Quality or Quantity

I’d like to discuss the point that not everything that counts can be counted.

Results from an organization’s project are both qualitative and quantitative. Often, the results are measured in quantitative terms—expenses vs. revenue, number of people reached by the project, increases/decreases in a person’s income, etc. There is nothing wrong with this method; it is exceptionally beneficial.

But what about the qualitative measurements?

Due to their nature, qualitative measurements are harder to obtain; usually information is gathered via surveys or interviews. In areas where there are a low literacy rates, this raises a substantial barrier. If people are illiterate, they cannot successfully participate in surveys unless they are given orally. Interviews can be conducted but are time-consuming and are not necessarily a fair representation of a community. This is because interviews tend to be conducted person by person and do therefore not reach a large number of people. Language can also play a pertinent role in the process; interpreters may be required.

Okay, so let’s say tangible surveys are distributed in a community where literacy is not a problem. What is the likelihood people will actually fill them out? What is the likelihood people will then return them if necessary? In some cases, incentives might be necessary. People can also provide false information for whatever reason.

The point is, gathering qualitative data is not efficient, but it is necessary.

Qualitative data brings personal stories and experiences to the surface. While numbers may show a fault somewhere, qualitative data can bring to light what caused the fault. Qualitative data shows how an organization’s project reaches people on a personal level. To me, development is all about the people. If we cannot measure people’s experiences—their satisfaction with a project’s results—the project is worthless.

The question is then, how do we obtain these measurements?