Step by Step Research

Alan Dix

Computational Foundry, Swansea University, UK

Chapter in Into the Wild: Beyond the Design Research Lab , Editors: Alan Chamberlain and Andy Crabtree, Springer 2019.

draft chapter (PDF, 225K, v3 Nov 2017, first version Aug 2014)

Research in the Wild, a well-trodden phrase in the literature, but how wild is wild?  Walking the streets of one of the most deprived areas in the country, or gazing out to sea, from an 'unspoilt' valley that, beneath the greenery, is pockmarked with 19th century mine workings.  If the way is well signed (according to the tourist literature), does that make it no better than a controlled lab experiment, a repeatable journey.  And 'research' is maybe no less problematic.  If a researcher walks one thousand miles does that make it research in the same way that an artist piling bricks makes it art?

This chapter describes a three and half month journey by foot around the periphery of Wales, which takes in the most downtrodden and industrially derelict areas of the country as well as gentrified 'regenerated' waterfronts; oil refineries, and picture postcard 'destinations'.  It is a story that is as challenging methodologically as it is physically and mentally; low on systematicity, high on subjectivity, more about uncovering questions than finding answers.

The questions raised are as varied as the landscape.  What makes one post-industrial community fail whilst another retains its heart?  Why does software cope so badly with poor connectivity, making already difficult situations worse?  Above all, is there a future for the margins beyond depopulation, retirement coast, or theme park?

Keywords: research in the wild, walking, human-computer interaction, HCI.



Figure 4. Spheres of social connections and technology use.

Alan Dix 15/7/2017