The interview can be designed in an unstructured or semi-structured format (Carpiano, 2009). Although the walking route can be undetermined or decided by the researcher as part of the design (Evans & Jones, 2011), we used the “natural walk-along” (Kusenbach, 2003) technique, in which waste pickers talked to the interviewer while going about their usual walking (and working) route:

“Noi continued to collect waste by removing the waste packed in the black bags and laying them on the floor. Then she used her hands to rummage the waste put on the floor with no fear that something would hurt her hands. Most of the waste that Noi got were plastic bottles and small boxes. But despite the hot weather, Noi continued to tirelessly collect waste. At the same time, the data collector stood and observed Noi’s waste collection with an umbrella.”

— Fieldwork notes

Our aim was to unpack the contributions of informal waste workers (called salengs in Thai) in contributing to a circular economy and understanding the societal, technical, and policy barriers for informal waste pickers who carry out a major role in plastics recycling. As part of this project, we collected survey data with 34 waste-pickers in Bangkok and supplemented this information with a detailed walk-along with ten of them. Our research assistant, Nattakorn, walked with the waste pickers for a duration of about an hour, without asking any pointed interview questions, but walking along and gathering general reflections on the topic of interest.

The method was found to be suitable for a number of reasons. Primarily, while interviewing subjects with mobile occupations, a sit-down interview takes working time away from participants. It is crucial that researchers reduce the cost paid by participants for research participation by design. As street waste workers rummage around streets, public trash bins, and public spaces to find trash, we felt that the walk-along method was less impedimental to their work, as we interviewed them during their work hours.

Read the full article on the LSE Blog .