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Over the next week or two I am going to publish my qualitative model of how perception and contact within the psyche work. I am going to use only common sense, non-technical language, so you should be able to recognise your own processes within the model. If you read on you’ll see why London’s Tube Map appears as our image.

To orient the model in a way that explains what is so crucial about our qualitative style, I am going to frame the model inside an important question: ‘how do you actually get to know someone?’ You cannot work with people in-depth unless you get to know them.

We all have many relationships and many different levels of relationship too. We live in a community or neighbourhood, but we don’t know everyone there equally. We have people who are strangers, people who we recognise but don’t really know, some who we know a bit about, others who we know well and relatively few who we know intimately. This is the expected relational geography of a community.

Another interesting thing is that because someone is close to us in biological terms, a family member for example, that is no guarantee that we know them intimately. Some of us are quite distant from family. Also, although rare, we occasionally have an intimate connection with a stranger. Patricia Highsmith’s brilliant ‘Strangers on A Train’ is built around that idea.

This is because to know someone, there are a set of rules and principles that take us to different levels of knowing or intimacy. My model and the qualitative process that flows from it, will help you explore these different levels in your own work.

I have designed this particularly with online quallies in mind, because I have become fascinated by the challenge posed by the question: ‘how do you get to know someone intimately when you have never met them?’ And, following up, ‘how can you ensure that some members of your online research community engage at an in-depth level?’

If we return to our idea of relational geography above, if you know the history of the Tube map, you know that this method of drawing abstracted London, and abandoned certain kinds of complexities of geography, in order to express more simple ideas about how stations were positioned in relation to each other and how different places within the system were interconnected. It also creates families of stops, in this case demarked by the different lines and you can see meeting points where different ‘families’ contact each other.

My model of the psyche also contains different families and ‘lines’ to extend the metaphor. I have categorised them using the ordinary language that we ourselves use to describe mental events and processes: thus you will find emotions, beliefs, character and identity as elements in the model.

Going back to online research, it is clear that right from the start within any community there will be different levels of relationship. Also, that these levels can be understood and worked with in a way that invites people into a deeper level of relationship if we – and they – so wish.

We’re going to start this journey together by looking at things from our beginnings, our infancy.

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As a psychologist, psychotherapist and research practitioner of 40 years, I've had the benefit of the experiences of more than 100,000 people around the world. They've talked about their daily lives, hopes, fears, ambitions and needs. These experiences have helped me to contribute to innovations from Beds in Business and the Fast Track for airlines to television drama and online communities. Specialties:Large groups, facilitation, application of psychological theories to commercial issues