Reflections on our pilot work

As part of our pilot work, we have written some short reflections on this work. Read more about the project here

Jess Adams, Research Assistant, Methods Hub

In previous iterations of the methodological zoo workshop (as well as in other work using the approach), the Methods for Change team found that people tend to choose animals that are ‘agreeable’ – either visually captivating, or friendly, or animals that we see a lot (Pottinger, Barron, Hall, et al., 2022). This is an intriguing component of their research and it certainly matches up with our experience. So why are we choosing agreeable animals? 

The answer perhaps lies in some of the ways we described those animals. In the notes from our workshop, many of us described ourselves as the animal, and thus as the method. Richard, for example, said that he ‘was’ a jackdaw. I suspect we are choosing agreeable animals because we want to be agreeable too. I do not think that this will apply to all researchers (we were a relatively self-selecting group who all have a longstanding interest in methods), but this collapsing of our methods and of ourselves is compelling.

Among our pilot group, most of the characteristics of the animals chosen reflected a very open and flexible approach to methods. Participants chose animals who borrow, change, straddle, question, or work collectively. At various stages people talked about a sense of research as a process of ‘making it up as we go along’. For Berger, “animals first entered the human imagination as messengers and promises” (Berger, 2009). Taking his thinking further I would posit that this sense of research as an open-ended, creative and collaborative journey doesn't always fit with how research infrastructures work - but it points to an inspiring, and promising, message the animals have sent us.  

Chang Liu, PhD student in the School of Education, Communication, and Language Sciences

What I enjoyed most in the workshops was sharing the stories behind the chosen animal and explaining the link to my research methods. Through actively engaging with this activity, I had a deeper understanding of my research methods and how they fitted within the wider world of research. In addition, although the participants are from different disciplines and research fields, this workshop provided me with an opportunity to better understand interdisciplinary research through the creative representations of different animals. Specifically, the use of animal metaphors allows for a multi-layered depiction. Animal metaphors enable us, researchers, to articulate the sensory, physical characteristics and practices required in doing a method. This can also provide deep insights into how the methods are implicated in the process of collecting data. Furthermore, this made me critically reflect on how this methodological zoo enabled me to describe the story of my research in innovative and engaging ways.

I would highly recommend that if possible, colleagues deliver this workshop again so that more people could be given the opportunity to benefit from this inspiring, illuminating, and engaging workshop.