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Can qualitative and quantitative methods serve complementary purposes for policy research?


  • Maxwell, Daniel G.


Qualitative and quantitative methods in social science research have long been separate spheres with little overlap. However, recent innovations have highlighted the complementarity of qualitative and quantitative approaches. The Accra Food and Nutrition Security Study was designed to incorporate the participation of a variety of constituencies in the research, and to rely on a variety of approaches — both qualitative and quantitative — to data collection and analysis. This paper reviews the way in which qualitative and quantitative methods were used in the Accra study. The argument of the paper is that the complementary use of qualitative and quantitative approaches provides a greater range of insights and perspectives and permits triangulation or the confirmation of findings by different methods, which improves the overall validity of results, and makes the study of greater use to the constituencies to which it was intended to be addressed. But the search for truly complementary methods presents substantial challenges as well. These include extra costs, both in financial and human terms, ethical dilemmas regarding follow-up, and the need for teamwork and respect for different methodological and epistemological positions.

Suggested Citation

  • Maxwell, Daniel G., 1998. "Can qualitative and quantitative methods serve complementary purposes for policy research?," FCND discussion papers 40, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
  • Handle: RePEc:fpr:fcnddp:40

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    Cited by:

    1. Haddad, Lawrence & Oshaug, Arne, 1998. "How does the human rights perspective help to shape the food and nutrition policy research agenda?," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 23(5), pages 329-345, October.
    2. Joanna Ryan & Murray Leibbrandt, 2015. "Multidimensional Food Insecurity Measurement," SALDRU Working Papers 160, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
    3. Place, Frank & Adato, Michelle & Hebinck, Paul, 2007. "Understanding Rural Poverty and Investment in Agriculture: An Assessment of Integrated Quantitative and Qualitative Research in Western Kenya," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 312-325, February.
    4. Sharp, Kay, 2007. "Squaring the "Q"s? Methodological Reflections on a Study of Destitution in Ethiopia," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 264-280, February.
    5. Brown, Molly E., 2006. "Assessing Natural Resource Management Challenges in Senegal Using Data from Participatory Rural Appraisals and Remote Sensing," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 34(4), pages 751-767, April.


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