Consultation Data – Quality or Quantity? – Getting the right balance between qualitative and quantitative methods lies at the heart of much consultation planning
Listening effectively to the public, through professionally-organised consultations is a challenge. If decision-makers are to do better than just respond through knee-jerk reactions to opinion-poll data, care is needed to select consultation methods that provide the most useful and meaningful insight into the issues.
There is no shortage of methods. At the last count, the Institute recognises almost 40 different techniques, some of which are quantitative in that they are based upon understanding how many people or groups believe something, and others are qualitative. By this we mean ways of appreciating what they mean, and the dynamics of a debate.
But what is the relationship between quantitative and qualitative methods? Is it a choice of one or another? Or can they be used in combination?
The answer is that the best forms of consultation will almost always involve the judicious use of both types of techniques. A few examples may explain:-
- A straightforward consultation to test residents’ views on a proposal to build, say, a new shopping precinct – could be done using a questionnaire. But more may be learnt if some residents are able to participate in a focus group so that hidden concerns and issues not easily highlighted in the survey can be discussed and considered.