NIH releases best practices for combining qualitative and quantitative research

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) today released recommendations or best practices for scientists conducting mixed methods health research. Mixed methods research combines the strengths of quantitative research and qualitative research. Despite the increased interest in mixed methods research in health fields and at NIH, prior to this report, there was limited guidance to help scientists developing applications for NIH funding that featured mixed methods designs or for the reviewers at NIH who assess the quality of these applications.

The recommendations were created by John W. Creswell and Vicki L. Plano Clark of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Ann Carroll Klassen of Drexel University; and Katherine Clegg Smith of Johns Hopkins University. Additional input for the recommendations came from a diverse working group of scientists with expertise in research methodology from diverse fields such as public health, nursing and medicine. The Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR), part of NIH, identified the need for this guidance and commissioned the report.

Multi-pronged strategies that address both prevention and treatment are critical to effectively tackling today’s most pressing public health problems, including obesity, health disparities among populations, poor adherence to treatments, and many other problems. Teams of scientists working together on the genetic, societal, and behavioral causes of such problems require rigorous data to understand and effectively address these problems. This often requires both quantitative and qualitative data.

Quantitative research typically examines relationships among variables and can come from randomized clinical trials, experiments, and surveys. Qualitative research helps scientists understand the meaning of processes and generates new theories by examining the role of contexts and experiences in detail through focus groups, record reviews, and interviews. Mixed methods research combines these methods and capitalizes on the strengths of both.

“With the explosion of diverse scientific methodologies being used to address our most critical public health issues, it is an opportune time for NIH to provide best practices,” stated Robert M. Kaplan, Ph.D., director of OBSSR.

The authors of the report note that mixed methods lends itself to research problems in which a singular approach would not allow the scientist to develop multiple perspectives and a complete understanding of the problem or research question. The report also provides suggestions on how to design a mixed methods study, outlines the challenges in mixed methods investigations, and addresses how to form, lead and train a mixed methods research team.

The report provides practical best practices for researchers seeking to incorporate mixed methods research into their applications for NIH research grants as well as fellowship, career, training, and center grants. The latter part of the report suggests criteria for evaluating the merits of proposed investigations using mixed methods. The best practices report ends with overall recommendations for applicants, reviewers, and stakeholders.

For more information on Best Practices for Mixed Methods Research in the Health Sciences, please visit: http://obssr.od.nih.gov/scientific_areas/methodology/mixed_methods_research/index.aspx

The Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) opened officially on July 1, 1995. The U.S. Congress established the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) in the Office of the Director, NIH, in recognition of the key role that behavioral and social factors often play in illness and health. The OBSSR mission is to stimulate behavioral and social sciences research throughout NIH and to integrate these areas of research more fully into others of the NIH health research enterprise, thereby improving our understanding, treatment, and prevention of disease. For more information, please visit http://obssr.od.nih.gov.

This NIH News Release is available online at: http://www.nih.gov/news/health/aug2011/od-23a.htm

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