Research Method: Participant Packs

30th April 2021

Funded Project:
Methods for Change

This ‘how to’ guide outlines Participant Packs: A Flexible, Inclusive and Accessible Method used by Amy Barron from the University of Manchester. The illustration was created in collaboration with India Joseph, Moon and Moth Studio.

Social scientists from the Methods for Change project came together to discuss the research methods they use and how methods create change in society. Drawing from the expertise in the Aspect network, they collaborated on a series of ‘how to’ guides which are step-by-step instructions and top-tips for adopting these methods in a range of sectors. Visual and multisensory pieces, including comics, illustrations, posters, booklets, short films and animations were then developed in collaboration with creatives to capture the key value of these research methods with a view to being able to convey them to a variety of audiences.

It is hoped that these resources will be useful for people in higher education, commercial, public sector, third sector and community organisations who are interested in experimenting with, and expanding professional skills in, the adoption of social science research methods.

Research Method: Participant Packs

The Participant Pack is a flexible and open-ended research method which includes non-prescriptive prompts for engagement. A Participant Pack might include photographs of a place from some point in the past or present to encourage reflection; a notebook in which participants may write ideas or sketch; coloured pens; news articles; a disposable camera; a Dictaphone (voice recorder); leaflets; worksheets; or crafting materials.

The pack may be created with a specific intention (left with the participant with a specific set of tasks and activities in mind), or it could be used in a more exploratory and open-ended way (left with the participant with prompts to engage with the materials in the pack at their own behest). It is down to the researcher to decide how focused or open the Participant Pack is.

I developed the idea of using a Participant Pack whilst researching with older people in Greater Manchester. I used it alongside other participatory methods to better understand the changing relationships between older people and the places in which they live. Creating a Participant Pack was intended to make researching older people’s experiences of place more accessible and inclusive for those who may be unable or prefer not to walk. Indeed, some participants preferred to not walk for reasons including a dislike for cold and rainy weather, other time pressures, the need to use a walking aid, bodily pain, or health conditions. Moreover, although walking is often the ‘go-to’ method when researching place, I was conscious that walking may not be the ideal or easy choice for older participants and that those who were less mobile were likely to call into play very different associations with place. The Participant Pack was therefore developed as an alternative and inclusive method to walking, to allow participants to communicate their experiences of place without necessarily being physically in the place itself. In this way, Participants Packs are a useful method to increase the inclusivity of other methods that might require physical mobility and moving around place. Within this collection Participant Packs could be used as a supplementary method to Photo go-alongs, Walk-along Interviews and Mobile Visual Methods with people from a range of ages, abilities, genders and cultural backgrounds who might not be able, or not feel safe to, engage in public space.

You can find all the research outputs from the Methods for Change series here

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