Lesli Hoey, one of our planning professors at Taubman College, shed light on the variety of methods employed in qualitative research. Hoey covered a variety of available methods. Here, I focus on interviews and participatory mapping.

Interviews: Interviews offer a person’s nuanced view and account of a particular experience, in their own words. Hoey alluded to an approach John Forester uses to quote from his practitioner profiles. Studying deliberative planning. Forester includes long quotations (sometimes paragraphs long) in his articles and books to let the person truly speak for his/herself.  While interviews transcripts rarely follow a chronological order, Forester often structures his quotations to tell a story in an order that the reader can easily follow. Forester’s lengthy quotations are a unique approach that almost gives equal weight to the researcher and the interviewee in creating a narrative.

Another more common approach is to use shorter quotes – short phrases or several sentences – that get to the essence, or the very core, of a person’s response. Not using the entirety of a person’s transcribed interview means that the researcher has more discretion in deciding what to include. But this approach is particularly useful when integrating and comparing multiple stakeholder interviews. To fairly represent an array of perspectives, Hoey gave an example of systematically coding responses to observe themes that emerge across interviews. She described ways of grouping responses into comparative summary tables and figures, approaches to paraphrasing major themes, and using key quotes to illustrate the meaning of major (or divergent) themes.

Participatory Mapping: This method adds a spatial component to qualitative research. Participatory mapping is a visual tool for understanding how residents see and experience their surroundings.  As opposed to a top-down, technical approach to mapping, participatory approaches allows residents to show city officials and researchers their unique perspectives and conceptualizations of space. Similarly to interviewing, participatory mapping involves compiling varied data and actively listening to fully understand the study area. It can include transect walks of urban or rural landscapes, the use of photo-voice, walking or windshield surveys, participants using GPS units to track how they use their environment (or issues they see), or individuals drawing their own maps.

Understanding the spatial connections that each participant makes can be difficult to make sense of, but a participatory mapping process can tell a richer story than traditional GIS maps, allowing for previously unseen patterns, commonalities or abnormal distinctions to emerge.  Organizing the maps by the demographics of your respondents may also allow you to see how men and women view space differently, how different age groups or people perceive safety or comfort within the same space, or how transportation options, livelihoods, land use and values shape people’s relationship to a landscape.