School of Public Health group pushes for more qualitative research

Named "Quali-tea," the group hopes to inspire a more community-based way of taking in data.

Jude Mikal, whose research is examining the relationship between quantitative and qualitative data, poses for a portrait in his office on Tuesday, Feb. 4. (Parker Johnson / Minnesota Daily)

Parker Johnson

Jude Mikal, whose research is examining the relationship between quantitative and qualitative data, poses for a portrait in his office on Tuesday, Feb. 4. (Parker Johnson / Minnesota Daily)

Hana Ikramuddin

A group of University of Minnesota researchers are creating a group to promote the use of qualitative data in scientific papers.

The group, to be called “Quali-tea,” is being formed by a handful of lecturers and researchers in the School of Public Health. Members say qualitative data-based research is more accessible and can be more more easily implemented by community leaders.  

Qualitative data, usually focused on traits and characteristics, has often been used to help scientists generate hypotheses. Quantitative data, on the other hand, is often used to measure exact quantities, specific numbers and data.

“Qualitative serves a really unique function,” said Jude Mikal, a member of the group’s leadership committee. “If you come blindly at a particular phenomenon and just start asking questions, you by virtue of even asking a question are making a qualitative assessment.”

This research style can give researchers a better look inside particular instances or patterns, especially within specific communities, Mikal said.

A study Mikal recently released looked at how breast cancer patients change their interactions with social media after being diagnosed. Another study covered how refugees engage with the internet and social media. These topics are more likely to require researchers to communicate with their subjects personally as opposed to in a lab or purely from a computer.

These interactive questions are best answered through the use of qualitative data, which has historically been missing from health colleges, said Mikal.

“The importance of being able to communicate meaningful scientific evidence that is more than just a simple statistic is really important,” said Stuart Grande, a public health lecturer and member of the group. “The purpose of qualitative research isn’t simply just to translate, but it is to communicate very difficult and complex materials in ways that resonate with community members.”

In addition to bringing awareness of the values and meaning of qualitative research, the group intends to bring together individuals and teams who may want to put out similar research, but lack resources or mentorship.

“There are people doing some really cool stuff in this space, and it would be useful to get people together and have more of a unified voice,” Stuart said. “The more people we get together, the louder we can be.”

According to the researchers involved, qualitative data also has the added benefit of offering action-based plans to tackle certain issues.  

Qualitative data collection can offer researchers the chance to support the communities they study, often through empowering voices to speak up and encouraging engagement with these issues, said Rebekah Pratt, a member of the group.

“We’ve noticed in public health, and in medicine that there has been a preponderance of research in one area, and we believe that the time is now and the gap is present, for there to be a more expanded scope of of work and to think outside the box, especially with some of our very new problems today,” Stuart said. “The intersection of qualitative and quantitative work can be a solution.”