The science of mixing research methods

May 20, 2014

Mixed Methods

Mixed Methods in Health Research runs from 11th to 15th of Aug 2014

Many research projects use a combination of study designs to answer complex questions. Qualitative research designs are useful to answer “how” and “why” questions and rigorous quantitative designs are necessary to understand the size and significance of certain effects. When used together, they offer a more comprehensive and deeper understanding of some key issues in health care research. When investigating the challenges of adopting a shared electronic summary record to meet six key policy benefits in England, it is helpful to both chart and analyse patterns of adoption and to identify from interviews with key staff, the social and technical barriers.

At the same time, it has been argued that qualitative and quantitative research designs represent diametrically opposed philosophical paradigms. Quantitative research aims to deduce the absolute truth using strategies of randomisation, rigour and representative sampling. In contrast qualitative researchers recognise that truth is constructed and interpreted from individual and group experiences.
However, there is a pragmatic and increasingly popular middle ground where mixed methods can be used in a purposeful manner, respecting the paradigm and techniques of both methodologies, or reflecting a pragmatic worldview. As an example, a mixed methods analysis of intravenous drug errors highlighted two weak stages that could be targeted for education and process improvement. This fits with the broad definition of science as the “systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”.
Within this middle ground, there is burgeoning interest and documentation of strategies to plan mixed methods studies; by describing the purpose of combining methods, the priority of methods used, the sequence in which they are used, and the ways in which the qualitative and quantitative components are integrated.
A new module has been developed within the Evidence-Based Health Care Programme by Caroline Jones and Sharon Mickan, together with colleagues from the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, to share the science and strategies of designing and implementing mixed methods research in health care. This is an important step in contributing to the systematic and logical study and transparent documentation of ways to answer some of the complex research questions facing health care researchers.

Mixed Methods in Health Research runs from 23rd to 27th of February 2015


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