methodologies, which, in turn, will lead to the possibility of better social planning and community development. While this study reveals the difficulties in using mixed method approaches, it also provides valuable insight and advice for those who would take that path in future studies.