The Multidimensional Inequality Framework (MIF) is mainly an indicator-based tool to measure and analyse inequalities, their causes and to explore potential solutions. Its comprehensive identification of 177 indicators and measures is part of its added value, providing a rigorous and evidence-based analysis on inequalities in health, dignified work or participation. However, we felt we were missing a key part of the equation: what about the experience and knowledge of those directly affected by inequalities, who suffer them on a daily basis? How can we capture these? How can we establish the different connections between inequalities and get a detailed picture of the story beyond figures and data? And how can we make the concept of “human capabilities” – the theoretical underpinning of this Framework – more visible when operationalising the MIF, in order to make sense of the data we have gathered?
After eight experiences applying the MIF in different contexts (Central America [Guatemala, El Salvador], West Africa, Europe [Spain], and East Asia [Vietnam]) and at different levels (sub-regional, national, sub-national), there are already some lessons learnt. Among others, researchers and practitioners who have used the MIF have pointed out the need to strengthen the gender analysis and apply a critical feminist approach to exploring inequalities, as well as the need to go beyond quantitative indicators and data to grasp the full potential and nature of inequalities.
To do this, we have developed a Qualitative Research Guide as a companion to the MIF, with the aim of integrating both quantitative and qualitative methods in the measurement and analysis of inequalities. Written by Kas Sempere and based on the experiences of Vietnam and El Salvador –first teams using these methods-, this guide will help MIF users to develop a specific qualitative – and participatory, when relevant – approach to their analysis, allowing them both to make visible how people belonging to different social groups experience and perceive inequalities, and to show what intersectionality is and implies. Secondly, it will allow them to unpack and further analyse the results provided by the statistics (asking about the hows and whys), and shed some light on potential data gaps. Thirdly, it will help ensure that other types of knowledge (such as practical experience) are listened to and considered in the analysis of inequalities, and, lastly, it may provide a way of building a narrative on inequalities, their causes and potential solutions.
The Qualitative Research Guide is full of practical guidelines and tips for defining your qualitative sampling, choosing your basket of methods – with examples of visual methods for assessing public policies and exploring other causes of inequalities, and tips on ‘researching up’ with richer populations –, and analysing and making sense of it all, including the quantitative data collected. Because these two approaches are complementary, rather than competitive.
Most importantly, and as Professor Roger Jones put it in 1995 in relation to qualitative research in health services, ‘qualitative research begins by accepting that there is a range of different ways of making sense of the world, and is concerned with discovering the meanings seen by those “who are being researched” and with understanding their view of the world rather than that of the researchers’.
So… are we ready to challenge our own assumptions – including those on qualitative methodologies! – and thus allow other types of knowledge and understanding of inequalities to emerge and be explored?