Principle 1: Valuing other disciplines
At the core of the first BRECcIA’s first principle, valuing disciplinary methods, is an openness to different ways of seeing and thinking that expands the nature of inquiry—the ways in which we question, hypothesise, explore, and discover.
Key to building a fruitful and collaborative multi-disciplinary research group is a basic understanding of the role and value of qualitative and quantitative research in the natural sciences and social sciences. This includes the ways in which different disciplines can enrich each other as a multi-disciplinary research team works towards its research objectives.
No singular discipline or methodology is sufficient to address global challenges. The power of a multi-disciplinary research team resides in researchers with varying expertise leveraging their disciplinary knowledge and methods to investigate and offer possible solutions to complex issues. Often, the effect of multi-disciplinary work is that it alters the way in which researchers think, not only about the process of research but also about the nature of knowledge and the relation between systems.
Below, you will review the definition, role, and value of qualitative and quantitative research. This is followed by three questions that will help a new multi-disciplinary researcher conceptualise how to present and conceive of disciplinary-specific research in the context of a multi-disciplinary team.
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How to Address Global Challenges Through Multidisciplinary Research
Definitions of qualitative and quantitative research
|Qualitative research focuses on how people think about and understand the world around them, including the environment. It typically uses interpretive methods to forefront the complexities of human thought and behaviour.
|Quantitative research stresses objective methods to describe, test, and measure phenomena. It aims to produce quantifiable data, including about the social world, that can be communicated through statistics.
The data and evidence quantitative researchers engage with is numerical in form, gathered through instruments of measurement. The data and evidence qualitative researchers engage with is narrative in form, gathered from interacting with human subjects, their experiences, and their histories through methods such as surveys, interviews, ethnographic fieldwork based on participant observation, and narrative analysis.
Two researchers take part in fieldwork, examining farmland in Keyna © University of Southampton
Objectivity is the goal of both the natural and social sciences. While both qualitative and quantitative research requires data analysis and interpretation by a researcher, methods and results are made reliable through a variety of best practices employed to ensure that methods are robust, interpretation informed, and that a researcher’s personal bias does not affect the research process. A social scientist, for example, will ensure that there are enough respondents in a survey pool so that patterns in responses are not skewed and, as with all research, a discussion of data and conclusions drawn will undergo a rigorous peer review process before publishing to ensure their validity.
Both qualitative and quantitative researchers therefore share the goals of objectivity and truth in their dedication to observation and forms of measurement and testing, though these forms might not look the same. This can serve as the point of departure for a multi-disciplinary team’s initial conversations on research design and implementation as well as the later stages of analysis, where qualitative and quantitative data can be triangulated to determine next steps in the research process or reach a conclusion.
The role of qualitative and quantitative research
|To develop an interpretation of human thought and behaviour in a social context to understand why and how humans do things, from establishing kinship networks to voting.
|To generate quantifiable and generalisable data that will provide greater knowledge and understanding of a given phenomenon and explain relationships between variables.
Both qualitative and quantitative research works to understand and explain phenomena, their components, their origin, and consequences. In the context of global challenges, this shared goal can result in suggestions for change at local and national scales.
In a multi-disciplinary research scenario, the role of qualitative and quantitative data is to explain aspects of the world around us and deepen the context of data to develop a more multi-faceted and rich picture of a research issue. For example, in a BRECcIA research project, Frank Musa, a Research Fellow at the University of Malawi, led a research team that highlighted how community climate resilience can result when natural resource management and land use is informed by gender studies and marriage traditions. A summary of the research findings is included below.
A BREcCIA research story: Phalombe, gender and land
In the Phalombe district of Malawi, fishing is a source of food that complements agricultural yields and supplements livelihood income during lean periods and when crops are affected by drought or flood. Additionally, gender norms surrounding livelihoods designate fishing as a predominantly male activity, while agriculture is primarily overseen by women. One reason for the divide in livelihood is that, under local uxorilocal marriage arrangements, men cannot be landowners.
Uxorilocal marriages describe when a couple lives with or near the wife’s kin after marriage, many times on family land. If land is granted to the couple, land use and ownership rights are accorded to the wife, while the husband is only accorded land use rights. Agricultural production is therefore seen as women’s work.
The value of qualitative and quantitative research
|The value of qualitative data is that it explores the complexity of human behaviour and gives voice to lived experiences while allowing researchers to gain insight into these experiences to generate a deeper understanding of human sociocultural behaviour.
|The value of quantitative data is in the clear description that numerical values provide, which can help explain and compartmentalise complex processes as well as compare results between data sets.
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How to Address Global Challenges Through Multidisciplinary Research
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