Social Research Methods and Research Practices > Social Research Methods
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.
In this chapter, the author addresses failures with interventions addressing complex issues of sustainability and the need, at all levels, for evaluation of interventions. He notes the lack of adoption of new ideas in this area and the way that stakeholders are often talking past each other. He considers how diagramming can address this by making space for conversations (between thinking and practice) in disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary research practice. Drawing on the ideas introduced in Chapter Two the chapter explains the use of a particular systems-based influence diagram the author has developed and adapted over the past 15 years, and discusses diagramming as both a means of praxis (the braiding of thinking and practice) generally, and more specifically, as a means for evaluating environmental sustainability as praxis.
This chapter discusses how a systems method for sharing perspectives on and then agreeing sustainability indicators was conceived and then applied in a wide variety of places. Central to this method’s evolution were the intentions of its initial creators and the contributions of the different project collaborators and participants in the related workshops. Central to the method’s effectiveness are the way two diagram types were used to visualise, and make more relevant to specified communities, indicators of environmental sustainability. The chapter is also another example of the interplay between method and visualisation, both of the method and within the method, and that it can be difficult to say which is the chicken and which is the egg. They are complementary parts of a holistic and ongoing process, particularly where the main objective is action to improve people’s lives rather than research on people’s lived experiences.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This chapter provides an overview of systems thinking in practice, the key concepts involved in it, and in particular the role of mapping in addressing complex situations. While the chapter touches on all four themes of the book, it focuses mainly on the systems thinking philosophy that underpins the work of nearly all the authors in this book; how that philosophy relates to the use of diagramming to capture systemic thinking; and how to engage research participants in trying to think more systemically. It concludes finishes with some more practical advice on the use of diagrams in general and within participatory and action-oriented modes of research in particular.
This chapter draws on the authors’ experiences over many years of research into social learning systems. The authors particularly focus on their work on communities of practice as social learning systems and reflect on their experiences of using diagramming to map and share understandings and develop knowledge, in the context of water governance and climate change. They build on a range of systemic and participatory traditions to design their research processes. Some of the authors have also taught these techniques and have developed an understanding of how skills in diagramming can be developed both for exploration and for communication. The authors therefore reflect on the effectiveness of diagramming processes for different purposes, reviewing a range of the techniques’ strengths and limitations from their use in different contexts.