Authored by Sarah Bell
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been criss-crossing the country in the thick of data collection for the ‘Sensing Nature’ project.
Over this time, a number of friends, family and colleagues have asked why I’m rarely in the office and what in-depth data collection actually entails on a day-to-day basis. So I thought I’d write a little bit about this here.
The first step involves raising awareness of the study amongst the groups that might like to take part. I’ll then provide more detailed information about what taking part involves for anyone who expresses an interest in doing so, before then finding a time and date to meet for the interviews.
I’m based in Truro, Cornwall and in previous projects have undertaken data collection at the local level, perhaps travelling for up to half an hour by train, bus or car to meet a research participant. I have also conducted data collection at the regional level in the south west of England, meeting people from as far west as Penzance, heading north to Hereford, and east to Swindon.
Because the ‘nature’ we have on our doorstep varies depending on where we live, with the Sensing Nature project it felt more appropriate to enable and encourage people living across the country to take part. This also felt important because the formal and informal sight loss support available may also vary at local and regional levels.
By committing to data collection at the national level, however, it does mean that I can’t always meet participants as soon after our initial discussions about the project as I would like – usually having to find a sensible route around the country for each data collection ‘loop’ and hoping I can still be as responsive as possible to each participant’s needs, schedules and existing commitments.
This requires much flexibility on my part, including efforts to balance cost-effective travel and accommodation bookings with the ability to cancel or reschedule those travel plans at the last minute, should participant needs or availability change.
I generally try to travel by train rather than by car (except for local interviews in and around Cornwall), as it allows me to stay on top of other academic duties, such as writing, reading, reviewing and presenting research, and mentoring other ‘early career’ researchers.
When settled into a quiet B&B room near to the interview locations, I try to make the most of the time to get started on interview transcription, checking earlier transcripts, and writing research ‘field notes’ that capture thoughts about how the research is going, about any interview questions that seem to generate detailed discussion as opposed to those that close it down, as well as some of the non-verbal aspects of the research that are perhaps overlooked within the interview transcripts.
Throughout this process, the highlight is always the time spent with interview participants themselves. During each interview, I prioritise empathetic, ‘active’ listening – this means listening openly and genuinely to participants’ stories to ensure that I am asking sensitive, responsive and relevant questions throughout.
I can’t emphasise enough how grateful I am for the time and energy that people contribute to research in this way, and the thought they put into the interviews. Participants never fail to both inspire and motivate me to put everything I can into this project.
This is so important to make sure that the insights shared are channelled into useful outputs. I want to make sure that the findings of this study stimulate productive conversations with the people responsible for promoting and enabling inclusive access to nature.
I’ll be meeting and interviewing participants for much of the rest of this year. So if you live in the UK and would like to take part in the study, please do not hesitate to get in touch for more information.
It is probably easiest to catch me by email (Sarah.Bell@exeter.ac.uk) at the moment as I am on the move so much. Alternatively, do feel free to leave a message for me with my colleagues by calling the European Centre for Environment and Human Health on 01872 258131. If you do call, please leave a name and number so that I can get back to you as soon as I can.