As we get close to completing the in-depth interviews, it seems a good moment to share some of my experiences as the researcher responsible for the suburban case study (Enfield) on this key part of the research project.
The interviews are at the heart of the Pathways project as it is through these that we are gathering people’s rich and varied life stories of participation. When looking for people to interview, we have a number of things in mind: How heavily is the person involved in an activity (be it volunteering at a local theatre or taking part in a resident’s association)? Are we speaking to people from a range of activities and sites of participation, identified in the earlier fieldwork stage in the mapping workshops? Are we interviewing people from a range of different backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, and so on?
Getting this balance has proved tricky, partly because it is impossible to know the extent and variety of someone’s participation until you start speaking with them. Take, for example, a recent interview I had with a school governor who had also been volunteering for the local hospital radio for nearly 30 years – something I couldn’t have known without sitting down with him and asking him to reflect on all of his participation experience.
Regular meetings and updates between the researchers have helped us recruit a good mix of interviewees across the three fieldwork sites (Enfield, Leeds and Suffolk). These meetings have also really helped us maintain a sense of coherence across the fieldwork areas, to learn from each other’s experiences and share emerging ideas. We have agreed that asking people to draw a timeline of their history of participation history really helps to focus the interview and to make connections between different periods of someone’s life.
I have been surprised and touched by the time and effort that people have made to meet with me and tell me their story, and pleased that most participants have been positive about the experience. Some encounters have been very moving, as people share personal reasons for their participation (or why they have stopped participating, either now or in the past). The fascinating conversations I’ve been having with people are making me think not only about participation from the perspective of the Pathways research but also from a more personal level about my own participation and history of involvement – something I hadn’t banked on!