Making a choice between quantitative, qualitative, and process data gathering is not as much a choice of which one to use—but which one to use at which point in your organizational development plan. The first step in identifying when to gather each kind of data is to understand the differences between them.
Qualitative data is descriptive; it makes distinctions based on qualities. An example of this is interviews that try to describe the morale in a company by grouping the kinds of feedback they received from employees. Qualitative information is delivered in non-numeric forms: force field analysis, diagrams, consumer profiles, etc. Qualitative data generally comes from focus groups and interviews. This “soft” data is invaluable in determining what kinds of questions to ask in subsequent surveys. It’s a great form of information to diagnose problems before gathering further data.
This type of data is what researchers call “hard data” because the communication of the data comes in numerical form. The numbers gathered define the problem the researcher is interested in, can be statistically analyzed, and are represented in charts and graphs to communicate trends and analysis. The appeal of quantitative data is that it is verifiable. This form of data is gathered through surveys and answers delivered through a Likert (numerical) scale.
A process can be defined as a systematic series of actions with a goal in mind. In OD, interventions are processes. Management is a process. Human resources is a process. There are a variety of opportunities to collect process data. This form of data is gathered through observation of the group or interpersonal process. Have you ever wished someone could be a fly on the wall in your group meeting and give you some insight on why the group is dysfunctional? The OD expert would be the fly on the wall in this scenario. The focus in process data is not WHAT the group is doing, but HOW they are doing it. This type of data is most useful in the beginning as a diagnostic tool, and at the end as the company is learning to use new ways of working together.
The articles below show qualitative, quantitative, and process data approaches in use.
Easley, C., & Alvarez-Pompilius, F. (2004). A New Paradigm for Qualitative Investigations: Towards an Integrative Model for Evoking Change. Organization Development Journal, 22(3), 42-58. Retrieved from Business Source Complete database. <<PDF attached>>
Pilenzo, R. (2009). A New Paradigm for HR. Organization Development Journal, 27(3), 63-75. Retrieved from Business Source Complete database. <<PDF attached>>
Linklater, J., & Kellner, K. (2008). Don’t just do something … stand there: using action learning to help organisations work with anxiety. Action Learning: Research & Practice, 5(2), 167-172. doi:10.1080/14767330802185855. <<PDF attached>>