Quantitative vs Qualitative Decision Making

When is it better to do quantitative or qualitative research? The answer to such question depends on what we want to achieve of course. A quantitative analysis can provide numbers, comparative and generalisable data. On the other hand, a quantitative analysis can provide deep understanding of contexts, perspectives and motivations. For us it is important to know which one is best applied to environmental decision making and the answer is not that easy. As usual with environmental decisions, the many components involved require both types of analysis to work together in providing the best choice.

Imagine you want a coffee, you go to one coffee shop and they sell latte containing a 200ml of coffee, costing $4.95, served at 60ºC and with 50g of sugar. In another shop they also sell a latte which is said to have a robust aroma, frothy appearance, strong taste and sold in a beautiful cup. How hard would it be to make a decision?

Same happens with environmental decision making. So far, the rational model of making decision based on quantitative data has failed to address many environmental issues. More and more, qualitative solutions have taken centre stage in making sure that the decision made is not only rational but its also accepted and will provide stability within stakeholders.

While the rational model of decision is fuelled by big data sets and numbers, qualitative research is driven by the different ‘nuclear’ stakeholders involved. Gathering qualitative information is carried out with different tools than quantitative data. While rational methods rely on  instruments to record measurements (temperature, length, weight, etc), qualitative methods require instances to record viewpoints.

It is therefore essential to move from a rational way of making decisions to including more human, philosophical views to participate. Such decisions should ensure an appropriate level of scientifically provided data complemented with strong stakeholder participation. The outcome should be a decision that not only makes sense, but is suitable for everyone influenced by it.


Downey, H. K., & Ireland, R. D. (1979). Quantitative versus qualitative: Environmental assessment in organizational studies. Administrative Science Quarterly24(4), 630-637.

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