Over the last 15 years, I have been involved in a number of different qualitative research studies, some as part of gaining qualifications, others as multidisciplinary teams involving universities, community organisations and local authorities and other agencies.
In November 2019 I received my PhD from the University of Bristol (School for Policy Studies), funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The study – ‘Through conflict to sustainability: engaging with ‘the space between’ entities and individuals working collaboratively in the UK and the Netherlands’ – explores the idea of conflict as normal and a positive route to sustainability and creative collaboration. Its transdisciplinary merging of practice, life experience, the arts and academic theory across several disciplines can be read here. Among the key findings were:
- a reconceptualising of conflict as holding the creative potential to enable collaborative growth and sustainability
- a conceptual focus on ‘the space between’ to illuminate group dynamics and interactions
- engagement with an emergent social science research frame, remaining open to work with whatever appears in an open-ended research space
- the trial of innovative research methodologies, from the visualization of qualitative data to the use of psychodynamic observation of beneath-the-surface undercurrents in group interaction
- a heightened awareness of the importance of nonverbal interaction
- identification of diverse negotiation strategies employed by participants to negotiate conflict points as they arose in the groups.
Qualitative data visualisation
One emergent outcome from the research was an early stage qualitative data visualisation methodology, developed in partnership with data scientist Bobby Stuijfzand and graphic designer Derek Edwards. This innovative attempt to convey flows of human energy in group interaction in visual form has attracted considerable attention, and as a result, we have been awarded two further grants beyond the end of the PhD to develop this work further. The first was seedcorn funding from Bristol University’s Jean Golding Institute which allowed us to create a website for four visualizations, each of five minutes from four different group interactions. The second was a Business Boost grant from the ESRC via Bristol University to explore the potential for using this idea as a facilitation tool in business and community settings.
We are currently exploring the commercial potential for this innovative way of understanding group dynamics.