Earlier this year, we were delighted to welcome Neil Abercrombie to the OPENspace team for a three-month placement on current project, Mobility, Mood and Place (MMP). Since then, Neil has completed an MSc in Social Research at the University of Edinburgh with a dissertation based on the work he did for us. Neil’s role was to analyse the qualitative data collected from 19 older adults during walking interviews in environments of their own choosing. In this guest blog, he reflects on his time on the project and what he’s learned from the experience…
The towpath along the Union Canal in Edinburgh – one of the routes chosen by an older walker
I came to this placement with an interest in understanding different social behaviours and the reasons behind them. The prospect of researching the activities of older adults was intriguing, especially considering that encouraging older adults to walk is an increasingly important issue for maintaining good health within ageing populations.
I was excited to work with data being used in a genuine research project with potential implications for others in the future. I have performed my own personal research projects in the past, but felt that I could learn a lot more from working within a research group.
Immersing myself in data
My main role involved analysing the content produced during 19 qualitative walking interviews with older people. I read through interview transcripts for each walk, while also looking through the photos taken and listening to the audio recordings. My plan was to immerse myself in the data created. This proved particularly useful in a few instances, as I could hear or see things mentioned during interviews which I might not have understood quite so well just by reading the transcripts.
Working with several different forms of data addressing the same content was a new experience for me. While it was challenging at first, being faced with a large database, I slowly worked through it. As a result, I came upon a wealth of findings for my dissertation.
What I uncovered about older adults and walking
I found some key points about the way that older adults plan and enjoy their walks. When picking walks to go on, older adults appreciated familiarity in their findings, and selected areas where they are familiar with the history of the area, or the people living in it, or had personal connections through their memories. However, they also appreciated seeing variety in the same areas they walk though, such as changes in the weather, meeting different people on walks, or just to walk a slightly different route to reach the same places over time.
In terms of opinions, older adults enjoyed walking through more natural environments, as this helped them to relax and get the most enjoyment from the walk. Even when near an urban environment, being able to sense nature – for example, seeing plants, hearing birds or feeling comfortable ground under one’s feet – was enough to enjoy a walking route. The biggest disruptions were damage to the land, cars, and inconsiderate behaviours of other users, such as cyclists who rode too fast and too close to walkers that they stressed them with the possibility of being hit.
In analysing these results, findings can be placed on a hierarchy of what influences walking decisions more strongly. Issues such as accessibility and safety were clearly more important in findings than other factors such as comfort. This is because individuals would avoid specific areas if they could not get to them, or did not feel safe in them, but would still walk through some areas even if they complained about them being uncomfortable.
This is an updated version of Affonso Zuin’s (2005) hierarchy*, which has been given support through the results of the study. Findings such as these show that some issues of walking should be addressed over others, to encourage as many adults to take up walking as possible.
Working as part of a team
I am grateful for the experience gained from my time at OPENspace where, in addition to analysing data, I was given the opportunity to sit in on, and present my work at, an MMP Advisory Group Meeting. Additionally, I designed a poster on my work for a conference within the University’s School of Social and Political Science (SSPS).
On a more personal note, working fixed hours has given me a sense of structure. Having previously been used to the student lifestyle of working alone, and whenever I can, I have had to coordinate myself to complete work alongside others, such as by being prepared to show correspondents what I have done. I believe that these challenges, although not directly connected to the finished dissertation, have given me plenty of new experiences to draw upon in later life.
I would like to extend thanks to the members of OPENspace for welcoming me into their workspace for the last few months, giving me this opportunity to grow as an individual and help them with their research in return. Working around established researchers has been an insightful experience, and has pushed me to continually work harder than I have done before. This has challenged me in many unexpected ways, through data analysis, project writing, and planning, but I feel more prepared for the next stage of my life, whatever that may be.
* Zuin, Affonzo M. 2005. ‘To Walk or Not to Walk?: The Hierarchy of Walking Needs.’ Environment and Behavior. 37(6). pp. 808-836.
OPENspace would like to thank Neil for his excellent work during his time with us and congratulate him on winning first place for the poster he presented on his contribution to MMP at the SSPS conference. We wish him well for the future.
If you would like to find out more about Mobility, Mood and Place (MMP), please join us for our fourth international conference in October 2016 when we will be sharing emerging findings from the research alongside a range of keynotes and papers.
> Find out more about our fourth international conference on the MMP website