Richard Walker argues that the differences between qualitative and quantitative research (and the skills required to execute them) are perhaps not as different as some people think.

Early-ish in my research career I was fortunate to be part of a fast-growing agency. One that made a happy habit of doubling turnover year-on-year.

We worked hard, had fun and learned lots.

This was just before web 2.0 had its profound impact on our industry.

The possibilities for qualitative and quantitative research exploded, and the waters between what had been two distinct “principles” had muddied forever. From that point, the “qual team” and “quant team” model could never work (in my opinion – feel free to debate with me).

Looking back, it was simple when I signed up.

Qualitative was about fewer people, greater depth and understanding. Right brain leaning.

Quantitative was about more people, more data and analytics. Left brain leaning.

I naturally leaned towards the former, which shaped my career for the next 5 years as I was happily placed into the qualitative pigeon-hole (and henceforth I strived to recruit others of similar persuasion).

I – and many others – have since learned that this pigeon holing was, at best, “of its time” and, at worst, plain wrong.

For one, the broader repertoire of “hybrid” and online methodologies means that the qual OR quant debate is less relevant. Several of the new online research solutions now easily accommodate both.

For two, client briefs have become more complex over the years, and more demanding of both the measurement and depth of understanding. All client facing researchers have to possess the breadth of skills to thoroughly interrogate qualitative and quantitative data.

But thirdly and most crucially, I have since found that the best researchers I have worked with over the years are often not “one or the other”.

Recently I have been working with qualified statisticians that are brilliant moderators, and former qualitative freelancers that can form the most encapsulating stories once left alone in a corner with a stack of cross-tabs.

I now look for the “rounded” researcher in all potential colleagues and collaborators. If this sounds too vague to anyone reading this and considering submitting a CV, then simply think of it as commercial inquisitiveness.

But beyond the natural skill, persuasion and mind-set of the individual researcher, the fundamentals of qualitative and quantitative research are not too dissimilar.

From a design perspective, survey questionnaires and qualitative discussion guides should flow. They should both feel natural and conversational. Both qualitative and quantitative design should always consider rules like “spontaneous before prompted, general before specific”.

From an analysis perspective – be it an interview transcript or a data-set – the “rounded” researcher interrogates it, and asks “why?”. He or she gets other people involved in the analysis process to stress test insights, and gives everything the “so what?” test against the business objectives and commercial realities.

In fact, I would suggest there are probably more similarities than differences between qual and quant, and maybe that has always been the case.

As an aside, we also (happily) doubled our turnover at Mustard last year.

Still working hard, still having fun, still learning – but obsessing less about whether someone is a “qually” or a “quanty”.

Feel free to discuss and debate the issues raised in this blog with Richard directly – find him on LinkedIn or tweet @MustardRichard