Seeing as I am a good half an hour or so into transcribing the first focus group interview, I thought I might post up some of the initially interesting quotes, and then in a day or so post up my thoughts about them. I was going to post up my thoughts tonight, but it’s late, and I’m tired.
“Where I live, we’ve got a similar problem as the house that was bought, it’s on the river, and the water comes up now higher than the front door, so the house has had to be tanked so that it doesn’t flood every year. Now, that’s unfortunate but for, eleven months of the year, except for the three days that water comes up, it, it’s amazing. It’s the most idyllic place to live. But on those three days it’s the most inconvenient place to live, and it’s the most terrifying place to live. But, I wouldn’t give that up (pause) for, for anything, you know…”
“I often think about change in all sorts of different areas and change is really, really difficult with something um, we, um tend not to prefer to confront. But, um, I mean, I think that a lot of people have said today, is actually, it will change and perhaps it’s not within our power to do anything about it. We have to accept it and do things a bit differently which is also a bit scary.”
“The field is being eroded back and the soil is all full of, um, fossils, from the ice age, so, you can find, you know, shark’s teeth and all sorts of wonderful things, coming out. So it’s kind of, you know, sea’s going back, sea’s taking back, the sea’s taking back what it had before…”
“But, long term, I mean, we, we have a massive impact on the environment and there comes a time when, we, you can’t beat (pause) the elements and obviously it’s not going to be the people responsible for global warming that suffer the effects of losing their house but is, sort of (pause) collectively we are having a massive impact on (pause) what happens.”
“I’ve got some maps, Ordnance Survey maps, my other’s a great one for buying maps but there we go and, um, one of them is 19… you know, there’s a, quite a recent one then one back in the 60s. You can see the difference. Minimal, but it’s there.”
It has been a while since the last update, mainly because I have been busy finishing up a module, the final optional module of the MRes in fact. The module in question was ‘Mediating the Environment’, run by Dr Julie Doyle from the School of Art, Design and Media, and looked at the ways in which environmental issues are constructed, communicated and contested by different actors, such as the media, scientists and environmental NGOs, and through different forms of mediated communication, such as images, films, newspapers, internet and social media. The culmination of this module was an essay that looks at how coastal erosion has been represented in the East Anglian Daily Times. I’ll post up the results when I get them.
This has meant that the main research project had mostly been put on hold for a short time, but now becomes my main focus once more. The 17th May seems a long time a go now, but that was when I ran my final research session of two in Wrentham. The session began with a series of individual drawings made by the participants in response to three questions. For each question, participants were given ten minutes to create a response. The questions were:
Please make some marks on your paper about a memorable moment from the coast walk last Saturday.
Please make some marks on your paper about one of your drawings that you made last week.
Please make some marks on your paper about one of your photos you took or objects you collected last week.
Some of the drawings made by participants are pictured below.
Reading back through my notes, my initial thoughts about how this session went were:
Difficult to arrange several people in a room, on individual tables, without replicating an exam-type set up.
This similarity was picked up by a few participants, not sure if this unsettled them.
The room was very quiet, little in the way of conversation.
A few comments were made expressing disappointment that we wouldn’t be going to the beach at any point.
Following on from this, while the participants went through to the kitchen area for refreshments, I rearranged the seating in a way that allowed all the participants to sit around two tables pushed together.
This was necessary for the following hour-long exercise, where the participants worked on two communal drawings. Two sheets of paper were placed on the tables in front of the participants, half the participants would be working on sheet 1, and the other half on the 2. Every fifteen minutes the sheets would be swapped over, so participants would constantly work on drawings that they didn’t have complete ownership over.
The participants were asked to make marks in response to only one question:
How does the Covehithe stretch of coast make you feel?
Every fifteen minutes the drawings were swapped over, and a photo was taken of each drawing. These photos will eventually be turned into animations, but for now, here are some of the drawings:
Looking at my notes from the session, I observed that:
There was a little initial confusion and resistance shown by the participants when set the task, but soon everyone settled down.
Politeness prevailed to begin with, most participants hesitated to make marks.
This time, in contrast to the silence of the individual drawing activity, conversation flowed freely among the participants.
The next step in the process will be to analyse all of the drawings in greater detail, and to seek some interpretations of the drawings by the participants themselves.
Following a lunch break, we concluded the day with another focus group session. The main areas covered were:
What are your thoughts and feelings about your experience of taking part in the walking and drawing activity?
