The Misunderstood (and Undervalued) Generalist

5/13/2024   By: Frankie Aeng

Whenever I hear the terms qualitative or quantitative research, I picture myself travelling back in time, sitting at my desk, in my Introduction to Research University course. The professor is explaining how these research methodologies are different from one another. I’m trying to stay awake and interested—without a lot of success.

My interest would have been heightened if real-life examples were used instead of the academic research lens we’re typically taught in post-secondary. This focus on how qualitative and quantitative are distinctly different is an extending influence of academic research – which arguably can have less validity in the real-world setting we live in.

The distinction between the two methodologies shines through even when examining how some research agencies are organized. For example, some have dedicated qualitative and quantitative departments, or specialize in one or the other. This focus on one methodology stream can be due to a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to:

  • interest (e.g., this type of methodology and applicable use cases excites us more),
  • circumstances (e.g., this is what is available within our organizational structure)
  • positioning (e.g., if we focus on this one thing, we can become a master at it).

Within the research and insights world, I have experienced some more critical of researchers who proudly practice both methodology streams. What makes a dedicated qualitative or quantitative researcher more knowledgeable or better at uncovering meaningful insights than a multidisciplinary researcher? As a multidisciplinary researcher, I am sometimes concerned about being seen, negatively, as a generalist.

I’m excited to use this platform to illustrate why organizations receive immense value in working with agencies and researchers who intentionally decide to practice both qualitative and quantitative research. While finding experienced and trusted multidisciplinary researchers can be more challenging, they do exist!

Researchers skilled in both qual and quant have a greater ability to customize and adapt, making them effective in moving organizations forward. Multidisciplinary researchers know each business issue and setting is different, and to unveil meaningful insights – great thought and care are required. Multidisciplinary researchers tend to have a larger array of techniques, as they are expected to provide solutions to a multitude of business issues.

It’s why I am, and Lux is always excited to work with organizations that need insights to make strategic decisions – whether it is helping them prioritize focus or investment or positioning to target markets, to name a few. This includes excitement for multi-phase research programs, where learnings from previous phases can be effectively leveraged in tandem with the organization’s strategic initiatives. Rather than force a business objective into a specific approach, we can recommend truly what’s best.

The boundaries between qual and quant will likely always exist. That said, with new technology, the rapid rate of change, and growing pressure on businesses to make smart decisions quickly, I see this blur continuing now and growing in the future. UX research is a perfect example of how these lines blur, where, depending on the objectives or activity/question/assignment, it can be quant, qual, or both. The field of UX research tends to embrace this blur, and I look forward to this shift in attitude, framing and language extending to insights and market research more prevalently.

Multidisciplinary researchers’ main focus is uncovering meaningful insights and strategies that move organizations forward. Since Lux began 15 years ago, we have purposely prioritized the training and development of multidisciplinary, mixed methods researchers. At Lux, we focus on solving organizations’ business issues. Your research needs will ebb and flow as your organization grows and evolves.

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