“Methodologies frame how we produce knowledge.” Guest post by Carol Krawczyk

Photo by Carol Krawczyk

Today’s guest blog post is by Carol Krawczyk, a landscape architect whom I first met at the 2010 ASLA Healthcare and Therapeutic Design Professional Practice Network tour of restorative landscapes in Washington, D.C. We have been corresponding ever since, and Carol has become an active member of the TLN groups on Linked In and Facebook, as well as the new TLN “Autism and Special Needs” subgroup on Linked In. Her insights about research, especially research methodologies, are important in this field, where we are placing more and more value on evidence-based design (EBD). Carol’s doctoral work focuses on environments for children with autism. If this is an area of interest, please join our Linked In group, and stay tuned for a page devoted to this topic on the TLN website. Many thanks, Carol!

Methodologies frame how we produce knowledge
By Carol Krawczyk, ASLA

Naomi Sachs and I began corresponding through this blog regarding the topic of research methodologies. Naomi had summarized an article on gardens and walkways about people who lived in senior assisted living facilities (ALFs). The author had observed seniors in two ALFs and had interviewed staff and therapists at these facilities in order to recommend important landscape design suggestions. I commented that while this research was important, it was still deficient because we –the readers, researchers and practitioners who would use this information – did not know why the senior citizens made decisions regarding which pathways to take, which seats to sit on, what views they particularly enjoyed, etc. So, at Naomi’s request, I’ll describe some of the research methods I like to use and the reasons why.

I’ve been a landscape architect for almost 30 years, steeped more in practice than in research. When I was teaching at the University of Delaware, I started investigating whether the physical environment affected the way children behaved in nature by observing them in nature camps. My moment of understanding came when I asked the counselor about a particular place where the children seemed to be on their best behavior. She responded, with an odd smile in her eyes, “You know, more than one of the children had asked me ‘You do know the way out of these woods, don’t you?’ ”

This episode changed my approach. I realized I needed to learn more about research methods, for one, so I applied to the Environmental Psychology doctoral program at the City University of New York Graduate Center. I wanted to learn not only how people interacted with nature, but why.

While quantitative research methods are traditionally used to test hypotheses, qualitative methods are excellent for raising issues in untested areas. The latter involves working with people through interviews or focus groups to learn about the range of issues. From this we can develop hypotheses that can be tested through surveys, observations, more interviews, or a combination of these techniques. There is now more focus on mixed methods research that pulls together both the informative qualities of qualitative research and outcome-reinforcing quantitative methods. The following are some methodologies – mixed methods or qualitative — that produce effective results.

Photo by Carol Krawczyk

One of my favorite methodologies is Participatory Action Research (PAR). The “subjects” are the researchers. They usually represent a group that’s relatively unknown or who has had no “voice” of their own. Rather than have someone else interpret their experience, however, the group uses PAR as a process, a journey towards effecting change. The members of the group create their agenda for action and set their research goals and objectives. Those of us with more research experience are the facilitators. This process has been effectively used by youth in areas that affect school, design of childrens’ environments, government, community and social justice decisions. Caitlin Cahill, Patsy Eubanks Owens, Michelle Fine, Nancy Rottle, and Julie Johnson have published good examples of such research (see references below for suggested readings).

While I think PAR is the way to develop thoughtful, productive and meaningful research, it may not be the best methodology involving people who are not able or interested in doing research. One of my choices is to use the Go-Along Interview (Carpiano, 2008; Kusenbach, 2003; Moore, 1986; and Hart, 1979) which places the researcher into the world of the person being interviewed. It’s most fun when the person being interviewed leads the way and invites you to experience things the way they do. With regular interviews (usually performed indoors at a table and chairs) answers to questions about outdoor places tend to be vague. Anupama Nallari, a doctoral student at the CUNY Graduate Center, told us that when she interviewed children in the CUNY preschool about outdoor places, the children had trouble answering the questions and frequently responded by talking about things in the classroom that had nothing to do with the outdoors. The beauty of the go-along interview puts the child in the environment and enables you to learn about both at the same time! When interviewed outdoors, children can respond to questions by pointing, talking, or taking your hand and leading you into the “story” they want to tell you. The environment provides its own description.

A project I’ve been working on – The Engagement Zone – is based upon methods employed in post-occupancy evaluations. This involves observing how children interact with various types of environments — from aquariums to gardens, to museums, to playgrounds to zoos – then asking the children what places and activities were most and least enjoyable and their reasons why. I document the environment through photographs and videos which show where the people (especially the children) are located within the environment. From these images, I create behavioral maps that show where children are located and what they’re doing.  I also measure the environment to find out what works and what doesn’t. I see great value in using the methodology of post-occupancy evaluation (POE) for both an evaluation (for the owners/users and designers) and also as a way to showcase the strengths of built projects.

In my doctoral research on environments for autistic children, I am attempting to create a database of built projects (schools, living facilities as well as outdoor environments) that can be analyzed using post-occupancy evaluations and the results used as good case studies for designers. If you have worked on such a project and would like it to be part of this database, please contact me at cakrawczyk@verizon.net. Thank you!


Cahill, Caitlin. www.fed-up-honeys.org.

Carpiano, R. M. (2009). “Come take a walk with me: The “Go-Along” interview as a novel method for studying the implications of place for health and well-being.” Health and Place, 15: 263-272.

Fine, M.; Torre, M. E.; Boudin, K.; Bowen, I.; Clark, J.; Hylton, D.; Missy; Rivera, M.;Roberts, R.A.; Smart, P.; & Upegui, D. (2001). “Participatory Action Research: From within and beyond prison bars,”in Camic, P.,Rhodes, J.E., & Yardley, L. (Eds.), Qualitative Research in Psychology: Expanding Perspectives in Methodology and Design. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Hart, R. (1979). Children’s Experience of Place. NY: Irvington Publishers, Inc.

Kusenbach, M. (2003). “Street phenomenology: The go-along as ethnographic research tool.” Ethnography, 4: 455-485.

Moore, R. C. (1986). Childhood’s Domain: Play and Place in Child Development. London: Croom Helm.

Owens, Patsy Eubanks. http://lda.ucdavis.edu/people/websites/owens/PEOwens%20-%20CV.pdf

Rottle, Nancy and Julie Johnson (2007). “Youth Design Participation to Support Ecological Literacy:  Reflections on Charrettes for an Outdoor Learning Laboratory.”  Special issue: Pushing the boundaries: Critical perspectives on child and youth participation. Children, Youth and Environments 17(2). http://www.colorado.edu/journals/cye/.