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Creative ways of listening

Community Based Research skills in action. Cinderella Al Homsi and Mustafa Ismail take part in a role play interview.
Sometimes you will want to go deeper with an interview – maybe to encourage people to talk about things that are difficult to remember or express. In these cases, you can use techniques to help them articulate their thoughts. Here Cinderella is using a journey map to record Moustafa’s changing emotions during his daily commute to university in Cairo… Every time I left home, I had to ride a vehicle car called a Tok Tok. The Tok Tok is a small motorcycle. Well! Here, you were happy, satisfied…? No, at all! If I have to say here whether I was happy or sad, I would start from the very bottom of the graph. The drivers of Tok Tok vehicles are not friendly.
So I used to start my journey by riding the Tok Tok for 10 minutes. After that, I would get a microbus. So I can understand that you start your day with sad emotions!? Oh yeah, at all! I was very sad then. Let’s say you continue here with the same level of sadness or….? Well! The Tok Tok part is the worst experience for me over the day, So there’s a bit of improvement afterwards. Yeah! But not a significant one, still not happy! Then, I get on that microbus for half an hour, or even an hour, depending on traffic. So I’ll write down around an hour… Next, I get on the metro/underground. So it’s Tok Tok, microbus and then metro…
I ride on the metro for an hour and half approximately, passing 20 stations. Well! When you arrive at the metro station, would your mood get better then? It’s bound to in daytime. Most of the time, I start my journey from the very early morning when the metro is not that busy. If I get a bit late, it won’t be good at all! Let’s say 8 or 9 … Yeah! I used to start my journey at 7 am when I would be usually able to secure a seat and get happier. Wow! So even in the morning, you were not always sitting in the metro! So, let me note this… when you reach the metro, you become happier and more comfortable …
Exactly! I can draw the graph here upwards to happiness … After that, I get off the metro at the closest station to the university and have a walk for 15 minutes. It again depends on the weather, if it’s sunny, I would be irritated… The sun is quite hot in Cairo…! Yes, exactly! Generally, my mood gets better. I get happier while walking to the university rather than standing in the metro or sitting in the Tok Tok doing nothing. So from your perspective, Mustafa, while you were describing your daily journey, It was at its lowest levels when you ride on the Tok Tok, then it was moving upwards till you reached your university.
You can see how you can use the simple technique of mapping someone’s emotions during their day. And how much detailed data that can give you about their daily experience. In your opinion, do you think that this kind of method – drawing a graph – to determine the happiness level worked well? Definitely! When you asked me, I hadn’t thought of it before . When I first started talking, I felt really sad describing my experience of the Tok Tok but I couldn’t imagine that when I continued talking about my journey that I would end feeling greatly happy. You’re not the only one who learned from this method.
I have also benefited from the experience and that enhanced my positive feelings through your questions. It’s also about your technique of eliciting questions and having a friendly conversation where you identified the milestones to identify my feelings of happiness or sadness at each point. You helped me to express myself exhaustively with comfort. That’s nice to hear! For me, I also enjoyed using this technique and to follow up on your feelings, impressions and opinions through each of the milestones of the different vehicles you used, and at other times where you had a transit-walk between stations. Although using this technique required a good level of concentration and attention to details from my side. So this is a powerful technique.
And like the interview technique, you can easily practice it with a friend or colleague.

This video features Mustafa Ismail, MA student, UCL Institute of Education and Cinderella Al Homsi, research assistant, UCL RELIEF Centre. In the video, Cinderella and Moustafa practice using another interview technique that could help them listen more closely to people’s feelings. We recommend watching the videos with English subtitles as they contain both English and Arabic.

During the interview, Cinderella draws a simple map while Moustafa describes the highs and lows of his commute to university in Cairo. Cinderella asks him to identify three key points during the journey, then asks him to rate how he feels at each point. She uses a simple template that looks like this:

Cinderella uses this template to draw his journey from home to university as a continuous line moving between the happy face and sad face.

The process provides Cinderella with the data that helps her understand Moustafa’s feelings during his journey. Moustafa describes how the image helped him understand his feelings better too. You could use this method of participatory creative production or create your own. You can ask your research participants to create an image themselves, or do it together as in this example.


Create a map of a day’s typical journey with a family member or close friend using the template below – then take a photo of your map and share it on the Journey Map Padlet.

Look through some of the other maps before making your comments below.

Over to you

In the discussion below, consider whether this process helped you to listen more closely to what your participant had to say, or help them say it more clearly.

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