Central Park, Plymouth

Recording your thoughts in a reflective diary can be a useful way to record your own observations and note significant things before you forget them. It can also be a way to reflect on the research process e.g. noting bias or issues with gathering data and thinking about whether the research methods are appropriate and useful. You could use your reflective diary to record patterns in behaviour that you notice or questions that you would like to follow-up with participants.

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?
Reflective diaries and discussions None Approximately 30 mins each session (depending on how much depth you go in to). This is best done immediately after your session. (If typed directly onto a computer it can immediately be used at the analysis stage)  Slow: requires looking through diaries or listening to audio (quicker if the diary was typed directly on to a computer as can copy and paste evidence) written diary: researchers who can’t read/write - audio recording: researchers who aren’t verbal communicators Yes Yes Not for activity participants
 Suitable for:

  • all researchers as based on researcher observation and experience
  • this can be less intrusive than some other methods so may work well when you don’t want the research to dominate.

What information is collected?

  • the researcher’s opinions, thoughts and feelings as well as observations of participant behaviour and emotions
  • it is a way for the researcher’s ideas about what they think is happening, to be represented directly in the research (remember to be upfront about this bias)
  • if there is more than one session leader you could have a reflective discussion – where you talk about what you think has been significant
  • reflective diaries can be a useful and extensive sources of evidence if you are finding it difficult to gather direct or in depth feedback or comments from the individuals in the group
  • if carefully structured, a reflective diary can ensure that you think about the activities, place and people and how they relate during each session
  • you can compare and contrast your own thoughts with the evidence you have gathered using other research methods
  • this method works well in terms of analysing data as you can record observations that may not be verbally articulated by participants themselves.

How is information collected?

  • written notes – either in a notebook (or to save time later on, on a computer)
  • audio recording – you could record a train of thought on an audio recorder or your phone (if it has this function).

Watch out for:

  • research bias – as session leader you will have your own agenda and priorities. You may have clear aims about what you want to achieve in terms of wellbeing during your sessions but this may or may not actually happen
  • think carefully about what you think is significant and why you think that
  • if you are having a discussion you may be easily swayed by each other or one person may dominate the discussion
  • your diary or discussion is based on your memory of what happened during a session which adds another layer of bias
  • your reflection may focus on participants that were engaged in an activity and miss those who were in the background/weren’t actively engaged
  • you may be more likely to remember a few larger incidents than many small ones or general background activity
  • you could give yourself a diary/discussion structure that relates to the wellbeing indicators and helps you to think through different aspects of the activity – but remember to think about negative instances as well as positive ones.


Reflective diary

Materials needed: audio recorder and/or pen and paper.

Method: this is best done immediately after your woodland session has finished. You could sit and write a stream of consciousness, record your thoughts on an audio recorder (e.g. if you have one on your phone) or video yourself talking.

Adaptations: it may help you to have a structure or list of questions to ask yourself that relate directly to the research focus. You could add pictures or other evidence gathered to use as prompts (however be aware of the bias in doing this – it may lead you to remember only the things that you took pictures of rather than other aspects of the session). Everyone in the group could write a personal reflective diary each session (leaders, researchers and participants).

Reflective discussion

Materials needed: audio recorder and/or pen and paper.

Method: this can work if you share the session leadership role or if you are researching but not leading a group, talking to the session leader may give you a different perspective. You could record an unstructured chat about the session or use prompts to help you to focus on the wellbeing aspects of the sessions.

Adaptations: you could write a personal diary as well as having a post-session discussion with a colleague. However it might be a good idea to write your personal diary first so that the discussion doesn’t influence this.