MGI Tipster – Volume 12, Issue 8

August 15, 2013   |   Vol. 12   |   Issue 8
Complementary Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Inquiry

Research can be a great tool for membership organizations. When the proper questions are asked, ones that are relevant to association needs, the answers can be revealing, sometimes surprising, and powerful tools for needed change.

Researchers gathering information about associations and other membership organizations often use two methods of research — qualitative and quantitative — to obtain one set of results.

What are the differences between qualitative and quantitative research?

Qualitative research is typically completed first. Researchers ask questions of a small sample of participants and collect data from open-ended questions to uncover themes and patterns. Qualitative inquiry seeks to understand human behavior and the reasons why and how the behavior occurs.

Quantitative research is designed to establish whether patterns and themes seen in the smaller qualitative group are also visible in the larger membership population. Using the qualitative findings to fine tune questions, the quantitative researcher asks specific questions of a large group, collects quantifiable data in answer to the questions, and then analyzes the data with the help of statistical tools.

How does the data collection from each methodology differ?

Associations often use these research methods to gauge member perceptions about the organization and to find out whether members are pleased or disappointed by the benefits and services the group offers its members.

Qualitative information is often gathered in focus groups, telephone interviews, research intercepts, and more recently using online bulletin boards and discussion groups.

Quantitative information is usually collected through written or online surveys. Using an online methodology rather than a written one is far less expensive, faster, and because of the widespread use of computers in all age ranges, it is no longer considered a biased medium for data collection.

How is the information from each methodology used?

Qualitative research relies on the use of open-ended questions, seeking opinions as well as factual information. Questions are designed to be interesting, stimulating, but not leading. Because the information is often gathered from a small sample, the data are used as a directional guide to help refine and focus larger, quantitative studies.

Quantitative research consists of mostly closed questions asked of many participants designed to discover the prevalence of agreement or disagreement with the ideas and opinions revealed in the qualitative research. With a large enough sample, the findings are considered representative of the population and can be used as the foundation for strategic decisions and strategies.

What kinds of data are collected?

Both qualitative and quantitative research questions used in member research ask about reasons for joining, programs that are most important and why, professional challenges being faced, resources that are desired but not offered, and perceptions about the association’s brand and tagline. Demographic information is also collected in order to understand differences between segments within the membership.

What have we learned?

While the two research methods are different, each has a significant role in the process of inquiry and discovery. Better understanding of the two can provide better control and greater utility the next time your organization chooses to conduct research.

Do you have questions?

If your organization might benefit from a discussion about ways that qualitative and quantitative research can give you a clearer understanding of your organization and your membership, you can find out more by contacting Adina Wasserman, Ph.D., MGI Director of Research, at 703.706.0373 or email

Posted in: