September saw another Young Unfocused Group gettogether,
this time in the form of an Improvisation
Workshop led by our guest expert, Andrew Risner. When I
first received the invitation email, I was a little sceptical —
having never heard of such an event before — and the
notion took me back to some of the more obscure
exercises that I endured during my days as a GCSE Drama
student. [On one occasion, I had to prance around in
front of my peers, pretending enthusiastically that I was a
chicken attempting to lay a square egg. The experience
still haunts me.]

But I agreed to tag along, after some gentle persuasion, hoping that the session would provide a fresh perspective on how to go about performing without preparation. Happily, my initial hesitancy was unfounded: the session was both informative and entertaining, involving a range of games and activities underpinned by their application to moderation and other core qualitative research skills.

Andrew kicked off the session with a warm-up game in which we ‘threw’ and ‘caught’ each other’s handclaps across the room. This involved paying close attention to the body language of others, and timing the throw of your clap precisely to correspond with your partner’s catch. A collaborative group dynamic was soon established, and we were then all asked to partner up with a fellow researcher and mirror their body movements (later their speech) in real-time. It was fascinating to see how the process became more and more intuitive as empathy began to develop between the pairs.

The session concluded with each of us contributing a single line to a story around the group circle — the caveat being that each new sentence must begin with “yes, and” (never “but”). While this final game provided some imaginative and bizarre plot twists, it was also indicative of two core premises of the session; the importance of building rather than challenging, and reframing the unexpected as something to be embraced rather than feared.

By the end of the workshop, we had developed a clearer understanding of how these ideas feed directly into our line of work. Moreover, the exercises had tested our ability to think creatively on our feet — a skill that is essential in the often unpredictable field of qualitative research.

Building on the success of the ‘A Quiz R’ pub quiz in April, the workshop demonstrated that the AQR is making a concerted effort to provide innovative ways of supporting young researchers and helping them to get to know each other. The turnout was strong, and it was great to see a number of familiar faces. Many thanks to Andrew for leading the session, to the William IV pub for hosting us, and of course to our Young Unfocused representatives — Tom, Kat and Jen — for organising the whole occasion.