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.
So, as ever, things have been so busy over the last week or so that I have ended up neglecting the online side of this diary. Therefore, an update.
Amid the chaos of the last week I have been slowly assembling an art materials pack for each of my participants (the number of which has now grown to eight) to use on our coastline walk this coming Saturday.
Putting the packs together has been pretty difficult. I know what I like to use when I draw, but I have been discovering what I like and don’t like over several years. It is a different matter to pick out art materials for somebody else however.
Even though, as Ioana Literat points out, drawing as a type of image elicitation operates unaffected by the kind of knowledge hierarchy that conditions much photoelicitation, drawing can still be an intimidating activity to undertake. This is true enough when working alone, but is exacerbated in front of a group of people. This feeling of intimidation can come from lots of sources, but in putting these packs together I have been thinking about the kind of intimidation that can come from the type of materials we use.
There is a difference in using something like a sheet of St. Cuthberts Mill Somerset paper and a sheet of newsprint for example. Each has its uses, and there is a time for both, but for me, certain materials make me feel certain ways and this influences what I do with them. As wonderful as it is to work with them, I believe that high quality materials can invite hesitation or doubt. Say somebody knows that the single sheet of Arches Velin paper they are working on costs around eight or nine pounds per sheet. What I keep coming back to is this – how does this knowledge not influence how they draw? Are we not always encouraged to think, wrongly in my opinion, that if it is expensive then it is to be valued, and valued things are treated with a special kind of reverence. Maybe experience leads to becoming comfortable with this situation. If I ever can afford eight pounds for a sheet of paper I’ll let you know. But my point is, I need to find materials that allow my participants to explore freely, but do not inhibit or intimidate them. After all, this project isn’t about judging what is a good or a bad drawing, so to possibly create a situation where it is being questioned whether what is being drawn is good enough for the materials I have provided will work against everything I am trying to achieve.
Having said that, among my participants there are those who I would consider to be experienced artists, alongside those who do not have much experience of drawing. This is exactly how I wanted it, but it makes it a little difficult to meet the needs of everybody. Those that are familiar with the usual apparatus of drawing, may have certain expectations of their materials, so to provide them with equipment which they might consider to be ‘amateurish’ may also unduly influence what they produce.
So, when putting these packs together I felt that I needed to strike the right balance between familiar, non-threatening materials and materials that aren’t unpleasant or frustrating to use.
I won’t know if I have done just that until we are under way, but I have done my best to reach a decent compromise.
So, each pack contains:
An A3 sketchpad – I guess this could be described as ‘student quality’, the kind of pad that you would find in any art or stationery shop. It isn’t amazing quality but it looks decent enough to cope with a bit of heavy scribbling and rubbing out.
A disposable camera – It’s been a while since I have bought and used one of these (V Festival 1997 I think…) and it was a bit difficult finding somewhere that sold them cheap enough that buying eight and getting the photos developed wouldn’t cost more than a digital compact camera! I finally located them at Jessops and got eight, on a deal of buy two get one free, including processing for around £17.00 which I was pretty happy with. The camera is included as an optional extra for participants to use on the walk. It will be interesting to see how much this is relied upon to record observations.
A tin of sketching pencils – Nice, familiar pencils, but in a rage of different hardnesses.
A selection of colouring pencils – Just to add a further option to working in grey scale.
A black pen
A stick of willow charcoal
Two sticks of compressed charcoal – One black, one brown
A soft/medium charcoal pencil
A paper blending stump – Ideal for blending or blurring the charcoal.
A pencil sharpener
A Zip-Lock bag – to be used to collect any interesting items (so long as they are allowed to be removed from the beach).
I am sure there are many things I could have included but haven’t, but considering the issues I highlighted above I think I have provided a wide enough selection of items to use without the choice being overwhelming. The quality of the items is also something I am pretty pleased with. I think I have worked hard to source items that I can afford, of a quality which doesn’t exude either cheapness or expense. That might raise a few eyebrows but for this project, for the reasons given above, I am happy with ‘average’!
All that remains now is to hand the packs out on Saturday after the morning’s group interview, hope for reasonable weather, and head out into the elements to do some watching, walking and drawing. I have to say, after all this planning, I am looking forward to getting back on the beach, looking, learning, experiencing.
I finally have the chance to sit down a write a little about the information event that I held on Saturday 12th April. The day arrived and I made my way up the A12 to Wrentham village hall having received a handful of emails during the weeks leading up to the 12th expressing an interest in the research and in attending the event. Despite the positive feedback I was still unsure if interest would convert into actual attendance.
Happily the vast majority of those who had emailed came along, and I was able to explain the project aims, and find out about those who had come along to learn more.
After a few cups of tea and coffee, and an enjoyable discussion about the local coastline (which was interestingly close to the kind of conversation I hope to capture later in the project), the event ended with encouraging comments, with most people saying that they would be in touch to sign up for the research. One of the main points that came out of the meeting was a change of dates for the four planned research events.
