Empowering Social Research Methods

This unit main goal is to introduce the main elements of social research and engage students with activities that would help them understand in-depth its implications.

Main Goals

This unit main goal is to introduce the main elements of social research and engage students with activities that would help them understand in-depth its implications. More specifically, the goals would help students to: 

  • Distinguish quantitative research types and techniques
  • Adopt a social and empathetic lens to research methodologies 
  • Experiment with social research techniques 
  • Dive into participatory action research methods
  • Get empowered and empower the local community to resolve issues of their interest 

Learning Objectives

This chapter will help you to: 

  • Collect qualitative case-based information on social or environmental setting ethically 
  • Get empowered to perform a qualitative interview
  • Understand how to empower research participants for societal or environmental change 
  • Experiment with data collection 
  • Cultivate active listening 
  • Be able to adopt change of personal perspectives in research

Contextualizing Social Research


  • Think about the following questions & write down your thoughts on your notebook: 

What if we the way that I am defining green campus isn’t how you are imagining a green campus? 

What if we all see different levels of greening an institution, but we all refer to them as “green campus”? 

  • Discussion 

So, what’s your thoughts? 

Why do you think social research is needed? 

Aim: to transform questions and ideas, or hypothesis, into new knowledge, as it yields valuable information that could expand our understanding.

Roadmap of Social Research

Participatory action research (PAR) is a subcategory of community-based action research in which takes place a constant collaboration, in all steps of the process, between study participants and research team, making them co-researchers

  • Key elements of the participatory action research: 
  • It is the most common type of research for involving ordinary people, a community etc., in the development of research that concerns them. 
  • Emphasizes the democratization of the research.
  • Examines power relations and the dynamics of social structures, raising awareness on matters of social injustice(s). 
  • Engages participants into action, that helps them to achieve social, and environmental goals. 
  • Assumes that political knowledge emerges from the participation in research. 

For the purposes of the SOHACK project, the focus is given on applied research approach, and more specifically on action research. Action researchers mostly are impassioned with a specific issue, which in the case of SOHACK Project that is the university campus. Thus, a committed young social researcher applying action research, would have the opportunity to advance their knowledge and create opportunities for social & environmental changes in their campus, while they are involving the university community in the process. 

Research tools in PAR 

There are plenty of research tools that you can use for the purposes of PAR. Here, we present four useful methods, as inspired by Hall et. al. (IDCR-Canada). 

  • Mapping [resource use, physical features, political boundaries, rights of social groups, resource access over time etc.]
  • Timelines [timeline is helpful visual tool that can help participants and researchers to build their narration skills and build their own account of their history] 
  • Key actor analysis [using Venn diagrams, actor tables, etc.] 
  • Visioning [an exercise to collectively construct a future scenario // visioning needs the above tools to be constructed]

Freire’s collaborative action research 

“True knowledge, emerges only through restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful, critical inquiry with other people about their relations to the world.” – Freire, P.

Figure 3. Visual representation of generative themes in the book Pedagogy of the OppressedSource: Steve Whitla, “Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed: A visual summary (2017)


Paulo Freire was a revolutionary Brazilian educator, whose ideas have influenced many other academic disciplines and he has been ever since an inspiration across the globe. 


Pedagogy of the oppressed (or pedagogy of hope), as the work of Freire named, emphasizes on the critical and intersectional pedagogy that promotes critical thinking, dialogue, reflection and action among educators and students, so that both can unravel the internalizes power of oppressors, and to understand how to move towards their emancipation from it. 


Generative themes are cultural or political topics of great concern and importance to participants, from which discussion can be generated. Those themes could alternatively be seen as codification, represented with symbolism, either linguistic (word or phrase) or visual (picture, sketch, photo). 



Concentric circles 




Short activity - CODING 

Collaborative mind mapping [canva template] 


  • Choose one of the themes
  • Brainstorm, add your codes (either words or sketches) and create your own mind map. 
  • Explain your thinking within your group.


Place (natural and cultural ecosystem) / Water efficiency / Energy efficiency / Health & Happiness / 

Efficient materials / Equity / Beauty (Aesthetics) 

Short activity 

Take some time to read the case study and discuss critically in groups of 4-5 students. You don’t need to develop a transdisciplinary study in this stage, only discuss the potential within your group. 

