Towards a Method for Research Interviews using E-Mail

Towards a Method for Research Interviews using E-Mail

Peter Petocz (Macquarie University, Australia), Sue Gordon (The University of Sydney, Australia) and Anna Reid (The University of Sydney, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0074-4.ch005
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Researching people’s ideas and experiences of Urban and Planning Studies can be carried out in a variety of ways, but the most obvious is to ask them. This can be done qualitatively, using semi-structured or unstructured interviews, at an early stage of the research process, when it is important to explore participants’ ideas prior to any quantitative investigation, or for investigations where in-depth and detailed information about individual thinking is important. Face-to-face interviews are a ‘gold standard’ against which other qualitative methods of investigation can be compared. However, contemporary developments in technology provide a wider range of opportunities for qualitative researchers to collect rich data for analysis. Such technologies enable participation from any part of the world at any time, and allow the collection of video material that can capture many aspects of verbal and non-verbal interaction for further analysis. The use of e-mail interviews provides a relatively low-tech methodology for investigations and has advantages over a live interview, on the one hand, and a high-tech video interview, on the other.
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Research approaches in the field of Urban and Planning Studies closely mirror those in the broad field of social research. They often incorporate statistical analyses – particularly for market research projects – but also utilise qualitative approaches, such as interview studies or observations or a combination of different methods, to illuminate different aspects of the problem under investigation. For instance, Popkin, Leventhal, and Weismann (2010) explored the difficulties faced by female adolescents growing up in high-poverty neighbourhoods. They approached their sensitive research topic by the random allocation of families to three different treatment groups. Following the seven-year experimental phase, 1000 families participated in an evaluation process, which incorporated semi-structured interviews with family members and an ethnographic study involving a subset of the families. The research team considered their approach to be ‘family focused’ (p. 724) as it utilised a variety of different methods to build a broad picture of the researched situation. The role of interviews in this study was to add richness to the complex problems involved in urban poverty. Martin (2004) also described a mixed-methods approach to researching neighbourhood activism. In her study, the mix utilised (quantitative) archival analysis of documents and (qualitative) interviews. Her analysis of the documents uncovered two different philosophies surrounding land use, which then led to an appreciation of alternate views obtained by speaking with people. She claims that ‘much of urban politics involves the interactions of these spaces’ (p. 593) acknowledging the complex diversity of views.

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