I’ve been in my role as a research fellow at Winchester School of Art a year today (happy anniversary to me!). I’m employed on an ESRC project to look at supermarket design and service for the over 65’s (in the UK and China), using a mixed method approach of participant observation, interviews, diary tasks and a quantitative questionnaire, similar to the methods used during my PhD. Since starting the job a year ago I’ve been working towards the UK fieldwork which if I do say so myself, has been no mean feat. We had 30 participants involved across three regions of the UK for 6-8 weeks and each one had to be visited 3 times for interviews and observation.
Recruitment was tricky as these things often are so mostly I’m just relived that we had enough people to take part and now have LOADS of data. It’s been three months of proper fieldwork but in the two months proceeding that I travelled around for recruitment and store manager meetings. This post pretty much sums up all that’s great about fieldwork (in my role at least) and also why I’m glad it’s done. I still have six weeks in China coming up, so fieldwork isn’t quite over yet, but I have few responsibilities during that time. I’m just there to broadly unsure data is collected in the same way we did in the UK.
Our research areas were Dorset, Shrewsbury and rural Northumberland and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each of these areas. I now know all the best beaches to head to in Dorset on a warm summer’s day if you want to avoid the Bournemouth crowds, but I’ll never forget the glorious sense of isolation at Bamburgh beach, Northumberland as I literally ran, skipped and jumped along the shore in my jogging gear after a tip off from a participant earlier in the day.
Confirming ‘hypothesis’ and finding out new things
Fieldwork is what research is all about, being out there finding stuff out. I love it as the weeks go on with certain themes reinforced and then someone will come along and say something totally new, helping you remember why you ask the same questions over and again.
I had three research assistants helping on the project (until the last few weeks when I’ve been back on my own) so it was nice hanging out with them and not being totally alone but the participants themselves have been so lovely! I’ve spent 10 hours with some of them over 3 or 4 visits. I’ve received homemade jam and offers of a place to stay if I’m ever back in the area, plus countless cups of tea and biscuits. It’s been a real pleasure getting to know them and hearing how much they’ve enjoyed participating in the project.
It’s quite easy to be productive when there are things to do and people to see. We were visiting six to twelve participants a week, collecting 20 hours of video and audio data over a few days on average. Even just visiting one participant a day felt like time well spent.
Staying in hotels
I’ve got my ‘regular’ hotel in Shrewsbury now and stayed in one of the most haunted in Northumberland. Big beds and big breakfasts are definitely perks.
Late afternoon on Bamburgh Beach, Northumberland
And 5 reasons I’m glad it’s complete . . .
The places were lovely when I got there but travelling every week takes its toll. I flew to Newcastle (I know, I do feel guilty!) which often meant a 7am flight as I’d rather have an extra night at home. Whether by train or car there is no easy way to get to Shrewsbury from Southampton. One day after 6 hours travelling home and a road closure in Soton that brought me to a halt, I abandoned my car and walked home because I couldn’t face sitting in the car anymore.
Relying on other people
It’s to be expected that fieldwork never goes exactly to plan. The Friday before our first week in Shrewsbury I was left with just one participant as others dropped out. It’s no ones fault and we managed but it put the timetable off track as we had to recruit more. What I did do was phone participants a lot, and certainly the day before appointments so I never turned up at someone’s house with them having forgotten I was coming.
Once you’ve collected the data you have the stress of making sure it’s safe at all times! There were a few panics about whether interviews recorded and if I’d copied a file into the wrong folder. Plus my laptop was slow to catch up and needed an emergency trip to IT for a memory boost two weeks in.
Not being productive
I’m not going to complain that fieldwork isn’t a good use of time because it’s a brilliant use of time, but it is tiring and you need to be quite single-minded to keep everything in order so very little writing has occurred during the last 5 months. Awkward when you have two people waiting for paper drafts.
Staying in hotels
I love my flat really and didn’t like missing out on social events and seminars (yes really), but mostly I just can’t stand making tea with long life milk!