Sudau Manuel Matthias: testimony from a speaker of the Q conference 2021 in Orlando

“I studied economic geography and social sciences and since 2015 I am a lecturer, research assistant and PhD student at the chair PLUS, at the Institute of Spatial and Landscape Development at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. I teach in the fields of spatial planning, environmental planning, GIS, site and project development, in various interdisciplinary project works and I supervise BSc and MSc theses. As a teaching specialist, I am also responsible for the coordination and development of the teaching activities at our chair and support the development of the study programs Spatial Engineering (BSc) and Spatial Development and Infrastructure Systems (MSc) at our department. Besides, I am working on my dissertation about acceptance of spatial planning policies for the management of soil resources, which I have almost finished. Engaging in teaching and teaching development is of particular interest to me, as I believe it is especially important to educate young and talented researchers so that we can join forces and tackle our global challenges posed by the changing climate.”

Sudau Manuel Matthias, a PhD student, lecturer and research assistant at the Institute of Spatial and Landscape Development at ETH in Zurich, Switzerland, applied Q methodology to investigate and characterize the subjective rationales for the acceptance or rejection of different spatial planning instruments*. He proved that although Q methodology naturally shows its strength in small P-sets, it can also be very efficient on large P-sets. In this interview, he explains his choice of the method, share his feelings about his experience with the method and the Q conference 2021.

How did you get started on your first Q study ?

Together with my colleagues Dr. Enrico Celio and Prof. Dr. Adrienne Grêt-Regamey, we were looking for a method to investigate and characterize the subjective rationales for the acceptance or rejection of different spatial planning instruments among the broad population of our case study area. Since interviews or quantitative surveys were not perfectly suited for this purpose for a variety of reasons, we broadly searched for other methods and quickly came across the work of William Stephenson, Steven Brown, Thomas Webler and Aiora Zabala. We learned the method on the basis of the manifold Q-methodology literature, and in the course of this we also came into contact with Maximilian Held, who helped us with the implementation via the qmethod package for R. In addition, the constructive discussions on the Q-methodology listserv were extremely helpful for some more specific challenges.

What did you enjoy the most in doing Q? What was the most challenging?

“The data evaluation and interpretation was particularly exciting. The idealized Q-sorts of the identified Q-factors allowed us to gain a new perspective on the relevance of different arguments for the acceptability of spatial planning instruments. In retrospect, I think the exploratory design of our Q-study, which consisted of an online survey and “classic” face-to-face interviews, was really exciting as well. We discussed the social perspectives identified in the online survey with participants in our interviews and were able to identify significant differences in the way our study participants reasoned depending on whether they conducted the Q-sorting procedure anonymously or face-to-face. The sheer size of our Q-study as well as its complexity (we analyzed several subsamples) also posed a great challenge, which we could only master with a lot of care and effort.”

In the study you presented in Orlando, you had a big p-sample that you broke down into subgroups, anything you’d like to share about having big p-sets vs small?

“Although Q-methodology naturally shows its strength in small P-sets, there are also some examples of large P-sets, which encouraged us to try this as well. By subsampling, we wanted to safeguard ourselves on the one hand (in case our large P-set would be a problem, we would still have the “normal-sized” samples as well as the more “classical” face-to-face interviews), and on the other hand we had to design a compact online survey so that the willingness to participate (of the broad population and on a rather specific topic) would be as high as possible. In the end, however, we obtained exciting results with the large P-set, which we could only strengthen and even further diversify in our subsamples. We could also think of it the other way around, that we combined several “normal” Q studies into one large P-set. This allowed us to be more responsible with our own researcher subjectivity. Reflecting on our results from the online survey with the interview participants also allowed us to gain further insights. Ultimately, however, there are surely other ways to deal responsibly and self-critically with one’s own subjectivity when evaluating a Q-study (e.g., with regard to the determination of the number of Q-factors).”

