Research can begin at any number of starting points - through a review of academic literature where some identified gap in knowledge initiates an investigation. Alternatively, studies are often instigated on the basis of a 'hunch' or because of the ready availability of funding for some particular research or other. The starting point for this research was my membership of a particular men's group some three years prior to the initiation of the current research PhD project. Therefore, in September 2007 I joined a men's group as it was being set up by a contemporary of mine and I was a full and active member of this group until June 2014. Joining this group was in no way connected with research. In September 2006 - coincidently - I had embarked on a four year Psychology degree course, with one element of the course a requirement to conduct an individual piece of research on some 'real world' situation. This research was required of the final year and so, because of my interest in men's groups and men's issues - and because of my 'access' to this group and its participants, during the 2009-2010 academic year, I conduced research with 'my' men's group. That research was brief, somewhat incoherent and consequently didn't achieve a whole lot but what it did do was act as a 'taster' or 'pilot' for this project. Consequently, the first step of this current PhD research was my joining a men's group and the second step was involving this particular men's group in research while an undergraduate psychology student at Trinity College, Dublin. (see my Final Year Project 'Poster' from 2010 where a link between that research and the current PhD endeavour, is clearly anticipated and articulated.)
As I came towards the end of my undergraduate degree, I was 'preparing the ground' for a PhD. Some elements of this preparation I was familiar with - such as endeavouring to secure PhD 'supervision' and seeking funding - but others I was not. As a PhD constitues a significant research study - at least relative to undergraduate research - I felt that I needed to involve more than a single men's group in an anticipated larger study. However, at this point I was unaware of any men's groups beyond the one I was a member of. Consequently, a further element in 'preparing the ground' for my study included an investigation and identification of other men's groups with an emphasis on groups that would be broadly similar to the previous one that I had investigated and hoped also to involve in my PhD. Therefore, upon completion of my undergraduate degree in June 2010, I searched for and investigated a large number of men's groups. This search continued until February 2011, by which time I had discovered three additional men's groups that I believed were sufficiently alike that they could combine to form a largely coherent and unitary research focus. (note: in fact, as an 'organic', 'continuously evolving' project, the search for - and investigation of - further men's groups continued past 2011 and in fact continues to the present day. Further evloution of the research focus resulted in the introduction of a fifth men's group firmly into the research by February 2014.)
Both my academic education and experience of a men's group taught me the value of 'bottom-up' and 'grounded' routes to knowledge (these concepts will be outlined and discussed in the 'Blueprints' section of this site but they are essentially a focus on 'what is', rather than 'what ought to be') and therefore a third componant of investigating 'the lie of the land' surrounding a potential PhD project was an investigation of what exists 'on the ground' in respect of men's groups and the kinds of issues that they may be concerned with. As such, from June 2010, I made a concerted effort to discover - and investigate - anything that was in existence, within the island of Ireland, that may be associated in some way with men's groups and men's health and wellbeing. This was a comprehensive investigation that involved internet and library searches, discussions with men's groups members and attendence at 'men's' conferences and other events. There was also a significant serendipitious element to this search that is not easily explained here, (however, two examples of such 'serendipity' are outlined at the bottom of this page) and so the overall description of this element of 'studying the lie of the land' is simply this: Whatever 'came across my desk', or was picked up by my 'antenna' - that I perceived was in any way related to men's groups and men's wellbeing - I investigated it. If it was a men's group, I would speak to members and in many cases join and attend meetings. If it was a conference, I would attend to see if I could learn anything and if it was a workshop I would participate. Throughout all these endeaours I made a substantial effort to make connections and to build relationships and I also committed myself to discussing and explaining my proposed research.
In addition to these elements of 'discovering and immersing myself in the landscape surrounding men's groups', another element was integral to this and subsequent phases of the research and is one that is inextricably intertwined with the idea of 'bottom-up' and 'grounded' research. This is the idea of actively helping and supporting the men's groups at the centre of this research and actively helping and supporting their members. This was done to the best of my ability and to the maximum allowed by the meagre resources associated with this study. In addtion to this work, a strong effort at identifying, connecting with and supporting potential recruits to men's groups was enacted.
As I say, it would be difficult to explain everything that was done and everything that was achieved as a result of these endeavours - and any attempt to do so would be tiresome and tedious to read - but the following page documents some of the main componants of this work achieved to date. To convey its relationship with the overall research - throught its construction metaphor - this page is entitled 'Getting a Sense and Feel for the Lie of the Land and Breaking New Ground'
The final significant strand of 'discovering and understanding the lie of the land surrounding this project' was directed at relevant literature. As a communal and cooperative enterprise, psychologists and other scientists are duty bound to ground what they do in established wisdom. In effect, what this means is that researchers justify what they do - and why they do it - by quoting or referencing evidence contained within the body of knowledge, otherwise known as the published (and sometimes unpublished) academic literature. Because of the sheer volume of such literature and the various and sometimes competing disciplines, sub-disciplines and paradigms that produce this literature, evidencing 'the literature' is not as straightforward as it might be made out to be and as it happens, the role of 'the literature' in this research has been a bone of contention from the very start of this research, and continues to be. As such the final word on 'the literature' has yet to be written.
