Context 155 - July 2018

32 C O N T E X T 1 5 5 : J U L Y 2 0 1 8 ANDREW McCLELLAND Walking the talk through historic places It is easier talking about a place when you experience its sights, sounds and smells: using walking interviews in heritage-focused research is revealing the benefits and weaknesses. Walking tours around historic places are a common practice familiar to conservation pro- fessionals. Perhaps less well known is the use of the walking interview as a method of engag- ing with people’s everyday experiences, uses and interpretations of their local environment, garnering nuanced insights on such concepts as their sense of place. Rather than being passively led, participants can actively shape the walking interview process, with researchers (or heritage professionals) frequently adopting a hands-off policy, preferring to listen, observe and partake in informal, two-way conversations. Thus the walking interview is an ethnographic approach to accessing ‘citizen expertise’ while ‘in place’, and one of a number of public participatory methods readily adaptable to conservation practice. The imperative to develop innovative approaches to public participation in heritage is widely recognised. For Emerick (2017), two areas of conservation practice in need of change concern how practitioners engage with people, and how practitioners think about and see historic places. Qualitative methods such as the walking interview speak to these interrelated challenges, deriving from philosophical tradi- tions and disciplinary backgrounds preoccupied with understanding the complex relationship between people, space and place. There is no singular way of conducting a walking interview. For instance, variants include the ‘bimble’, consisting of a walk with no prede- termined aim or route, previously employed with activists at environmental protest camps; and the ‘go-along’, when participants are accompanied on their daily routine, with the researcher asking focused questions along the way. Among the wide range of methodological choices avail- able are the degree to which the interviewee or interviewer sets the route, and determines the preferred method of documenting the conver- sation, ranging from hand-written field-notes to sophisticated audio-visual recording. The selection clearly depends on the emphasis of the research and prior agreement with the participant. Conservation professionals will intuitively know several of the attributed benefits of the walking interviewmethod.First, it is easier talking about a place when in it. For instance, the sights, sounds and smells of a place provide immediate multisensory stimuli for discussion, prompting memories and recollections, while being on the move helps pinpoint often-unnoticed features in the urban environment. Consequently, they allow the capture of richer place-based data than is typically the case with sedentary methods undertaken internally, including when using photo-elicitation techniques and other visual prompts. Participants are more likely to open up The barrenness of the disused Ebrington Barracks parade ground in 2008