It is difficult to plan a timetable when you are not aware of who you will be working with, and what their time capabilities may be. The general consensus at the meeting was that it would be preferable to condense the four sessions into two longer session running on consecutive Saturdays in May, and it is far easier for me to be flexible than expecting several people to change their plans. In fact, I think it may be beneficial to have the drawing session followed swiftly by the interview session as thoughts will still be fresh in mind. Besides, I will always have the option of asking participants for more of their thoughts after a little more time has passed.
Since Saturday, I have had four confirmed participants (thank you kind people!) leaving me with another three or four to find. A slight concern to me was the fact that three of the four participants are from an arts-based background, so to balance things up I would like some of the remaining participants to come from a non arts-based background. With this in mind I have been in touch today with several local museums and charities asking if they would advertise the research to their members in the hope of reaching out to those who have an interest in the coast, but don’t currently make art work around that theme. Thank you to the Southwold Sailor’s Reading Room for a very quick and helpful reply, along with a kind offer to display a copy of the book of participant drawings that will be one of the outcomes of the project.
So right now I feel I have made about fifty percent progress towards finding all the participants I would like to be working with, and the search will continue over the next week or so. Alongside this search I think I will take advantage of the Easter break to spend some time considering the art practice side of the research, in particular how art works can physically embody environmental processes.
With just over a week to go before the research information event at Wrentham village hall I have been busy attempting to publicise the event so we are not sat there, drinking coffee alone, between 10:30 and 12:00.
Thanks to help from the Parish Council and several kindly people of Wrentham and the surrounding area, posters advertising the event have gone up on village notice boards and other locations around the community. I’ve also received a great deal of help publicising the event from Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB, SCAR, Touching the Tide, Councillor Martin Parsons and Tidal Margins – thank you all. Apologies if I have omitted thanks to anybody, there have been so many helpful people that I have lost track of who represents each organisation!
So far, I have received a few emails expressing interest in the event, so I am hopeful that word is spreading and we will be meeting some people on the 12th. The event is crucial to the success of the research as it is the one chance we will have to convince potential participants that taking part in the research will be fun and worthwhile for them.
So, in keeping with the practical administration theme dominating the research recently, I have had to prepare a participant information pack to hand out on the 12th.
The pack needs to contain:
An information sheet that lets potential participants know about the purpose of the research, what they will be asked to do and informs them about issues such as confidentiality etc.
A sheet to record their contact details (modified slightly in case any under 18s wish to take part under parent/guardian supervision.
A project timetable that lists when events are happening and where.
Consent forms – One for taking part in the research and one that covers the photography and future use of any drawings that participants make and any research materials that they generate.
So, after much procrastination I finally completed these forms today and have sent them over to my research supervisor to sign off on before they get printed.
Adding research into my practice has been testing at times (I hope to return to this theme at a later date) and this is reflected in the fact that I can’t say I have found this process easy so far. However, whilst it is a little out of my comfort zone, it is providing me with valuable lessons about promotion and local networking. That said, I’ll be glad when I can concentrate less on administration and devote more time to drawing.
I will be hosting an informal coffee morning/information event on the 12th April at Wrentham Village Hall between 10:30 and 12:00. If you think you might be interested in taking part in the research, or would just like to ask a few questions, come along, have a tea or coffee and find out what the research is all about.
Over the next few months this website will be used to document and reflect upon the progress of the main research project that I am undertaking as part of my MRes in Arts and Cultural Research at the University of Brighton. This blog forms the online component of a larger Visual Research diary that will chart the course of the research in a reflexive space that pulls together art practice and research.
My research aims to work with participants from a region of Suffolk in the United Kingdom affected by coastal erosion. As part of the research participants will take part in a combination of drawing activities and participatory field research that will help them explore and articulate their connections to, and experiences of, a disappearing coastline.
To help address the aims of the research, the ‘data generation’ section of the project will follow four stages:
Initial Focus Group Interview – The first research activity will be to carry out an initial focus group interview with the participants. The main purpose of the interview will be to establish a baseline appreciation of how participants relate to the coastline and to discuss some of the concerns participants may have regarding the use of drawing in this research as a way of exploring their experiences.
Participatory Field Research – With participant relationship to the coastline forming an important feature of the research, it is important for us to actually engage physically with the landscape that we are investigating. With this in mind a group walk will be carried out, during which visual and word based observations will be recorded alongside participant discussions of the coastline.
Drawing Activity – The core of the research takes the form of a communal drawing activity that will allow the participants to explore their experiences and reflections of the coastline. The purpose of the drawing activity is to attempt to visually depict coastal experiences through mark marking and erasure, techniques that can be said to represent the coastal erosion processes at work in the region. The process of creating the drawings will be recorded photographically, and a stop-motion animation of the process will be placed on this website as part of the research findings.
Final Focus Group Interview – The final focus group interview will be where participant reactions to the drawing activities will be discussed alongside encouraging participants to play a role in the interpretation of their own drawings.
This is a very brief overview of the project, and over the next weeks and months everything will be expanded and reflected upon. Right now, practical matters are dominating the research progress and it is practical matters that will be the subject of the next few posts.