Guy Rolfe and Alex Johnson 


The term ‘qual-quant’ was born when online communities and discussion tools started being used.

They afforded researchers the kind of scale for conversational research not practical in a face-to-face context (albeit not necessarily creating the same environment). Their use straddles the quant and qual disciplines, but a common challenge lies with the analysis of the data. For some, there has been a realisation of the limitations of automated analysis, while those instinctively preferring the human touch have been limited by capacity.

Meanwhile, behavioural data is the new phenomenon presenting tantalising opportunities for qualitative. Like the online-discussion opportunity, its growth is driven by technology and leads to more data. In both cases, the increase in scale is due to the fact that less interviewer time is required for collection (no time at all in the case of behavioural data). Online discussions can therefore involve more participants and run for longer than a higher-touch alternative. With behavioural data, the most profound contributor to scale is the sheer volume and variety of data that can be collected. As with online discussions, the challenge lies with analysis.

We won’t dwell on whether this new incarnation of qual-quant satisfies its original definition, except to note that, if the quant discipline is defined primarily according to sample size, the application of behavioural data to qual might not strictly fall under it, even if the techniques required to make sense of the data are more akin to those used in quant.

The quantified self

The ‘quantified self’ is a term increasingly read in the press; it refers to the desire of consumers to measure their own behaviours or metrics (such as weight, diet, exercise and travel patterns) and the technology and new services that allow them to do so. There are many mobile apps for recording such data, either manually (as in the case of diet) or automatically (as in the case of heart rate). They can monitor progress and set targets or limits. Facebook’s timeline offers a quantification of sorts, and Google’s location history allows account-holders to see where they have been in recent weeks.

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