Methodological Plan vs Pandemic Reality

Well, a lot has happened since I first wrote a piece of temporal data and longitudinal research for this blog in November 2018! Read more about the changes I had to make to my plans due to the pandemic.

Well, a lot has happened since I first wrote a piece of temporal data and longitudinal research for this blog in November 2018!

At the time, I planned to write some updates on my progress along the way. My research is with asylum-seeking and refugee mothers, focusing on their learning experiences in Wales. My original plan was to try to generate some temporal data, through three phases of interviews (research conversations) and creative methods. My first phase went well. I successfully interviewed 24 women across Wales, 18 of whom did drawings to represent their experiences. I started my second phase in early 2020 and re-interviewed 6 of those women, all of whom did drawings. Then the UK went into lockdown! The global Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns in the UK mean that, like so many PhD researchers, I had to re-plan my project. Adapting and mitigating (as the UKRI asked us to do) while also crisis schooling my children felt like fire-fighting – it often felt like fighting a blazing inferno with a water pistol! However, I am now in the ‘writing up’ stage of my PhD and can reflect a little on how my methods changed and whether I captured that temporal data I wanted.

I chose not to continue with my phase two interviews in the spring and early summer of 2020. Although remote interviewing was promoted by my university as the primary way to adapt interview-based data generation, I felt it was not an ethical option for me. Most of ‘my’ mothers had experienced trauma and now faced exacerbated issues of digital poverty, language barriers and home-schooling/entertaining young children. Internet-based calls were not possible with some of the women, initially, and telephone calls could accentuate any communication difficulties, especially with children needing attention. Additionally, I had conducted my face-to-face interviews in spaces that were familiar to the women and where they had support. Asking mothers to potentially re-tell traumatic stories when they were so isolated during such difficult times did not seem at all ethical. In fact, asking for any continued assistance with my project straight away did not seem ethical. So, I waited a little while and re-focused the analysis of my existing data.

In the meantime, I maintained simple human contact with my participants. I had been communicating with my participants between interviews through email and WhatsApp messages. This was to maintain relationships for the duration of the project and part of my overall feminist and decolonial approach (working together with my participants, rather than appearing to get information before disappearing again). I also simply got on well with some of them! So, it was a natural step for me to exchange messages discussing how we were doing, during the first UK lockdown. During those exchanges some of the women asked me about my PhD progress and I was then able to comfortably ask about their continued participation. I still did not conduct remote interviews but instead requested photographs, with descriptions. I decided to be led by my participants giving them options and letting them choose. As time progressed, I did conduct one remote interview, at the woman’s request and two more women volunteered to participate and chose to do remote interviews too.

The data I had generated for my research therefore reflected two distinct phases, rather than the three I had originally planned; there were pre and post-the March 2020 lockdown. The first phase generated primarily linguistic data with some visual data and the second resulted in primarily visual with some linguistic data. I thought I might have to drop my plans to include temporality (that was not based on the pandemic.) However, as I analysed my data, I was able to find some clear temporal elements that were not just demarked by the pandemic. Some of the women had received Home Office decisions during the time I had got to know them. The impact of those decisions was reflected in the data generated, particularly the images. For example, women who gained refugee status between our first and second interview drew second pictures reflecting more positivity and hope than their first ones. In other stories, I found clear effects of living in limbo with no positive asylum outcome while in others I was able to see the progression with English, work, and life in general that came for those living with refugee status for a while. That temporal data was not generated in the linear and sequential method that I had planned (and perhaps it never would have been). My methods, my data, and my analysis were messier than I’d hoped at the outset; yet they reflected the messiness of qualitative data and the challenges of continuing a research project that changed, forcibly and abruptly with the arrival of Covid-19.

Author: Laura Shobiye

Laura Shobiye is an ESRC-funded PhD student at Cardiff University's School of Social Sciences. Her research explores the role of education for adult forced migrants in Wales, particularly for parents.