For now however, let me just say that 'the literature' and understanding its role in research is hugely important within research. It is important for qualified researchers but possibly more so for 'apprentice' researchers claiming to do 'grounded' work. As such I have approached 'the literature' in a cautious manner and so far at least, on an 'as needs' basis. Consequently I refer to the literature - or particular elements within 'the literature' as they are required (or as I perceive that they are required). Therefore at the 'lie of the land' stage of this research, the relevant literature identified and consulted with was the research and methodology literature. This can be understood as 'basic' literature that explains what research is: it goes into the many types of possible research approaches, paradigms, methods, 'tools' etc. but also illuminates the important and often obscure ideas and assumptions within social science and psychological research, some of which contradict each other but all impacting on the finished product. If we think of research as a construction - which I do - with a foundation, 'underpinning ideas' and an outcome that may have the power to impact on people’s lives - my approach as an apprentice researcher is that a solid and sound understanding of this 'basic literature' is essential. Thus the research and methodology literature was reviewed to a substantial degree and a sound understanding was achieved. There may be limited scope to display this knowledge within the research - and this website - but it is hoped that readers will get some sense of this basic work when they read the pages on this website. In addition to this however, the 'Community Based' nature of this research and general drive to make this research as 'real' and tangible as possible will allow the research to 'speak for itself' in terms of grounding in basic research principles and sound research practice.
To read about the next stage of the research - established subsequent to gaining an understanding of 'the lie of the land' - please go to 'The Blueprints'
Two examples of serendipity: In September 2010 - five months before I officially began my PhD - my intending PhD supervisor, Dr. Rosaleen McElvaney - sent me an email about the upcoming launch of the Irish Men's Sheds Association. I had never heard of 'men's sheds' but after reading the blurb of the event, I concluded that the concept was connected with - or at least related to - the concept of men's groups that I was so interested in. Therefore I decided to attend the event which was held in Gorey. This launch - and the lunch provided - enabled me to learn a lot about the men's shed movement both in Ireland and Australia where it originated. It also provided me with the opportunity to meet some men who were involved in a range of work related in various ways to men's groups and men's sheds. One of these men was Joe Murdiff and as Joe was traveling back to Dublin by public transport, I offered him a lift in my car and during the course of a two hour journey back to Dublin, I discovered that Joe had a vast amount of experience of men's groups and the work they are concerned with. One thing that I learned was that Joe was involved in founding a men's group - 'Men Alone in No-man's Land' (MAIN) - that was based in Hill Street in the centre of Dublin. Coincidently - and conveniently - this venue was approximately 150 meters from my intended academic base - Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) - in Mountjoy Suare. I subsequently joined this group which went on to become a 'partner' in this research and one of the men's groups that constituted the core focus of this research at its inception. Another important outcome of this serendipitious encounter was learning that MAIN had a pre-existing relationship with academia, through DIT's Students Learning With Communities (SLWC) iniative. This relationship - and my subsequent participation in it through MAIN - cemented my prior interest in 'Community-based Learning' and 'Commuity-based Research' leading to these research concepts being implemented more vigourously into this research than perhaps would have been the case if I had not bumped into Joe and discovered SLWC. I was supsequently invited to become a board member of SLWC - which I accepted - and remain as one today
In early 2014, while scrolling through some facebook sites - loyalist ones (don't ask!) - I saw a post giving details about a men's health evening to be held in East Belfast in the coming weeks. Because I was committed to checking out all such events on the island, I messaged the organiser to see if attendance was open to those from the 'south of Ireland' and whether or not Catholics would be welcome (I'm sure I said 'taigs'!). He answered in the affirmative and so on the 22nd January 2014, I got a bus up to Belfast City Centre and walked to the Newtownards Road area where the evening event was to be held. This was an interesting event, where a range of presentations were made and where I got to meet some significant - (and not so significant!) - men in the area of men's health and wellbeing, such as Glen Poole. During the event, I was sitting beside and got talking to a man named Gary Smyth, who, upon learning of my walking from the City Centre, insisted on driving me back to the bus terminus in Belfast after the event. While waiting for my bus we had time for a coffee and chat at a local cafe where I learned about Gary's work with 'ManMatters' in the north of Ireland and he learned about my work and research with men's groups in 'the south'. Two weeks later, I received an email from Garry saying that he had discussed my research with his boss in ManMatters, whereupon his boss, Diarmuid, felt that he would like to extend an invitation to me to present my work in an upcoming international conference they were organising. I was delighted to accept this invitation and duly presented my research at their conference held in the historic Crumlin Road Gaol, now, a newly renovated conference centre. An addtional benefit of this serendipitious encounter was my invitation and attendence at a pre-conference dinner, where I got the opportunity to discuss my research and related interests, with amongst others, Professor Barry Golding (founder of the Men's Sheds movement in Australia and important mentor to the setting up and running of the Irish Men's Sheds Association) and Dr. Noel Richardson, the author of the Irish Men's Health Policy - and significant actor within Irish men's health and wellbeing, policy and practice.