Walking and talking as and for methodological development
This collaborative blog was produced from discussions by attendees of the BERA Walk and Talk event held on 18 October 2019 at the Open University in Milton Keynes. The event’s aim was to experience a walking, mobile or ‘go-along’ methodological approach and reflect on this experience. Two researchers experienced in using such approaches – Jo Neary (see Neary, 2015) and Kathryn Spicksley (see Spicksley, 2018) – introduced examples. We then set off on a walk, rotating partners, debating the opportunities and limitations of this approach. In a final session, we reflected individually on our experiences before constructing responses on a digital working wall. Insights about the methodology form the basis of this post.
The walk provided the opportunity to practice methods which ‘embrace and celebrate the different engagement with spaces that being mobile produces’ (Moles, 2008, p. 1). We explored a method dealing with the ‘fleeting’, ‘distributed’ ‘multiple’, ‘sensory’, ‘emotional’ and ‘kinaesthetic’ aspects of our everyday realities (Law & Urry, 2003).
‘Walking methodologies appeared a powerful means of gaining accounts of experiences from someone else’s perspective, linked with phenomenological approaches to research.’
The shared experience of walking (Moles, 2008) led to recalling and sharing experiences, prompted by interactions with one another and the space that we travelled through. We agreed that walking together enabled some of us to listen and some to talk more than usual. When walking there is less need for eye contact, enabling sensitive conversations. It may encourage vulnerable participants to engage. The relaxed atmosphere aided both reflection and the willingness to powerfully focus on communicating. We explored our identities in these informal, open spaces; spoke more personally as researchers; and had discussions about contentious and challenging research experiences. Being outside, we became aware of using different language. We reflected on some of the factors affecting this: feeling more equable in the space, how being in an alien space led to comparisons with our feelings and behaviours in our usual places. The space could feel more democratic in a natural environment, giving wider and more personal scopes to the conversations. Walking methodologies appeared a powerful means of gaining accounts of experiences from someone else’s perspective, linked with phenomenological approaches to research. Participants also noted how appropriate these methodologies were for studying and practically supporting wellbeing.
Awareness that participants are potentially made more vulnerable led us to discuss setting clear ground rules about what would and would not be reported, which would ideally be decided after the walk. Disclosures and emotional triggers seemed more likely to be revealed and would need to be handled sensitively. The question of who chooses the focus, venue and schedule for the discussions therefore requires consideration. The group concluded that walking in both familiar (Carpiano, 2009) and unfamiliar settings could impact data generation. Which to choose may best be decided through knowing the aim of the research and why a mobile method was selected.
Another challenge was how to record discussions without interrupting the talk and reflections of both researcher and participant. If an audio recording is made, who should hold the device and who owns the data? Should the whole walk-and-talk be recorded, or should stops for reflections be included to capture the immediate discussions? We trialled collecting images to capture moments and act as stimuli for reflections – these were useful, as the finer details of the talk were quickly lost after the walk. We concluded that facilitated group discussions were also a possible solution, to ensure equity.
Alternative approaches were considered, such as photovoice (Latz, 2017) and instances in which, methodologically, more structured conversations would be useful for comparative reasons. Reflexive diaries offer another opportunity for insider researchers to share their emotional responses to spaces and events. Having piloted this as a method for peer discussion and for methodological development, we plan to use it again and would recommend that others walk and talk too.
Carpiano, R. (2009). Come take a walk with me: The ‘Go-Along’ interview as a novel method for studying the implications of place for health and well-being. Health and Place, 15(1): 263–272.
Latz, A. O. (2017). Photovoice research in education and beyond: A practical guide from theory to exhibition. New York & Abingdon: Taylor & Francis.
Law, J., & Urry, J. (2003). Enacting the social. Lancaster: Department of Sociology and the Centre for Science Studies, Lancaster University. Retrieved from http://www.comp.lancs.ac.uk
Moles, K. (2008). A walk in Thirdspace: Place, methods and walking. Sociological Research Online, 13(4), 2, Retrieved from http://www.socresonline.org.uk/13/4/2.html
Neary, J. (2015). Changing contexts: young people’s experiences of growing up in regeneration areas of Glasgow (doctoral dissertation, University of Glasgow). Retrieved from http://theses.gla.ac.uk/6447/
Spicksley, K. (2018, January 16). Walking interviews: A participatory research tool with legs. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/walking-interviews-a-participatory-research-tool-with-legs