Monday, February 22, 2010
Assessing Results: Are You a Quant or a Qualit?
In the world of social entrepreneurship the use of metrics for assessment of results has sparked an ongoing debate. The lines have been drawn between mathematically inclined folks who like to measure things using quantitative data (called Quants) and those who want to describe the social impact of programs using primarily qualitative data (called Qualits).
I would refer to myself as a hybrid, a Quali-quant. For me, the argument about which type of data is better is meaningless unless the right questions are being asked. Once you know what you want to know; in other words, once you know what will best demonstrate that your mission is accomplished, the kind of data needed to measure that reveals itself.
And the type of data is usually not one to the exclusion of the other. Typically a result is explained best by viewing it through data binoculars, not through a data telescope. I use the example of a child who comes to school on test day. The Quant will want to examine the child’s test score to see whether he has achieved to an expected level, whether he has raised his achievement from previous test administrations, how he compares to his peers, and how his test scores aggregated reflect on the teacher’s ability and the school’s curriculum and instructional program.
The Qualits, on the other hand, will want to modify the interpretation of the test score with qualitative information. Perhaps the child arrives hungry because the family was late getting up and she never had breakfast. Perhaps the child is sick or was up all night due to family violence. These qualitative factors impact the ability of the child to score well but are difficult or impossible to quantify.
In the end, I believe it is a disservice to the process/program/organization to have an imbalanced approach to assessment of results. Start off by asking the right questions.
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