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Beyond the numbers: The qualitative research behind our reports

20 July 2017

Tamara Krawchenko, Regional Development Policy Division, Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Local Development and Tourism

Brainstorming ideas at a public event in Prague (7 June 2016) that was held as part of our work on the Governance of Land Use in the Czech Republic.

The OECD is known for data and numbers. Indeed, providing high quality comparative indicators for better policy making is our bread and butter. But, what is less known is the extent to which we are a “listening” organisation, and how this improves the qualitative research that goes into our work. While the sources behind the OECD’s statistical data are critical, they become alive thanks to the rich opinions and experiences of real people.

Drawing on my own experiences conducting OECD reports I can say that they include rigorous qualitative data collection from unstructured or semi-structured interviews, focus groups and even public engagement events. In our work, we have the chance to meet a wide range of people at the local level—from farmers in Podlaskie in eastern Poland, to urban bike activists in Amsterdam and property developers in Prague—these local interviews give us data on the conditions that people experience, how institutions structure individual behaviour and how people would like to influence or change policy themselves. Experts from other countries also take part as peers to review our studies, providing another source of knowledge and policy learning.

At our public events we talk and listen to people from all backgrounds about the key challenges they face and we ask them for their ideas on how to improve everything from building approval processes to the quality of public space. In Prague, for instance, about 50 people from the community came out to speak with us one night. We took a hard look at the low levels of trust between community members, developers, and city officials and we brainstormed ways to rebuild it. In Amsterdam we had lively discussions about the redevelopment of disused brownfield sites within the city,  and their ambitions to embrace a “circular economy” in which materials would be reused or recycled rather than creating new goods or disposing of old ones. We heard about non-government organisations (NGOs) that have worked between developers and residents on big projects that have the potential to transform whole neighbourhoods. These in-depth discussions, which are all non-attributable, have nevertheless enriched our reports and even helped shape our arguments.

These encounters make a real difference to our work. While quantitative data gives a bird’s eye view and helps to monitor change over time, our research interviews provide context (including historical context) and help us better understand general trends, missing links and political debates. Interviews help us see how policy unfolds and where improvements can be made. They also give us insights into reform agendas and their implementation on the ground. Finally, they show us how different interests intersect and affect the policy-making process. Given the importance of this knowledge to our work, the OECD should be known for more than just numbers.

For more information about the OECD’s work on this topic see:
www.oecd.org/cfe/regional-policy/governance-of-land-use.htm 

 

 

 

 

 

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