“You can always tell a qualitative researcher, by the fact they reorganise the room as soon as they go in there”

So the other night I went to do groups and I was faced with this…

Yup, that table there’s screwed into the floor.


Now, there are different schools of thought and different personal preferences on how we like to have our room set up as moderators. Some prefer boardroom tables, some prefer couches and low tables, some love a good bean bag.

I like to think I’m pretty adaptable when it comes to the room set up. Couches work well in some cases, sometimes only a table will do. But I cannot think of a time where the u-shape set up works (though, I stand to be corrected).

Room set up does affect the tone and dynamics of your group. As a researcher, you should never be afraid to get in there and change it up. Think about the role the furniture will play in your group. Do you need to establish authority and distance? Then you might want a higher table (e.g. board style or dining room table). Do you need to break down barriers and get closer to your participants – then couches, bean bags and lower tables can help break down those barriers by making the room seem more equal.

If the room’s working against you, think of ways to work around it. Move where you are in the room – standing up can increase the energy in the room but can also help establish your authority if conversations are running away from you. Similarly, sitting in a seat that would traditionally belong to a participant, can make you feel more like part of the team.

But back to my U-Shaped dilemma. It happened that this particular night I had a tonne* and a half of stimulus – A3 boards that I needed to flip through quickly. I needed something to balance them on. There’s also something weird about the participants having a barrier between me and them, but the moderator being exposed in the middle there – I think it’s a weird and unequal dynamic (is that just me?).

Thankfully, I was able to secure a table to stick in the middle of the “U” – to help manage things. Us quallies, we make it work!


* weird fact, did you know that different countries / measurement systems assign different weights to Tons / Tonnes – who knew? Either way – they’re all pretty heavy! read more here

2 thoughts on “Working the room: Making the room set up work for you

Comments are closed.

Additional comments powered byBackType