What are your thoughts more generally on how you experience landscape when you are out walking or drawing in it?
What are your thoughts and feelings about your experiences of taking part in today’s drawing exercises?
What effect has making your drawings in this project had on your relationship to the coastline?
I enjoyed the discussion, many interesting ideas and topics were raised. I now have to transcribe around three hours of interviews recordings, how long this takes will no doubt determine when I next update this diary.
Well, waking early on Saturday morning my hopes for reasonable weather for the day’s research activities were dealt a blow. I knew before I opened my eyes that it was raining, as I could hear water spilling from a newly discovered overflowing blocked gutter outside the bedroom window. The rain continued while I walked my dog, and continued as I made my way up the A12. Shortly before I got to Wrentham the rain eased up but the weather remained gusty and the sky stayed leaden.
The weather didn’t help the nervous feeling I had as I waited for the person with the hall key to arrive but wasn’t completely to blame. The biggest source of my anxiety in the weeks leading up to the event, far greater than the worry of not having ever chaired a focus group before, or the fear of terrible weather disrupting the outdoor aspect of the day, was the thought that on the day my participants wouldn’t turn up. I am working to such tight deadlines that at this late stage recruiting new participants, booking a new venue, organising new research days really isn’t an option.
So it was just as well that by 10:30 all my participants were in the kitchen area of the hall getting to know each other and drinking tea and coffee!
The Focus Group Interview
I can’t go into too much detail of the focus group interview here for fear of biasing certain activities that are planned for next Saturday, but, listening to the discussion at the time, and later on listening to the recording at home, I realised that the participants had covered some interesting areas. Two of these which caught my ear were:
Nature/Culture distinctions and our human relationships with the nature and environment.
The coast as a site of conflict, both in terms of the inherent natural processes and in the terminology deployed to describe coastline management.
In a related but separate part of my studies I have been thinking a lot about the writings of Barbara Adam on Nature/Culture distinctions. The dominant discourse (certainly in the Western industrialised world) insists on a separation between humans and nature, underlined by the thought that we can overcome and triumph over all things natural. This worldview obscures and ignores the fact that as humans we are inextricably linked to, and depend upon, nature and environment for our survival. So for the participants to end up discussing whether erosion is a process that we learn to accept and live with, or whether it is something for us to overcome, was very timely.
My role in the Focus Group was to pose questions or suggest themes for discussion, by mostly I was able to sit back and observe interactions and dynamics. There were times when I would try to prompt participants, or ask them to expand on a point, or even to try to bring someone quieter into the conversation, but in general, I was willing to see where the conversation would go. The group seemed to click well, there were very few silences, and the silences that we did experience seemed to be due to the participants waiting for me to say something.
The focus group ran for around an hour an a half, after which we broke for lunch for 45 minutes before heading to the coast for the walking and drawing activity.
Participatory Field Research
While the interview was going on, the weather had quietly been improving. Until we had lunch. Then it got worse, and worse, until by 12:30 the rain was torrential.
I was considering our options. Could we walk in the rain and not draw? Could I ask participants to come an hour earlier on the 17th so we could walk then? I didn’t really know what to do. To change the plan was to fundamentally change the research. Not much time to make a decision.
And then a small patch of sky, a pale blue, appeared in the grey. And gradually got bigger. By 13:00 it was breezy but gloriously sunny. We were saved. I was saved.
Dodging the deeper puddles, participants gathered round, I handed out the sketchbooks and art packs much discussed in my last post, and we set off for the beach. I planned to hang back from the group, and let them make their own decisions as to the direction they went, when they stopped, how fast they walked, whether they stayed together or split up. My main tasks for the afternoon were to observe the way the participants decided to work, how they interacted with each other, how they engaged with the landscape and to make notes on my own thoughts regarding the progress of the field research.
Once again, I can’t go into specifics at this stage for fear of influencing later activities, but I made some interesting observations relating to the different approaches to mark making, and the different approaches to positioning themselves in relation to the landscape, and the reset of the group. After an hour and a half on the beach, heavy clouds began to blow in from the south-west so I explained to the participants that we might like to consider packing up and making our way back and out of the elements.
Driving away from Covehithe, I passed through yet more torrential rain. The only two sunny hours of the afternoon had coincided with our visit to the beach. Perhaps I should take that as some kind of positive sign for the future of the research.