Blog Post C – Research Methods

Observation was not only crucial throughout our process, but also integral to our creation of the brief. An in-class brainstorming discussion allowed Luca to share his observation that students from his housing block wasted copious amounts of leftover pizza, and from here, our idea began to form. Baker, a professor specialising in information-seeking behaviour, describes observation as “the need to study and understand people within their natural environment.” (Baker 2006) Baker also highlights differentiation between participant observation and non-participant observation. The Qualitative Research Guidelines Project outlines Gold’s 1958 four types of participant observer. (Cohen & Crabtree 2006)

  • The complete participant – takes an insider role, is fully part of the setting and often observes covertly.

  • The participant as observer – the researcher gains access to a setting by virtue of having a natural and non-research reason for being part of the setting.  As observers, they are part of the group being studied. This approach may be common in health care settings where members of the health care team are interested in observing operations in order to understand and improve care processes.

  • The observer as participant – In this role, the researcher or observer has only minimal involvement in the social setting being studied.  There is some connection to the setting but the observer is not naturally and normally part of the social setting.

  • The complete observer – the researcher does not take part in the social setting at all.  An example of complete observation might be watching children play from behind a two-way mirror.

    (Gold 1958)

From these categories, Luca would be considered as a complete participant as a resident of student housing, while the rest of us would be considered observers as participants. I feel having a range of different types of observers was beneficial for our group to establish a comprehensive understanding of the problem.

This leads me to address the “Five Why” research method we used to identify our appropriate point of intervention. Once observation helped us to determine our area of interest, we had to decide what aspect to target specifically. As a start, we created a range of maps. One mapped a student’s journey to and from the supermarket, process of cooking, eating their food. Others involved mapping of stakeholders and all the restaurants, supermarkets, cafes and other places housing students would obtain food that would then be disposed of at UTS. This mapping enabled us to understand the problem in a more comprehensive way, therefore when we attempted the Five Why task, we were able to identify the root cause accurately. Our Five Why diagram consisted of the following points:

Students of UTS housing produce a large amount of organic food waste


They don’t care about their waste disposal


They are uneducated as to the consequences


There is a lack of education or even a system for organic waste disposal within UTS housing


It requires effort and money to implement such systems

This analysis led us to focus on prevention rather than treatment. We felt that preventing excess food wastage via a social and financially favourable method was more appealing to students and would therefore be more effective.   

In Meadow’s article on leverage points, she mentions the power to add, change, evolve or self-organise system structure, and this is where I believe our project intervenes. 

Meadow states “Self-organization means changing any aspect of a system lower on this list — adding completely new physical structures, such as brains or wings or computers — adding new negative or positive loops, or new rules. The ability to self-organize is the strongest form of system resilience. A system that can evolve can survive almost any change, by changing itself.” (Meadows 1999)

Our solution involved changing the student’s ingrained practice around food consumption and disposal through the incentives of community and free food, communicated through the app. I feel that the app is merely a communication tool to which differing messages could be passed on as the system and social context of housing changes.


Brainstorming & problem solving sketchnoting in class.


We used a variety of other methods including surveying, literature reviews, auditing, mapping and futuring to obtain a clear understanding of the problems of organic waste management within UTS student housing. I have outlined a few in-depth, however our solution would not have been realised without a combination of a range of research methods.


Baker, L. 2006, Observation: A Complex Research Method, 171-89, viewed 12 June 2017, <>.

Cohen, D & Crabtree, B. 2006, Qualitative Research Guidelines Project, viewed 12 June 2017, <>

Gold, R. 1958, ‘Roles in sociological field observation’, Social Forces, vol. 36, pp. 213-7.

Meadows, D. 1999, Leverge Points: Places to intervene in a system, <


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