The SRA in Edinburgh


I spent a really lovely few days in Edinburgh recently providing training for The SRA. The courses were Designing Qualitative Research; Qualitative Interviewing; Conducting Focus Groups. All three courses were full up, with waiting lists, and the participants were fantastic – so much expertise and enthusiasm in one room! Some participants attended two or three days so we got to know each other well, and people made new friends. I tried using ‘play dough’ for the first time in the Focus Groups course. I think it went well – we had fun anyway. Participants came up with some interesting interpretations of un/healthy! We also learned that it might be better to get participants to shape their dough in groups rather than on their own, to avoid the pressure to perform, and the silence. It went very quiet while they sculpted seriously.

It is always lovely to have a few days in Edinburgh and meet up with old friends as well.


The British on the Costa del Sol Twenty Years on

I have published two new papers about British in Spain, and they are free to access! Indeed, readers may enjoy the entire special issue, all about British and Swedish living in Spain. Open Access

2017. O’Reilly, K. The British on the Costa Del Sol Twenty Years On: A story of liquids and sediments. Nordic Journal of Migration Research, 7(3), 139–147. Open access 

2017. Olsson, E., & O’Reilly, K. North-Europeans in Spain: Practices of Community in the Context of Migration, Mobility and Transnationalism. Nordic Journal of Migration Research, 7(3), 133–138. Open access


The Brexit Brits Abroad Project Web site is up and running

What does Brexit mean for the 1.2 million British citizens living in the EU27? 

BrExpats: freedom of movement, citizenship and Brexit in the Lives of Britons resident in the EU27  is an innovative sociological study  that questions what Brexit means for Britons resident in other European Union member states. Working closely with Britons living across the EU27, It keeps a finger on the pulse of how they experience Brexit and its impacts on their lives as it unfolds.

Have a look at the web site to read about our project, our participants, and our plans

How will Brexit affect expats? New study to examine impact of referendum on Brits abroad

A major new study is to examine the impact of Brexit on the lives of the estimated 1.2 million British citizens living in other European Union member states.

I am delighted to be working with Dr Michaela Benson on this prestigious project. BrExpats is one of 25 successful research projects taking place across UK as part of an Economic and Social Research Council’s project entitled The UK in a Changing Europe.

The study incorporates a Europe-wide panel of expert participants and research with Britons living in seven European Union countries, including extensive fieldwork in France and Spain, the two countries hosting the largest British populations in the EU. It will examine whether Brexit is likely to lead to a rise in return migration, and what the consequences of this might be for welfare and healthcare in the UK.

Citizens’ Panels. We will be looking for British living in Europe to be part of our ‘citizens’ panels’ as we proceed through these challenging times and the Brexit negotiations. If you are willing to share your stories, experiences, feelings, doubts, insecurities, and insights, by sending photos, videos, blog posts, short written pieces, or simply talking to us by Skype or email – in response to directives we send out as we go along, then please contact me


Summer Schools in Ethnography

I am teaching Ethnography at two summer schools this year. One at the Essex Summer School. My course is already fully booked but you can still apply to be on the waiting list.

The other is the Swiss Summer School in Social Science Methods, in Lugano, Switzerland. Hurry if you want to apply for this as numbers are limited.

I also teach courses for the SRA on a regular basis and provide bespoke courses in:


Grounded Theory

Designing a Qualitative Study

Focus Groups

Qualitative Interviewing

Ethics, Reflexivity and Validity in Qualitative Research

Creative and Digital Methods (Qualitative)

Designing a Topic Guide

Contact me if you want to know more on k.oreilly(at)

Designing a Qualitative Interview Topic Guide

This week one of the things I have been doing is teaching how to design Topic Guides for Qualitative Interviews. I prefer to think of them as Discussion Guides, as this gives a better sense of their purpose. Also, I am not particularly keen on the structured/semi-structured/unstructured typology many people use. It is more of a continuum in practice: most questions will be fairly open-ended (tell me about your life as a …) but there may be some closed questions you need to ask (do you have health insurance? How many children have you got?).

I found it useful to distinguish three types of interview

  • investigative interviews (what is actually going on: key areas to be covered, likely to be more semi-structured)
  • exploratory interviews (what is it like to be in a situation, why do people behave as they do: some key areas to be covered but lots of contextual detail captured as well, could be semi-structured or more in-depth)
  • narrative interviews (what is the person’s own story: minimum interruption, in-depth)

I was inspired by this post from Jess Schoeman, who uses a series of metaphors to think through the role of the interviewer and the interactions involved in the research process.

Investigative Interviews: The Miner

Schoeman reminds us of Kvale and Brinkman’s (2009) use of the miner and traveller metaphor. The miner, they argue, is the researcher who is looking for nuggets of truth, for the nitty gritty detail of ‘real’ lives as lived. It seems to me some investigative style interviews are like this. You can see it in some evaluation studies, assessments, and policy research, and also in some academic research. It has its uses as an approach but it is not usually informed by interpretive approaches, phenomenology or hermeneutics. Qualitative researchers should ask themselves what is the purpose of the interview. Is it an investigation or an exploration.


Exploratory Interviews: The Traveller

Kvale and Brinkman suggest qualitative interviews should be more of a ‘travelling together’ with interview partners, where in partnership, or in a conversation, themes, ideas, experiences and thoughts are explored and discovered. I think exploratory interviews are more like this, a traveling together. I woud guess the vast majority of qualitative interviews are exploratory in nature.


Narrative interviews: Dropping a pebble in a stream.

Narrative interviews (or narrative aspects of a qualitative interview) are more akin to what Schoeman describes poetically as dropping a pebble in a stream. Here an idea or a thought is simply dropped into the conversation and the interviewer quietly and patiently watches (and hears) where it goes. This style of interviews works well for placing experiences, thoughts and feelings in the context of a life (and perhaps a culture).

I commend Jess Schoeman’s piece. It is a good read. All the images I have used here are from her blog post.



Kvale, S. and Brinkman, S.  (2009)  InterViews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Schoeman, Jess (2014).