Walking Interviews as Research Method - All that you Need to Know

ARL International ARL International
published on 24/02/2022

by May East

“History begins at ground level, with footsteps” Michel de Certeau

Walking interviews are interviews conducted on the move.  They involve a ‘trialogue’ between a researcher, one or more participants and the place they traverse.  Walking and talking as a qualitative research method has deep roots in ethnography, anthropology, and geography, with researchers walking alongside participants to observe and experience their everyday practices. 

Shared Space
Shared Space

Safety Audits Utilising Walking as a Method

In the beginning of 1990’s, a version of walking interviews was developed by the Metropolitan Toronto Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children’s (METRAC) in Canada, as a tool for preventing urban violence as well as increasing women’s involvement in city governance.  In a shape of safety audit, women walk through the spaces that they use observing and identifying factors such as inadequate or absent lighting or signage, disheartening graffiti messages, frightening passageways or overgrown bushes which make them feel unsafe.  Walks sometimes take place with city officials, and a report is presented on completion to those responsible for safety in the city.  From this point, it is hoped that the changes recommended are implemented and insecure areas become safer places to everyone in the community.  The METRAC approach has since been broadened into a general tool to enable decisionmakers to gain ‘user knowledge’ about the city, and vice versa, for residents to pass their experiences on to the people in charge of urban design.

Tunnel Wester Hailes
Tunnel Wester Hailes

What if Women Designed the City?

My PhD explores how innovative ways of mapping both the presence and the agency of contemporary women in cities may support the emergence of emancipatory placemaking perspectives and previously unrecorded narratives. 

From June to November 2021, I conducted 275 walking interviews with women in three Scottish cities: Perth, Edinburgh (Portobello and Wester Hailes) Glasgow (Drumchapel and Yorkhill & Kelvingrove).  

I developed a ‘What if Women Design the City’ regenerative framework to gain a deeper understanding on their interdependent experience of sense of place, green spaces, active travel, and safety. 

The walking interviews were participant driven: that is, participants selected the geographical location and the route for the interview.  Some participants prepared in advance, while others took a stroll and made decisions on site. Women were notified that they were regarded as expert guides and the route they choose would enable the research to access their experiences and knowledge about the specific area. In the process of engaging with gatekeepers (essential mediators for accessing participants) and participants, I created 3 Principles and 1 Ground Rule for Walking Interviews.

Read the key elements to prepare for walking interviews as a research method through this link: https://www.mayeast.co.uk/blog/walking-interviews-all-you-need-to-know

Walking Interviews Perth
Walking Interviews Perth