Transdisciplinary Case Study Transylvania

Now you can use the following questions and reply either on your notebook, or use them in the discussion: 

  • Do you feel that is easy to coordinate with many different disciplines and people? 
  • Are the different stakeholders involved in all the different phases of the project? 
  • Can you see the importance of transdisciplinary for the purposes of your course?

Data collection techniques 


Interviewing or Survey, is the most common methodology to follow both for Quantitative and Qualitative Research. 

Interview methods in research:

Interviewing methods

Ethical foundations in social research

Concerning the participation of persons in the process of research, especially if that is taking the form of a participatory action research, the researcher needs to develop ethical dimensions.

General ethics principles 

  • Respect for persons 
  • Beneficence 
  • Justice 

Towards participatory ethics 

  • Representation 
  • Accountability
  • Social Responsiveness 
  • Agency 
  • Reflexivity 

ACTIVITIES - “Stepping into … the research zone”

Introduction/ Summary

The activity section is named “stepping into the research zone” as they are going to outline a research and implement their steps.  

Ice-breaking activity 

Let’s start with a small self-evaluation activity 


  • Take out your phones and scan the QR code
  • Take notes
  • Ask questions 
  • Divide into teams 

In-class activity: Framing interview questions


  • Divide into groups of 4-5 members 
  • Work with the mindmaps (generated during the previous activity) 
  • Formulate a few questions 
  • Interview one of your peers
  • Feedback circle 

feedback circle

  • “How was the process?”
  • “What needs to be added or removed?” 
  • “Were the questions clear enough for the interviewee?” 

Share a few tips on your talking techniques. 

Homework activity: Research planning


  • Review the tools of Participatory Action Research method, and decide which one would fit for your purpose 
  • Search online more information about the methods to understand them deeper (desk research)
  • Prepare a short presentation of your findings 


Research tools in PAR [slide 7] 

  • Mapping 
  • Timelines
  • Key actor analysis 
  • Visioning 

In-class activity: Presenting / Self-evaluation



  • Prepare a short presentation [5 minutes long], on the findings of your desk research. 
  • Present to your peers your homework, based on your desk research findings


  • Discussion on the effectiveness & use of the different tools. 

Further Reading

Academic Articles

Participatory Action Research toolkit
(click here)

Freire, Paulo: Education, practice of freedom:
(click here)

The city that we want: Generative Themes, Constructionist Technologies, and School/Social Change


Seaspiracy” – watch the trailer:

Insightful Videos 

  1. Watch Sociology Research Methods: crash course sociology #4 [10:10’]
  2. Watch Types of case study: Part 1 of 3 on Case Studies [18:58’]

  3. Watch The transdisciplinary Approach [03:50’]

  4. Watch Problem framing in transdisciplinary research (Christian Pohl) [ [05:30]


Darder, A. (2002). Reinventing Paulo Freire. Boulder, Co: Westview Press.

Freire, P. (1978). Pedagogy in Process: The Letters to Guinea-Bisseau. New York: Seabury.

Freire, P.(1988). "The Adult Literacy Process as Cultural Action for Freedom and Education and Conscientizacao."In Perspectives on Literacy, ed. Eugene R. Kintgen, Barry M. Kroll, and Mike Rose, pp. 398–409. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. 

Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of hope. Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed. BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC PLC

Hall, et. al. A toolkit for Participatory Action Research. 

Huberman, M. & Miles, M.B. (Eds.) (2002). The Qualitative Researcher’s Companion. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 410 pages, ISBN 0761911901

Newman W.L. (2014). Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Pearson New International Edition. Pearson Education Limited 

Scholz, R. W. (2006). Transdisciplinary case studies as a means of sustainability learning. Historical framework and theory. International Journal of Sustainability. Vol. 7, No. 3. Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Wallace W. (1971). The Logic of Science in Sociology. Chicago: Aldine-Atherton

Witla, S. (2017). Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed: A visual summary. meaning guide: ideas for creating shared meaning. Retrieved by:
Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed: A visual summary • Meaning Guide in June, 2023. 

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