Giving Compass’ Take:
· In this interview, MDRC Vice President Virginia Knox discusses the role and benefits of mixed-methods research and evaluation of social programs.
· How can philanthropy do a better job of incorporating quantitative and qualitative research into evaluations?
Ramon Robinson: Why do you think quantitative analysis is often prized over qualitative? Why is a mix of the two better?
Virginia Knox: This is an intriguing question since, of course, we all combine quantitative and qualitative analysis every day to make decisions. As an individual, when deciding between walking to work and taking the subway, I weigh some factors that are easy to quantify (cost, time, calories burned, carbon emissions) and some that are qualitative or harder-to-measure (my enjoyment of nice weather). Policy analysis and program evaluation, though, help us to make collective decisions by systematically weighing the benefits and costs of alternative ways to use public resources. I think the evaluation field relies considerably on quantitative analyses because ranking what one option accomplishes relative to another requires quantitative measures of their performance. The limitations of quantitative analyses depend on the goals of a particular evaluation, but we often need qualitative perspectives to fully understand the problem that an intervention or policy is trying to solve, to meaningfully understand the nature of the intervention as it operates, and later to accurately interpret the “how and why” that underlie any quantitative assessments of program performance.
Robinson: You’ve spent a big part of your career evaluating social programs. In your experience, what benefit does evaluation of social programs gain from combining quantitative and qualitative analysis?
Read the full Q&A about mixed-methods research at MDRC.
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