The Value of Qualitative Learning

Q: To what extent is animal health the pre-eminent constraint to small-scale livestock producers?
A: To a large extent

To many of us, “to a large extent” may seem a satisfactory answer. But what does it mean? How do we respond to this kind of data and what are the implications for the work we do in the field? We tend to turn to quantitative studies to provide the data we need, but sometimes qualitative data provides more nuanced information that is meaningful and actionable.

One example is our Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) work to inform the GALVmed 2030 strategy. With big questions to answer, a relatively small budget, and little time, the usual quantitative approach was not feasible. Instead, the GALVmed M&E Function took a qualitative approach in which we conducted qualitative interviews with 32 animal production academics from around the world.

This turned out to be, by far, the best approach for the job as it provided layers of colour, context and temporal aspects that were almost impossible to obtain from “snapshot” quantitative studies. A key learning from this work was that at different times of year, different constraints to livestock manifest. In periods of drought it becomes difficult to feed and water cattle but during periods of rain, ticks appear and spread disease. Ultimately, constraints are wide ranging.

In this case, the real value lay in the context rather than “the answer”. The GALVmed M&E Function will continue to use a qualitative approach to extract lessons and improve contextual understanding, where this is required.

Written by Katharine Tjasink and Stuart Stevenson