A Love Letter to Quantitative Methods

Lucia Mackenzie joined Diffley Partnership in April 2022. Her blog highlights her studies in Edinburgh and her growing passion for quantitative research.

At 18 years old with an interest in politics, I thought I would lose my mind exclusively writing essays for the next four years. I applied to the University of Edinburgh’s Politics with Quantitative Methods programme to bring variety to my studies. The fact that I am the firstborn child of two STEM graduates somewhat aided this decision. This pragmatic choice to avoid essay writing and parental dismay turned out well. It landed me in not only a research field that I have since grown incredibly passionate about, but also in a beautiful city at the heart of much of this research.

My studies demonstrated to me the power in data’s accessibility. As a first year, I accessed large data sets for free on the internet; allowing me to independently explore puzzles ranging from the gender pay gap to determinants of vote choice. In my final year, I possessed data and analysis skills to complete my dissertation on how different types of inequality affect attitudes to authoritarianism and democracy in Latin America equipped with nothing but a laptop (which my flatmate promptly spilled water on), a library card, and a kind supervisor demonstrates the incredible research capabilities my generation has at its fingertips.

During my summers, I became involved in a wide variety of funded projects that demonstrated to me data’s versatility. As an intern at the Data Driven Innovation Initiative I wrote case studies about how data was and is being used in a variety of sectors to improve people’s lives: whether that be in connecting health data to improve care in Scotland, in using fintech to help disadvantaged groups people build their credit, or in using satellite imaging to generate population estimates in Mozambique and distribute charitable donations effectively. The DDI’s ambition is to make Edinburgh the data capital of Europe and, at least in my experience in academia, speaking to people in industry, and now working in the private sector, there is huge enthusiasm for this in the city.

These experiences bring me to my new role at Diffley Partnership, which has given me yet another unique window into the value of data for research: the beauty of mixed methods. Prior to joining the company, I had almost exclusively conducted quantitative analysis by myself or in a small group for a presentation. But with Diffley Partnership’s team and resources I am learning so much about the complementary nature of qualitative and quantitative methods: how survey results can be used to shape focus group discussions to truly get to the bottom of public opinion, or how stakeholder collaborations can be used to design thoughtful surveys. The projects I have been involved in that use these techniques are incredibly rewarding. We’ve designed research to aid organisations reducing health inequalities, addressing issues in the criminal justice system, and exploring options to reduce poverty. In my first two months as a Research Assistant I see that I have barely scratched the surface of all the ways quantitative research can be harnessed to improve lives, and I look forward to learning more.

Beyond Edinburgh’s ambitions to become the data capital of Europe, the wealth of clients Diffley Partnership conducts research for demonstrates that enthusiasm for data driven innovation extends across the country. For my future career, I certainly hope it continues!

Lucia Mackenzie  July 2022

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