Distinguishing between types of data and methods of collecting them
The author examines the role of different data collection methods--including the types of data they produce--in the analysis of social phenomena in developing countries. He points out that one confusing factor in the"quantitative-qualitative"debate is that a distinction is not clearly made between methods of data collection used and types of data generated. He maintains the divide between quantitative and qualitative types of data but analyzes methods according to their"contextuality": the degree to which they try to understand human behavior in the social, cultural, economic, and political environment of a given place. He emphasizes that it is most fruitful to think of both methods and data as lying on a continuum stretching from more to less contextual methodology and from more to less qualitative data output. Using characteristic information needs for health planning derived from data on the use of health services, he shows that each combination of method (more or less contextual) and data (more or less qualitative) is a unique primary source that can fulfill different information requirements. He concludes that: 1) Certain information about health utilization can be obtained only through contextual methods--in which case strict statistical representability must give way to inductive conclusions, assessments of internal validity, and replicability of results. 2) Often contextual methods are needed to design appropriate noncontextual data collection tools. 3) Even where noncontextual data collection methods are needed, contextual methods can play an important role in assessing the validity of the results at the local level. 4) In cases where different data collection methods can be used to probe general results, the methods can--and need to be--formally linked.
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