“What makes the go-along technique unique is that ethnographers are able to observe their informants’ spatial practices in situ while accessing their experiences and interpretations at the same time. … For the purpose of authenticity, it is crucial to conduct what I have previously referred to as ‘natural’ go-alongs. By this I mean go-alongs that follow informants into their familiar environments and track outings they would go on anyway as closely as possible.”

 (Kusenbach 2003, p. 463)

Walking interviews are one type of mobile method used to conduct research with people on the move. Other types of mobile method include:

  • ride-alongs – conducted in cars
  • wheeling interviews – conducted with people who use wheelchairs
  • attaching video cameras (e.g. GoPros) to cyclists and conducting an interview with them after the cycle ride

A common aim of walking interviews is to gain an understanding of people’s relationship to place. By accompanying research participants on their familiar routes, we gain insight into what they do and where, how they feel about place, and how people interact with each other.

Walking interviews are also good for capturing the sensory aspects of people’s lives. During a walk, participants encounter sights, sounds and smells that they might not usually pay much attention to. The researcher can draw the research participant’s attention to these features and ask questions about them.

Walking interviews can be conducted with individuals or groups. Questions can be designed in advance or they can emerge during the walk. Alternatively, the interview can be conducted after the event. Before conducting a walking interview, it is important to tell research participants:

  • why you are conducting this type of interview
  • how the interview will proceed

Research participants can gain a sense of control over the interview situation during a walking interview. The research participant acts as a guide, choosing the route and thereby also directing the topic of conversation. Walking interviews are also characterised by interactive and spontaneous talk.

Data can be collected by recording voice or video, taking photographs or notes during or after the walk. Research participants can also be asked to write about their walking practices in the form of a walking diary. It is worth considering a number of practical issues in advance:

  • How mobile are your research participants?
  • How will the time of day, time of year and weather impact the interview?
  • Quality of recordings. For example, if conducting walking interviews in noisy or windy locations, it might be worth investing in a lapel microphone, perhaps with a windshield

(Author: Vanessa May)

What is it?

Videos:

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Photovoice, go-along interviews, and journaling by Jennifer Felner (2020)

This video offers a lecture that introduces three methods: photovoice, go-along interviews (i.e., walking interviews) and journaling. The section on go-along interviews begins at 11 mins 50s and talks about why a researcher might choose to use this method.

(Academic reference: Felner, J. (2020). Photovoice, go-along interviews, and journaling. Collaboratory for Health Justice, The University of Illinois, Chicago [Video]  YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MC0yIc2Vms)

Reports:

Walking interviews by Penelope Kinney (2017)

In this concise and clear text, Kinney introduces walking interviews and discusses the benefits of using this method.

(Academic reference: Kinney, P. (2017). Walking interviews, Social Research Update, Issue 67. https://sru.soc.surrey.ac.uk/SRU67.pdf)

Articles:

Street phenomenology: The Go-Along as Ethnographic Research Tool by Margarete Kusenbach (2003)

Kusenbach’s article, a must-read for any academic working with walking interviews, introduces walking interviews as a qualitative method and evaluates its strengths and limitations, illustrated with examples from Kusenbach’s study of how urban residents perceive local problems and how these shape their daily activities. Kusenbach proposes that walking interviews are particularly suited to studying the following five themes: environmental perception, spatial practices, biographies, social architecture and social realms.

(Academic reference: Kusenbach, M., (2003). Street phenomenology: The Go-Along as Ethnographic Research Tool. Ethnography, 4: 455–485. https://doi.org/10.1177/146613810343007)

Walking together: understanding young people’s experiences of living in neighbourhoods in transition by Andrew Clark (2017)

In this academic chapter, Clark introduces the use of walking interviews with groups, and describes how he developed and implemented this method in a study of how young people living in deprived urban areas undergoing regeneration experienced their neighbourhoods. The chapter also discusses how taking part in such group walking interviews can help young people understand their neighbourhoods in new ways.

(Academic reference: Clark, A. (2017). Walking together: understanding young people’s experiences of living in neighbourhoods in transition, in Bates, C., Rhys-Taylor, A. (Eds.), Walking through social research. Routledge, London, pp. 87–103.)

How is it done?

Videos:

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Pluralising mobile methods: Researching (im)mobilities with Muslim women in Birmingham, UK by Saskia Warren (2020)

In this presentation, Warren discusses her use of walking interviews in her study that explored Muslim women’s use of public space in Birmingham, UK and argues for the importance of engaging with a wider range of people when using such methods. Warren provides an introduction to mobile methods and to her study, followed by examples from walking interviews with her research participants.

(Academic reference: Warren, S. (2020). Pluralising mobile methods: Researching (im)mobilities with Muslim women in Birmingham, UK. Transport Studies Unit, Oxford University [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiDM-w0km8c])

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How to carry out interviews with vulnerable people on the move by Alastair Roy (2023)

In this video, Alastair Roy is interviewed about doing walking interviews with young men with experiences of homelessness. Roy discusses why such an approach worked well in their study; describes how the interviews were conducted and analysed; and offers practical tips for researchers who are considering doing walking interviews.

(Academic reference: Roy, A. (n.d.). How to carry out interviews with vulnerable people on the move. SoMovED, YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNbz-DKeiNE)

Manuals and Guides:

Place-based interviewing: Creating and conducting walking interviews by Mark Riley and Mark Holton (2016)  

This accessible text discusses two projects that made use of walking interviews to study people’s relationships with place and aims to exemplify the benefits of conducting research on the move. Riley and Holton discuss how to conduct different types of walking interviews and reflect on what this method might add to conventional interview methods, paying particular attention to how the surrounding environment shapes the interview.

(Academic reference: Riley, M. and Holton, M. (2016). Place-based interviewing: Creating and conducting walking interviews. Sage Research Methods Cases Part 1, https://doi.org/10.4135/978144627305015595386)

The walk-along: Eliciting ‘emplaced’ knowledges in Bil’in, a geopolitically contested Palestinian village by Suzanne Hassan Hammad (2014)  

In this clearly written text, Hammad discusses her use of walking interviews to study how the residents of Bil’in, a divided Palestinian village on the West Bank, understood place and resisted occupation. She discusses the added value of using walking interviews and practical issues to be taken into consideration when planning walking interviews, and also evaluates some of the method’s limitations.

(Academic reference: Hammad, S. H. (2014). The walk-along: Eliciting ‘emplaced’ knowledges in Bil’in, a geopolitically contested Palestinian village. Sage Research Methods Cases Part 1, https://doi.org/10.4135/978144627305013509935)

An overview of a mobile focus group method for investigating space and place by Andrew Clark (2018)  

In this case study, Clark introduces walking interviews conducted with groups and discusses why and how he designed this method. The case study introduces step-by-step how the method was implemented in Clark’s study with young people living in deprived neighbourhoods and offers tips on practical issues to take into account when planning a group walking interview.

(Academic reference: Clark, A. (2018). An overview of a mobile focus group method for investigating space and place. Sage Research Methods Cases Part 2, https://doi.org/10.4135/9781526439536)

Websites:

Mobile methods by Kate Moles (2019)
This online text by Moles offers an