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For any question about method, here’s what I suggest. Tell them your methods are based in the best and established theories and techniques for investigating subjective experience – whether it is of people, brands, products, experiences or advertising.

What are those methods?

Principally, they are the Phenomenological Method and Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis [IPA]. In this post we’ll tackle the Phenomenological thingy.

The Phenomenological Method

Based on the work of Edmund Husserl, the guy in the picture: there are three steps:

1. Bracket your assumptions: the Rule of Epoché

  • We do this so that we can focus on the primacy and immediacy of our experience,
    without bias. The rule of epoché translates as ‘open-mindedness’.
  • How do I use it? Before I start any project, I explore my mind & emotions for what is in
    there about the topic/field/area/brand. I set this as an internal inquiry & wait for things
    to pop up over time. There are always a number of preferences, biases, generalisations or distortions already inside me.
  • Things that I usually find are: judgments about users, stereotypes or projections,
    assumptions and prejudices. I now have an early warning system to inform me of my
    biases! These are the first data in my enquiry and I must be prepared to put them to one side.

2. The Rule of Description

  • Here the maxim is ‘describe don’t explain’ your data should be in the form of
    answers to a question like ‘what happened?’
    Key prompts include: What Happened? How did you? Tell me about…
    Key techniques include: automatic writing, storytelling, completing the past.
  • We are aiming to let people tell their story their own way, in their own words. That
    means that what matters to them forms the framework & detail of their account.
  • We may then think about their accounts in terms of the thoughts and feelings we might feel if we were to have a similar experience (we will cover this more under Interpretive
    Phenomenological Analysis or IPA in Methods 2).

3. The Rule of Horizontality & Verticality

  • these simply refer to looking across the data and looking into it in depth. A great researcher is sure to do both!
  • Horizontality: You are putting together a jigsaw. At the start you have no idea of
    which are key pieces or how they fit together. Resist creating hierarchies of importance
    at this stage. This is the starting activity of Grounded Theory where we arrange the data
    in a matrix and look across it for correspondences, links, connections, contradictions
  • Verticality: now that you have all your pieces, use thinking and motivational models to
    choose those of interest and apply vertical tools to them: (laddering, early experiences,
    key examples from life of choices and decisions and how they worked)
    This is where IPA (Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis) comes in. Here we are
    looking down inside ourselves to explore how we would think, feel, act if we were
    subject to the circumstances described by our respondents.

Finally, its worth remembering that in historical terms the phenomenological method is new-born. We are talking about 100 years since its discovery and that is a short time for a philosophical principle to make its way into everyday society. Many are still struggling with the Socratic method, two thousand years after the death of Socrates & his biographer, Plato.