In the study you presented in Orlando, you also showed the relevance of theory in light of your q-sample, which was some nice work you did. Care to explain?

“Thank you. We assigned each statement of our Q-set to an acceptance factor derived from the literature. In interpreting our Q-factors, we were also able to identify differences in the importance of individual arguments within an acceptance factor through this assignment. In addition, this “categorization” of the statements of a Q-set also offers advantages when visualizing the results of a Q-study. Especially as newcomers in the Q-community, it was sometimes a bit difficult to comprehend and understand the tables and figures of other Q-studies. It would be quite exciting, for example, to see new and experimental representations of the characteristics of Q-factors in the future, of course, as an additional alternative to the inevitable tables.”

Would you recommend the conference to people new to Q and why?

“During our research with Q-methodology we have found the Q-community to be super helpful, welcoming and friendly, especially through the listserv. The fact that every concern, no matter how small, is always addressed with great sympathy and solved constructively and together, was not only helpful but also motivating. With my participation in the Q-conference 2022 I wanted to “give something back” to this great community and I was of course also curious to meet these inspiring and visionary scientists personally. My expectations were exceeded by far, because the atmosphere on site was simply incredible! All participants had a lot of time, there were countless exciting discussions and it was extremely inspiring to get to know the diverse areas of application of the method. I also enjoyed the fact that an equitable exchange was possible, from students to established professors and across countless research disciplines. I hope I will be able to attend again next year and look forward to seeing familiar and new faces!”

*Manuel Sudau, Enrico Celio & Adrienne Grêt-Regamey (2022) Application of Q-methodology for identifying factors of acceptance of spatial planning instruments, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, DOI: 10.1080/09640568.2022.2043259

Wassim Simouri : first experience with Q methodology

Passionate about all things digital, I am a final-year student at Grenoble Ecole de Management with experience in eCommerce, UX, and IT project management in the food and energy industries. I aspire to work in the management of emerging technologies in the future.

Wassim Simouri, a final-year student at Grenoble Ecole de Management, applied Q methodology to the research question of his dissertation thesis. It was his first experience with the method. In this interview, he explains his choice of the method, share his feelings about this experience and gives advice to other students who would like to use it.

What prompted you to use Q methodology in your thesis?
“Q method is simple, time-saving, and can be entirely done online. Besides, Q was relevant to my research question. I needed a qualitative approach and Q goes even beyond that because it combines at the same time qualitative approach and statistical data analysis. Q method enabled the examination of all perspectives around my research question which, I believe, could have been more difficult if I used another method. Some of my peers who thing to use interviews collected very little data in much more time.”

What did you enjoy most about applying the Q methodology?
“What I liked most about the Q method is its simplicity. The steps to follow are clear which makes your research more time efficient. As a working student, this method made me save time, especially for the data collection which was entirely done online while I was studying or working.

What was the most complicated for you?
“Q is an underused method. Consequently, the courses that we were given did not include any information about it. So, with the help of my tutor, I had to discover a new method, and this also implies reading papers that explains or uses the Q method. There are numerous peer-reviewed papers available that a student can use to discover the method. Then, once understood, the steps are easy to follow.”

In the end, what was the advantage of using this method for your dissertation thesis?
“For me, the main benefit of using the Q method is to produce research that stands out from the rest. Q is still underused in technology research and other fields. If relevant to your research, using Q will enable you to benefit from all the advantages cited before (simplicity, time-saving, collecting data online, combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches) while generating an original study that meets all requirements of research.”

What would you advise students who want to try Q method?
“I invite students to read papers using or explaining the Q method to fully understand its advantages and limitations. If Q is relevant to their research question, they should not hesitate to go for it because it is a simple method that allows them to examine all viewpoints concerning a given problem. They should also not hesitate to communicate with their tutor if he or she is familiar with the methodology. Otherwise, there are videos and papers explaining step-by-step how to do a Q-study.”