By posting a discussion question on Worldwide Story Work (of which you probably need to be a member to see the discussion), my friend and story colleague Thaler Pekar called my attention to a New York Times article by Anand Giridharadas, “Are Metrics Blinding Our Perception?”.
Giridharadas contends that we are in the Age of Metrics — or the End of Instinct. The author asserts that contemporary society is obsessed with measuring and quantifying everything. Giridharadas worries about studying things that are not easily counted. Further, the author frets that “what we know instinctively, data can make us forget.”
Similarly, a blogger at Chamberlain Forum (“a group of people who have been inspired by what has been achieved in neighbourhoods like Balsall Heath in Birmingham: where citizens and communities have become involved in turning around years of neglect”) asks: “Why is it that with all the money spent on collecting and displaying data relating to the success of public services, the everyday stories people tell of how public services work receive relatively little attention?”
“Stories don’t just reflect the culture: they ARE the culture,” the Chamberlain blogger notes.
Chamberlain’s response has been to develop “a technique for listening critically to stories; using storytelling in policy evaluation and development.”
The technique, Structured Dialogue Method (SDM) is “based on an approach developed in Canada by Ronald Labonte and Joan Feather, it uses peoples’ stories and a structured dialogue around them to evaluate and understand the experience of policies in practice.”
Key elements of the approach, the blogger continues, involve:
- A provocative theme — something to generate animated discussion
- A diverse storytelling circle of around 10-15 people
- Two storytellers willing to share their experience
- Active reflection of all participants — not just the storytellers
- Structured questioning — not general discussion
- A skilled facilitator to manage the process
The metrics vs. stories/experiences (or quantitative vs. qualitative) argument reminded me of the argument I made in my dissertation about why I chose to conduct my research by collecting stories rather then collecting data. Because I think some of my sources made some excellent points about the value of stories, I’m excerpting a bit of my methodology chapter here. Read specific arguments for narrative inquiry in the extended entry, and contact me if you’d like a full citation for any of my sources.
The qualitative approach, more accurately called the qualitative paradigm (Lincoln, 2005), has strong proponents in the field of organization studies. Luhman (1998), for example, wrote, “Scientific knowledge, in its drive to be comprehensive (to reduce and simplify), ignores the placing of meaning on human experience which fails to gain insight into people’s lives and social reality.” Patton (2002, p. 196) noted that “qualitative inquiry can be used to discover, capture, present, and preserve the stories of organizations, programs, communities, and families.” Contending that tests and measurements do not offer inquiry into such sensemaking, Lincoln (2005, p. 225) argued that “qualitative methods offer the best possibility for understanding how individuals make sense of and enact their social (and organizational) worlds.”
In sum, “qualitative research is no longer the poor stepchild of quantitative inquiries,” Jones (2004, p. 95) asserted, continuing by saying that over the last decade, “qualitative research has come into its own.”
Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.