One of the most challenging aspects of qualitative research is ensuring you get a suitable number of participants for your study to represent an appropriate proportion of the overall population related to your subject area.
When I first started looking into research methods for this project, I contemplated use of well-known qualitative research methods: questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, and observations. I quickly determined that response rates for questionnaires is typically low, particularly if questionnaires are posted or emailed to recipients. People often need an incentive to complete a questionnaire and it is easy to ignore something that has been sent to you, as it inevitably gets lost in the sea of information we are all flooded with on a daily basis.
Interviews are more likely to guarantee responses but, given the timescales for my research project, and the sheer number of registered Architects in Wales and the UK, interviewing individual Architects in order to glean feedback to draw some meaningful conclusions for my research would take a significant amount of time.
I therefore decided focus groups would be the best method for me. At these focus groups, I could issue questionnaires that would be collected at the end of the session and record the discussions to gain a greater depth of response, combining two data collection methods with each group of participants. But I know how busy Architects are and the time pressures they face every day in practice and was conscious that I would be asking them to give up their valuable time simply to help me with my studies. So I thought perhaps the best way of engaging with Architects might be to develop a mutually beneficial workshop session, where I could tell them all about Active Buildings, enhancing their knowledge of innovative technologies and sustainable practices to use in the design of buildings, while engaging them in a discussion about my developing design guidance – combining knowledge exchange with data collection. And, it’s no secret that Architects love to talk! They’re also generally not afraid to voice their opinions – so I anticipated that this method would be successful for my work.
All chartered members of the RIBA have to undertake 35 hours of CPD a year, half of which should be structured, in order to maintain their competence and professional standards. Earlier on in my research, I developed a CPD session that I could offer to deliver at Architects offices as a lunchtime seminar, making it as convenient as possible for the Architects. This tactic has been successful – Architects are always keen to learn and like the offer of free learning that doesn’t impact too much on their time. I also realised the need to be flexible to suit their time – one architectural practice, for example, hold regular research sessions on Friday evenings, where they finish work a little earlier, and review a project or watch an architectural film over some drinks and nibbles. They asked if I could host a workshop during one of these sessions, which I agreed to. The relaxed nature of the session meant we had some really meaningful discussions and overall, I felt it was worthwhile for both me and them.
Finding that my strategy to develop workshops for Architects works well, I approached the RSAW (the Welsh branch of the RIBA) at the end of 2018, to discuss the possibility of linking my workshops to their CPD programme. They are always looking for interesting topics to add to their programme, so were keen to include my workshops, offering one in Swansea and one in Cardiff during the Spring of 2019. Interestingly and somewhat disappointingly, there was a fairly low turnout to these sessions, and I believe there could be several reasons for this:
- The sessions were not held in the Architect’s own offices, so meant taking more time out of their day to travel to an external venue.
- The sessions didn’t relate to any legal or compliance knowledge, i.e. the information they would learn in the workshops was not essential to their practice.
- The sessions were perhaps deemed too long, taking up a whole afternoon.
Despite the low attendance last year, the RSAW have asked me to carry out the sessions again in Spring 2020, in Swansea, Cardiff and Llandudno – it will be interesting to see whether numbers have increased since Architects declare Climate and Biodiversity Emergency and hence an increasing pressure on all to help mitigate climate change.
For my final testing stage, I intend to offer CPD sessions at architectural practices again too.
Any Architects interested in signing up to one of my workshops, please get in touch.