Research Method: Participatory Qualitative Interviews

7th April 2021

Funded Project:
Methods for Change

This ‘how to’ guide outlines the Participatory Qualitative Interviews research method used by Lucy Jackson from the University of Sheffield. The booklet was created in collaboration with Jack Brougham.

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: Participatory Qualitative Interviews

This method offers a creative alternative to qualitative interviews – often understood as a ‘conversation with a purpose’- by asking participants to take part in an activity whilst engaged in conversation. Introducing a fun, interactive, participatory dimension can make interviews feel less intimidating for both the interviewer and respondent, and can disrupt established power relations. Participatory Qualitative Interviews are less formulaic than standard semi-structured interviews, and can be carried out with individuals or groups.

Rather than following a predetermined interview schedule, conversations unfold in a more fluid way. The researcher may have a list of prompts or themes, but it is the activity that structures the research encounter. As participants become immersed in the activity, they may feel more comfortable and open to talking about topics that might be sensitive or less easy to discuss in a formal interview. This approach could involve, for example, asking participants to produce or comment on something such as an artwork, a piece of music, or a video. Or, it might involve taking part in a shared activity such as dancing, knitting, singing, or storytelling, which may be related to the research topic. This method can therefore produce interesting data drawn from the conversations that take place around activities, as well as valuable alternative data and outputs in the form of images, film, song or collage.

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

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This blog by the Methods for Change team, illustrated by Jack Brougham, asks if we should spend more time talking about the methods we use as researchers. Drawing on a recent paper, we suggest that researchers need to articulate why methods matter in creating change to global challenges. We share three creative techniques that we have experimented with across the Methods for Change project that can encourage playful, reflective conversation about methods and their role in galvanising change.

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