Asking the right questions is a critical element of effective research. As important for these researchers is developing the right methodology that addresses your research questions. Often categorized as quantitative or qualitative, methodology is the way a researcher conducts and analyzes data in an effort to answer their questions. Quantitative research often focuses on numerical data while qualitative research more often collects non-numerical data through interviews or observations.
With new funding from the William T. Grant Foundation, two UVA professors will provide expertise to support fellow researchers in their efforts to use both quantitative and qualitative methods, called mixed methods, in their research on topics related to youth and inequity.
“It is not uncommon for researchers to be trained and build mastery in specific types of research methods and approaches to research, particularly methods that are dominant within a given field or subfield,” explained Nancy Deutsch, the Linda K. Bunker Professor of Education at UVA and director of Youth-Nex, the UVA Center to Promote Positive Youth Development. “This means that most researchers identify as primarily quantitative or qualitative in terms of their expertise, depending on how they were trained.
“The social world is complex, and as social scientists we are likely to encounter a lot of important and interesting questions that we can’t answer with only the methods in our original toolbox.”
The William T. Grant Foundation also recognizes this gap and has built out supports to address this with their grantees and applicants. As the Grant Foundation continues to focus on reducing inequity and improving the use of research evidence, they are committed to also fostering a community of researchers who can rigorously apply multiple methods to answer pressing questions.
“Both Nancy and I bring a commitment to issues of equity and positive youth development, and take a pragmatic approach to research that pushes us to consider first the key research questions, and then the methods which will best allow us to answer those questions,” said Debnam, an assistant professor of nursing in the Family, Community & Mental Health Systems Department, and a faculty affiliate of Youth-Nex.
As part of this work, Deutsch and Debnam will provide ongoing individual consultancy and a training workshop that promote the use of mixed methods, guiding researchers towards designs, data types, and analytic approaches that reflect a diversity of content-specific goals and aims. They will develop and lead activities that expand the capacity of researchers to address pressing social questions relating to youth and inequity.
“We share a foundational belief that to build a more equitable society we need a broad, multi-disciplinary, and multi-method network of scholars committed not to specific methodological approaches but to developing usable knowledge,” explained Deutsch.
They also hope to develop evidence-based practices, programs, and policies that directly redress and reduce existing inequities and support the positive development of all young people, especially those who have been historically under-served and marginalized. A grantee workshop will be hosted possibly as soon as the fall, depending on public health constraints.
“Our goal for the workshop is to provide a forum for attendees to both learn from experts in different methodological approaches, and to build a community of co-learners, who can share knowledge and experiences and form a network of collaborators,” said Debnam.
Although this two-year project will include consultations with the William T. Grant Foundation grantees and applicants specifically, their hope is that this work will be transferrable and potentially available to other researchers in the field in the future.
“We are grateful for the foundation’s vision in developing and supporting this innovative consultancy model for researchers in our field, and in providing us with the opportunity to contribute to that work,” said Deutsch.
This $150,000 grant will support Deutsch and Debnam throughout the next two years.