Using Symbolic Modelling as a
Research and Interview Tool
Penny Tompkins and James Lawley
Our aims are fourfold:
- To collect a summary of existing research/interviewing projects that use Symbolic Modelling
- To simulate the Minewater Project research as a context for learning
- To self-model how facilitators use Symbolic Modelling to research/interview
- To document the adjustment to the Clean Language protocols required for research/interviewing
We aim to learn from those who have already used Symbolic Modelling as a research/interviewing tool, and widen our appreciation of the various ways in which we can use Symbolic Modelling.
The following notes are in five parts:
1. Examples of Symbolic Modelling as a Research and Interviewing Tool
2. The Role of Symbolic Modelling in the Minewater Project
3. Learning from Developing Group Day
4. Appendix A: Background to the Minewater Project
5. Appendix B: Proposal - Towards a new mental model for sustainability
1. Examples of Symbolic Modelling as a Research and Interviewing Tool
Below are some of the projects where people have used Symbolic
Modelling and/or Clean Language as a method for conducting research
The common threads among these projects are:
To gather information ‘cleanly’ about the subjective experience of individuals and groups.
In some cases, to pay particular attention to the metaphors and symbolic representations of those interviewed.
To use and publish the information gathered with an intention to
represent 'what is' without an intention to change the minds of the
original interviewees (of course the interviewees may be changed by the
experience, but that is not the intention).
Kath Lowery and Nancy Doyle have identified ways to utilise a Clean
Language approach within qualitative interviews. They are also looking
to progress the potential of Clean Language as a tool to
unbiasedly enrich data within qualitative interviewing. Kath is
currently undertaking a research project to Evaluate the Impact of Home
Treatment for Older People with Mental Health Problems
. The qualitative
arm of the project is to explore the experiences of a range of people -
be it health, social care and service users - as well as close carers
within the home treatment team. The interviews will be analysed both
for their original purpose and with a secondary outcome to assess the
impact of Clean Language.
Martin Snoddon has been using Clean Language
in a variety of situations
through his work as the Centre Director of the Conflict Trauma Resource
Centre in Belfast. Two examples of him using Clean Language as a
research interview tool are:
Research into the experiences of former members of the British
Army. This research included 4 workshops where on each occasion
upwards of 20 participants attended. It also included 12 individual
interviews. During both the workshops and the interviews CLQ’s
(developing and moving time) were used to positive effect both
acknowledging what had been said and to elicit more information. They
also proved extremely useful when identifying the desired outcomes of
the group and for developing a service model. The result was published
as 'Legacy of War: Experiences of Members of the Ulster Defence
Regiment" (CTRC, Nov. 2005)
Current research into the legacy of violent conflict on a small
community in north Belfast. To date there has been one workshop with a
group of women, and two individual interviews with leading male
community activists. I have no doubt that CLQ’s will continue to be a
part of this process as it unfolds over the coming months.
ROLE DEFINITION & SKILL ANALYSIS
James Lawley, Louise Oram and Laura Ewing conducted a study into the role of Clinical Program Directors (CPDs) in
a large pharmaceutical company in 2003. Each CPD headed a multi-national
project team in the development and implementation of a strategic and
operational plan for clinical trials, the approvals process and the
launch of a new drug. The research investigated how
CPDs actually achieve their function and identified the main skill-set
needed to perform the job well. The research involved using Clean
Language as the primary methodology to interview 15 people in three
groups: 4 Vice Presidents, 5 CPDs, and 6 others involved in clinical
development in both the US and UK.
Stefan Ouboter, Phil Swallow and others conducted interviews using Symbolic
Modelling to gather information for a European Union funded project in 2006. Two ex-mining communities (one in Holland and one in Scotland) were selected as pilots to examine the social and economic viability
and environmental effects of extracting geothermal energy from the
water in former mines such that it can be used for district heating and
cooling of residential and commercial areas. The Minewater Project
enable those involved to express their subjective experience so that
these expressions have a place in the communication process and
implementation plan. Symbolic Modelling was used in three ways:
Through interviewing key local people and focusing on their symbols
(both conceptual and physical) a mapping of symbolic landscapes of the
local community can be produced. Similarly the subjective experiences of initiators and managers of the Minewater project can be identified.
By sharing the symbolic landscapes of the local community and
the initiators of the project, they can recognise the
harmonic elements and the tensions in the network of symbols.
By blending the symbolic landscapes and adapting them to the mutual
benefit of all involved parties these can be incorporated into the
communication and implementation plans.
DOCTOR-PATIENT RELATIONSHIP RESEARCH
Wendy Sullivan has modelled clinicians with excellent doctor-patient
relationships. As part of the project she interviewed each doctor and
elicited a metaphor for the way they relate to their patients. When
the clinicians were brought together they were invited to share
metaphors and ‘to try each other’s on for size' and to agree on the
common elements of their metaphors. One senior consulting physician
was so pleased with the aptness of the metaphor that he immediately
introduced it into his training of student
Sally Vanson has used Clean Language in her research to discover the
perceptions of managers who get promoted very quickly to senior
Dee Berridge used Symbolic Modelling (among other modelling
methodologies) to conduct interviews and construct a model of how
public relation consultants gather information from the client, create
solutions, and deliver solutions.
OTHER KINDS OF INTERVIEWS
Clean Language has been used as a recruitment interview method to find
a fit between employers and potential employees by both Louise Oram and
Dan Rundle. Louise has been involved in senior manager recruitment in
the pharmaceutical industry and Dan in the social services sector.
Interviews by Health Workers
James Lawley and Penny Tompkins in 1996 taught nurses how to use Clean Language to interview Multiple Sclerosis patients so that the patients
were able to describe the sometimes bizarre nature of their symptoms
with metaphor. The nurses were surprised at just how relieved the
patients felt when they could explain their symptoms in this way. Some
patients said it was the first time they felt someone had really
understood their illness.
Dr. Sheila Stacey uses patient's metaphors to save time and build
rapport. Sheila waits for a patient to use a metaphor that sums up what
the problem is like for them. She then uses their metaphor as a
shorthand description in future consultations allowing her to make
maximum use of the limited time available. Sheila also uses patients'
metaphors to explain the effects that treatment methods will have on
The South Yorkshire Police Constabulary established a programme for
training 80 of their officers in the specialised interviewing of
vulnerable witnesses. This 2002 programme included training by Caitlin
Walker in how to use Clean Language as a respectful and lawful way to
gather information. www.trainingattention.co.uk
Chuck Holbink teaches Statement Analysis to policemen in the US. He
says that "during interviews interviewers must obtain the 'pure
version'. This means removing the main contaminant, which is the
interviewer. In other words, you want the subject's exact words and you
don't want your words contaminating their statement." Part of his
method is to use Clean Language questions.
Rees in England and Francis Colnot in France have made use of
Clean Language during their interviews as journalists.
Postscript (more resources):