Pinning down my methodology: Part 2

The Kawa River Model

Having covered the basics of my methodology in Part 1, I now want to talk a bit about research design. Bear with me though, I am still very much on a learning curve with this stuff, so all the ideas are under development.

Why qualitative?

So, as I discussed in the previous post, I will be using a qualitative approach to do my data gathering, as I understand this will allow me to build up the most comprehensive picture of social impact definition, understanding and practices within the wider context of the participant subject areas and experiences.

Interviews and visual representation

I plan to carry out semi-structured depth interviews as well as asking participants to create visual representations of research journeys and social impact interpretations. I am choosing to use the depth interview rather than the structured interview to allow the participants to bring experiences, opinions and topics into the interview which they feel are key to the impact debate, rather than dictating the areas to be covered. This lets the participant be in charge of the conversation direction, hopefully leading to a much more relevant and contextualized set of data.

How to select the participants?

I did think about holding an initial workshop open to all researchers which would be used to identify appropriate researchers who would take part in the longer term case studies. However, I binned that idea after realising that it is too dependent on unpredictable nature of open invites: How many times have you been to/run a training session just to find that half the people don’t turn up? As my research is very dependent on covering a range of disciplines, it seems much more sensible to make a carefully planned selection than to leave it all to chance.

Which subject areas to cover

To make this selection, I will be using my existing contacts and project experiences to identify one researcher from the four broad discipline groupings across the University;

  • STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths)
  • Arts
  • Humanities
  • Social Sciences

These 4 researchers will be invited to take part in a long term case study over 12 months to explore their understanding and experiences of impact. The case study research will consist of a combination of in depth interviews which will then be transcribed, and visual methods including cognitive mapping and journey representation, possibly in a form similar to the KAWA model.

Making space for the story

I have always been interested in how people tell a story through their research in order to translate it into real-world scenarious and communities. By using the diverse qualitative methods above I hope to build a detailed picture of researcher experiences and give them space to explore their experiences of how impact is generated in their field of work.


Action inquiry – more than data collection

An example of visual research techniques – from

Today I met with Barry Percy-Smith, the new Director of the Centre for Applied Childhood Studies here at Huddersfield, to introduce myself and get an overview of his areas of work.

Action inquiry

Something we chatted about quite a bit was action inquiry as a research method – which Barry carries out a lot with groups of children and young people in specially designed workshops. This is not a method I have come across before, so I was interested to learn that it differs a lot from traditional focus groups/workshops in that it is focused on the participants and how they respond, not on gathering specific data which the researcher has pre-determined.

Although I need to look into it much more, I immediately thought this might be a method which could benefit my PhD research into social impact – after all, I want to focus on the participants experiences and understanding of impact, not give them a predetermined framework to try and fit their answers into.

Visual methods

This format also lends itself to using visual methods, which I am  keen to look into more. As you might notice from previous posts, I love an excuse to get out the coloured pens and post it notes, and have been considering using a combination of different visual techniques as part of my data gathering stage. I’m currently thinking of using cognitive mapping, perhaps alongside a more narrative-led method such as a river or path with space for stages, actions and experiences.

Anyhow, these are all formative thoughts at the moment – it would be great to hear any opinions/experiences from people who have used action inquiry or visual methods – feel free to comment here or tweet me @megan_beech