From interviews to conversations

Trialling a community estuary monitoring kit. Waikouaiti, NZ.

Trialling a community estuary monitoring kit. Waikouaiti, NZ.

If ‘inter’ means ‘between’ then hopefully a good interview is more than just taking information and then departing.

There’s a great poem by Bill Manhire (the title eludes me) that sticks in my mind because it’s so unashamedly one-way: a travelling poet leaves behind a series of corpses, each coldly excavated to feed the poet’s creativity. So while the technical term for my research method may be semi-structured interviews, conversations around a series of themes better describes what takes place – that way it’s a bit more two-way.

To date, community group members and their supporters, i.e. a scattering of scientists with a social bent; Regional Council and Department of Conservation staff have shared their views and experiences. Rather than be limited to prescribed questions (and miss some potentially important avenue of exploration), these initial conversations have functioned as pilots.

Between community groups and their supporters, there are four main roles around environmental monitoring data: facilitators of data collection; collectors of data in the field; analysers and end-users of data, and importantly, those who communicate what the data means.

With supporters, the conversations have wound around their views on data collected by community groups (concerns around data quality often arise), and how community data could be more widely used for environmental reporting. With a backdrop of government agency restructuring (really just a euphemism for funding cuts) it makes sense that greater weight is given to data provided by others. It also fits in with the spirit of partnership increasingly put forward by government agencies as the means to plugging gaps in resourcing. For community groups, it’s about the logistics of monitoring. The latter raises questions on how data are used, and invariably the challenges of sustaining monitoring programmes.

The foundation of these diverse conversations, is science. It provides the evidence on which to base the decisions that shape our environment.

I opt for recording then transcribing via notes and relevant quotes. This time around, the process of interviewing is both more sedate and controlled: people’s offices; kitchen tables; the occasional café. Earlier interviews with farmers on their home turf meant absorbing a ton of aural variables into the microphone: small children; a bracing southerly and once, a mean-looking tom that grunted rather than purred. The process though, was highly enjoyable and the results, well, gappy to downright crappy. The process this time is as enjoyable as ever and with results requiring a lot less memory (and imagination) to transcribe.

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