Pinning down my methodology: part 1

Following a couple of recent conferences in Nottingham and Blackpool, I needed to spend some time thinking about how the discussions I had at these events could improve and feed into my research.

In particular, they got me thinking about my least favorite subject recently….methodology. With my lack of any kind of experience in the social sciences prior to starting my PhD, my understanding of the philosophies surrounding different methodologies is pretty sketchy. I have been trying to remedy this with a stack of very intense, slightly dull looking books, but I’m not gonna lie; it is definitely still a work in progress.

I thought a couple of blog posts on where I am up to might help to straighten my thoughts out and maybe connect with some people who have been exploring their own methodology issues. In this first post I just want to explain the basics of my methodology in relation to my research aims and questions, then the following posts will deal with the underpinning philosophy and research design.

So, the basic outline of my PhD research is as follows:

Working title

How do researchers experience, view and bring about social impact through their work?


  • To carry out in-depth analysis of the impact debate, with a particular focus on exploring and defining social impact.
  • To record and discuss the lived experiences and views of researchers carrying out impacts upon society/communities.
  • To deepen the understanding of the actions carried out by researchers to bring about impact, in the context of the impact debate and impact assessment.
  • To produce recommendations for researchers and research support staff

Research questions

  • Drawing on literature in the field, how is social impact defined and why is it important?
  • How do researchers understand and attempt to bring about social impact
  • the understanding of social impact be theorised using an appropriate theoretical lens?

Qualitative or quantitative?

To gather the data needed in order to address the research questions above, it is important that the researchers involved are able to communicate their own definitions and experiences. I think the most suitable methodology to allow this is a qualitative approach consisting of detailed case studies.

As I want to contextualise impact within the individual research journeys, a quantitative approach would not be suitable.   I want to further the understanding of attitudes towards, and experiences of, social impact in relation to particular areas of work; to do this I need to gather deep data which is based on lived experience, hence the need for a qualitative approach.

Feedback – please feel free to comment on anything in the post or send a response to some suggested questions:

  • Did you find it hard to make a decision between quantitative and qualitative?
  • Would you have done anything differently in hindsight?
  • Did your chosen approach help/hinder answering your research questions?

Having the made the first decision for this section, next I will be looking at research design….