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  • Author or Editor: Sue Oreszczyn x
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Reflecting on Systemic Practices for Participatory Research
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While there is growing interest in participatory research to address issues around environmental sustainability, the focus of analysis tends to be on the results or products of the research rather than the processes involved. Addressing this gap, the authors draw on their experience of specific mapping techniques, based on different systemic concepts and theories, that have helped facilitate, explore and capture different understandings of the relationships, perspectives and boundaries within situations involving environmental sustainability.

The development of visual mapping techniques is explained and practical case studies describe their application in environmental sustainability projects, from working with farmers and their networks to using visual mapping with indigenous communities and managing coastal environments. Each case study provides a ‘real world’ project example from researchers with extensive experience of using these techniques to research different aspects of environmental sustainability over several decades.

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This chapter draws on the authors’ experiences over many years of investigating knowledge exchange processes across three research projects that mostly dealt with agri-environmental knowledge systems with contentious issues for stakeholders (farmers, policymakers, researchers, businesses and NGOs) to explore. The first project discussed considers UK farmers’ understandings of new technologies and the influencers on them. This work is then taken forward into subsequent projects that analysed complex knowledge flows in a number of different contexts—agriculture, health, food, international development, and hedgerow management systems. The authors reflect upon how the use of diagramming and relationships with participants in their research methods evolved through the three phases of the first project and into the subsequent projects.

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This chapter draws the themes of the book together and, in particular, reflects on the use of the mapping techniques used by the various authors in the book in helping the research process. It highlights key aspects and outcomes from the case studies, and considers the lessons that may be learned for researching environmental sustainability. It discusses mapping, environmental sustainability, systemic practices, participatory research, and methods and methodology. It concludes that although mapping or diagramming is a valued and valuable parts of research praxis into environmental sustainability, this is not the only or better way to do research. The authors express hope that the book inspires readers to apply mapping in complex environmental situations.

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This introductory chapter provides an overview of the book’s main themes. This book aims to provide more detail on research processes that involve complex environmental situations than would normally be found in publications where researchers write about their work. It also draws on experiences over time to provide insights into how methodologies and methods have evolved and developed over the years. The book’s four interweaving themes are set out in its full title: (1) mapping (2) environmental sustainability: (3) reflecting on systemic practices for (4) participatory research. The remainder of the chapter explains the meaning of each of these themes and how they fit together.

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This chapter focuses on agri-environmental projects (those concerned with the environment but carried out in agricultural contexts) that involve controversial issues, such as the introduction and development of genetically modified crops; the potential power of large biotechnology companies; and the increased use of biofuels, water, and intensification of agriculture. It discusses the use and value of mapping techniques in these highly contested environmental research contexts. The processes and mapping techniques were chosen for specific purposes, according to the needs of the different projects, the context and type of participants involved, and their strategic aims. They also represent the development of the authors’ approaches to engaging with people and demonstrate the way that the approach has changed over time as they have sought ways to enable participants to engage in the research process more fully.

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In this chapter, the authors explore stakeholders’ understanding of what to do with organic waste within the UK. They discuss two projects that were both commissioned and funded under the same government research program specifically to support policymaking. Although looking at the same broad environmental sustainability issue of how to treat organic waste as a resource to be exploited rather than a waste product to be disposed of, the two projects use mapping and involve participants in different ways. Both projects also highlight how the use of quantitative survey data is informed by, and in turn informs, the use of diagrams within the overall methodology. The authors also look at these projects through the different ways diagrams can be used that were discussed in Chapter Two.

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