Reflections on an insightful, yet challenging, quantitative observation method

Think about action research for a minute. Can you name action research studies that have drawn upon quantitative methods? Personally, I can’t name more than one or two. In fact, although several specialized handbooks suggest that action research is not reserved to qualitative researchers, the use of quantitative methods is limited, and reflections on this topic are rare. How can quantitative methods be used in action research to complement qualitative inquiry? How can quantitative approaches, often criticized to be somewhat impersonal, decontextualized and owned by statistical experts, support (not impede!) the full participation of individuals and communities in action research?

Being passionate about mixed-methods, these questions are the focus of this methodological article that I co-wrote with a group of authors. The article builds upon our experience from a larger action research study

Flash on my neighborhood!

in a public housing setting in Montréal (Canada). Public housing tenants are amongst the most disempowered individuals in our societies. Looking for innovative processes to support their empowerment, we came up with the idea of putting quantitative methods to profit for a second phase following a first qualitative photovoice phase. With tenants, we designed and implemented a quantitative observation grid to rigorously evaluate the fit of their residential environment to their collective needs. Although the process proved to be more challenging than expected (e.g., time constraints, relational issues), the quantitative observation method proved useful to depict a nuanced portrait of tenants’ life conditions, also allowing them to develop their collective self-efficacy.

Results have been used as part of a collective forum, setting the stage for a tenant-directed action plan to improve their residential environment and well-being. The article explains the process used to develop the method, its rationale, its implementation and its limitations. Transferable strengths of this quantitative approach are discussed. This article illustrates why the power of numbers to engage dialogue and to guide collective action should not be neglected in action research.

Blogpost by Simon Coulombe, PhD, Assistant Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University

We invite you to learn more about this experience by reading our article HERE. Free 30-day access is available for this article beginning 5 May, 2017.
After you’ve had a chance to read this piece, please share your thoughts, ideas, or experiences with our community in the comments below so we can continue this discussion!