We want our programmes to help contribute to our mission, so we measure the impact of our work on participants and society at large. We use research techniques to do this, and we think it's important for us to be transparent about the approach we take to research. This page outlines our research philosophy.

Epistemology is the study of ways of knowing. In our research, we need to consider how our approach to knowledge will influence the types of research we choose to undertake. Below is a series of principles that describe our philosophical approach to the knowledge we will gain through this research.[1]

Each of these principles should have an impact on how the research is conducted. Beneath each principle, there is a list of methodological actions that should be taken to put our approach into action. 

Our approach to knowing (epistemology)

Our aim in this research is to be able to understand the meanings and values that people use to interact with their world, so that we can find factors that could enable them to engage more with science and change their relationship with science. Our overall aim is for a cultural shift in which science is more central to society. Any claims about reality are made within a particular cultural discourse and there are many of these operating in the world, each with its own versions of truth. We need to consider how different groups of people conceptualise things and ask questions that make sense to them. 

People’s decisions make sense to them in the context in which they are working, but decisions are affected by a range of factors, some of which are subconscious or unconscious. 

  • We will use ethnographic approaches because of their focus on meaning and context. 
  • We will observe people’s actions as well as asking questions about them, to explore subconscious and unconscious motivations. 
  • We will borrow theoretically from psychosocial approaches that consider social structures and unconscious factors in decision making.

Research cannot escape the values of the researcherso we should explain our values as researchers and as an organisation. We believe that our research should be addressing social injustice and incorporate the needs of participants. 

  • We are led by the values of the BSA and will consider the influence of the BSA’s mission and vision on this work. 
  • We will reflect upon this research as a piece of activism[3]- how it can create change as well as discovering new information. 
  • We will use ideas from action research to create a cycle of feedback between our research and practice. 
  • All BSA staff involved in public engagement or research should read and actively engage with this research philosophy. 
  • We will be aware of the value of our lived experiences but also that they necessarily cannot represent the experiences of others that have similar or different characteristics.

Inviting participants to take part in research has an impact on them and their views. 

  • We will use participatory research methods to ensure that there is chance for participants to feedback on our methods and to help design the research and analyse the data, where appropriate, and to communicate the findings. 
  • We will consider how taking part in research could change the participants’ relationship with science.

Power imbalances shape the relationships between all these factors. 

  • We will analyse the power imbalances of each relationship, including our own with the research participants.
  • We will choose methods that engage people with the research as partners as much as possible. 

We are restricted by practical limits of time and money. 

  • We will consider the budget, deadlines and pressures on participants’ time when designing the research. 

We are not tied to current conceptions of relationships with science. 

  • We will consider the audience model as a simple measurement tool that needs to be replaced with a fully-fledged programme development tool.


[1]Here is more information about epistemology and a quiz to determine your philosophical approach to knowledge.

[2]Traditionally the use of multiple methods is thought of in terms of triangulation: ‘In the B movie, the exact position of the damaged bomber limping back from Germany is always found by triangulation. The direction of its radio signal is assessed by two geographically separated receivers, allowing an exact fix to be made on its position. In the same way, it is thought that the researcher can use discourse collected from different sources to “home in” on the facts of the matter and thus show up some accounts as distorted or rhetorical’ (Potter & Wetherell, 1987, p.63).However, as Potter & Wetherell (1987, p.64) go on to point out, detailed study of data from a range of sources (and re-analysing the same data) or by a range of researchers increases rather than reduces the variability; ‘indeed, in the course of attempting to triangulate the result is more often than not “homing out”, resulting in the proliferation of more and more inconsistent versions’. That is why we speak in terms of generating questions and juxtapositions.

[3]In this we are also borrowing from feminism: ‘In the conventional [epistemological] model, the knower is separable from what is known, and the purpose of knowledge is knowledge. From the feminist perspective, the person who knows, what they know and what is to be known are joined in a nicely heretical confusion ... there is no point in knowledge for its own sake. Knowledge must serve social ends. It must improve the human predicament either directly or indirectly, either concretely or diffusely’ (Oakley, 1993, p.208).