Making observations

For activity leaders who are also researchers, you will need to strike a balance between gathering data and running the session. You may prefer to nominate a different person to carry out observations.

Research method Preparation time Time to gather data Time to analyse data Not suitable for ... Does data indicate wellbeing? Who, what, where people experience wellbeing? Is it an activity in itself?
Making observations Quick: you may prepare video/audio recorders or print out recording sheets 10 mins – several hours Can be quick if you observe short ‘snap shots’ or can be long if you have recorded a lot of video/audio People who haven’t given consent to photography/video. People who are very self conscious Yes Yes No
 Suitable for:

  • young children
  • people with limited verbal communication
  • people who can’t read or write
  • where you want research to intrude as little as possible
  • when you want to see if there is a change in behaviour over time.

What information is collected?

  • direct quotes from participants
  • video can collect large amount of data on people’s comments, expressions, behaviour
  • can be used to monitor differences over time (sticker sheet)
  • is a useful way of recording how people interact with one another.

How is information collected?

  • written notes of what people say and do
  • photographs of participants and activities
  • videos of specific activities
  • photographs or video taken at a set time (snapshot).

Watch out for:

  • photographs record a set moment, so may be difficult to interpret
  • some people find photography and/or video intrusive and can feel uncomfortable
  • take care to record negative as well as positive comments/interactions
  • video needs a lot of time to analyse afterwards
  • apart from direct quotes, data is interpreted by the observer (watch out for bias).

Method

Photos and/or video

Materials/equipment needed: stills camera or video recorder.

Method: photograph or video your group carrying out various activities during the session. To capture the breadth of evidence try to also record what is going on in between or on the fringes of activities to record who is not as engaged with a set activity and what they are doing, as well as those who are.

Pros and cons: it’s relatively quick to do but can interfere with leading a session if you’re trying to do both. It’s tempting to take lots of photographs and video but the process of analysis is very time-consuming. There can be researcher bias, in that you record what you feel to be significant e.g. only filming when the group are all involved in a positive activity. It is useful as evidence as you are recording what is actually happening rather than what people tell you is happening.

Sticker sheet

Materials/equipment needed: sheet of sticky address labels (as many labels as people in your group), pencil/pen.

Method: write each participant’s name and the date on each label (see our sticker sheet example). During the session record what each participant says or does on the corresponding label – you decide how much to record. Use a new sheet of labels for each session or activity. You can then group together stickers for each participant at the end of research. This is a useful way to see change over time, compare different activities or how each person found the woodland experience.

Adaptation: if you have a number of helpers or researchers, each person can observe certain participants. You could use sticker sheets to record only one element of the research e.g. observing physical wellbeing. You could also ask students to record what they are feeling on their own sticker sheets.

Pros and cons: this method is good for jotting down quick quotes and observations when you haven’t got much time. It allows you to collect data over several sessions and make comparisons between them. Some participants are more talkative or demonstrative than others, so their comments and behaviour might be over-recorded compared to quieter participants. Some participants may want to see what you are writing about them. You will need to decide whether the sticker sheets are open for all to see, whether people can only see their own etc.

Snapshots

Materials/equipment needed: stills camera or video recorder, snapshot form to fill in, pencil/pen.

Method: before your session starts, set a time or times when you will make your observation – for example, once an hour for two minutes. If necessary set a reminder on your watch/phone. At the set time, take a small number of photographs, make written notes or take a short video that records each member of the group and what they are doing.

Adaptations: if you prefer not to use photos/video you can make notes to describe anything you feel is significant, such as the general atmosphere, how noisy or quiet it is, what people were doing on a snapshot form. If you run regular days you might want to change the times of each snapshot, for example to avoid only doing your snapshot during lunch or during particular activities.

Pros and cons: having a set time to record a snapshot frees up the rest of your time to run an activity if you are a session leader. Each person gets recorded, regardless of what they are doing at the time, which helps to prevent bias in choosing when and what to record. You may record activities (or non activity!) that you otherwise would not have considered significant. You may however miss other significant moments.