How to Research | Research Data




‘Data collection’ and ‘data generation’ are sometimes used interchangeably. Both terms refer to the methods that are used to gather data for analysis. However, ‘data collection’ hints that the researcher remains outside the creation of that data – potentially the data might have evolved without the researcher’s presence or involvement. ‘Data generation’ hints that the researcher is either an active participant in the creation of data or they may have arranged a situation in which rich data became available.

At first glance, the researcher’s position as an active participant (or even a research instrument) might suggest that the data produced is potentially too subjective or biased. However, qualitative researchers argue that innovative methods in data generation can evoke rich insights and new ideas which, in turn, could lead to new theories, perspectives or understandings. These new ideas are the seeds from which new products, practices or services could develop.

Innovative methods don’t always require completely new products or practices to work. Sometimes they involve doing familiar activities in different ways. For example, an interview does not have to involve a face-to-face conversation between the researcher and one participant – it could be managed via a videoconferencing platform, via telephone, or as part of a group. The interview doesn’t have to stay still – it could be conducted as a walk-along interview, where the researcher joins the participant as they conduct their daily activities. As an example, walk-along interviews can help researchers to gain insights into the daily lives of their participants and may give them access to a deeper understanding of any conflicting priorities that may impact on the participants’ decisions.

Data generation can also involve getting the participants to make something or bring an artefact that reflects their thoughts, feelings, or experiences with the issue(s) of interest to the researcher. Any artefact that a participant brings with them to an interview might be used as a starting point to enrich the conversation that takes place within the interview. This allows the participant to have more control over how the conversation progresses – because part of the conversation will involve them talking about the meanings they associate with the issue to hand. Using an artefact as a visual prompt for discussion allows both researcher and participant to focus their conversation on the key issues, limiting any time wastage in the process.

The data creations identified in the diagram below represent a small selection of the innovative research methods used in recent research projects.


Some of these creations may be self-explanatory. For example, photos or screenshots could illustrate an important event in the participant’s life, what they are working on at the time of the interview or even where they are standing when a telephone interview takes place. Arts-based creations like clay figurines, LEGO models or drawings can be useful ways of exploring how the participant feels about something or how they connect various aspects of their lives. Clay figurines could represent various elements that impact on their decisions, so the placement of figurines on a table could show how the participant views these issues. Self-portraits (as drawings or models) can be used as a starting point from which to discuss issues of identity. Making clay figurines or LEGO models could be used as part of a group interview, in which participants create a physical representation of a complex idea to explain their views or experiences. Making models in a group setting will also reduce the formality of the interview process, making people more comfortable as they participate.

Stories can be used as artefacts during an innovative interview process. The stories could be provided as a written artefact, with the participant explaining why the story is significant to them and to the issue at the centre of the research. Stories can also be spoken, recorded as a reference, be written by the participant – or collaboratively written with the researcher.  The act of sharing a story – and listening carefully as it is told – can create strong relationships between participant and researcher, allowing the researcher to gain deeper insights into the participant’s thoughts and feelings, enriching the data collected and further reducing the barriers between researcher and participant.

Using innovative research methods can be an exciting aspect of any research project. However, any research methods used need to be appropriate to the project at hand, should generate data that is relevant to the research project and not waste time.  Both the participants and the researchers need a clear understanding of the purpose underlying any research method.  If the research methods make sense to all parties and don’t require a heavy burden of preparation for the participant, then the chosen methods are likely to generate valuable data.


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