We finally did it.
For many years I have wanted to fly in a hot air balloon. It is one of those experiences that has always been on ‘my list’. For Christmas a couple of years ago I received vouchers to fly, and through a series of challenges – mostly scheduling – it had been put off. It was never forgotten – just couldn’t make it up the priority list to get it scheduled.
Our first attempt to schedule took some effort, and involved blocking days that would not allow for last minute project work. Nothing would be allowed to sneak in and steal the day away. Sadly, the weather did not work in our favour, and the flight was cancelled because of prevailing winds. We were worried that it would be difficult to reschedule, but on an off chance, we had a Friday morning open up, and there were two places available. We scheduled, and all the random influences worked for us and we had a glorious day (albeit a very early start!).
The experience was really wonderful. We met the pilot and the other passengers around 7am and took part in the unloading and unfolding of the balloon, holding it down as it filled, and getting everything ready for the flight.
It was a fantastic experience. The weather was perfect. The prevailing winds meant that the departure point had to move further east, and therefore much closer to us. The other passengers were friendly and helpful. Virgin Balloon Flights should be commended for offering such a unique and exciting adventure I would highly recommend.
What struck me – as we floated above the beautiful English Countryside from Ipsden to Henley-on-Thames – is the striking parallel of the experience with research.
As you take off in the balloon and reach a certain altitude (apparently about 2,000 feet at the highest point), the landscape seems to flatten. And though the scene is vast and expansive, with a great ‘big picture’ view, the appearance of the rolling hills and the valley was lost as we rose in the area. The flattening changed the perspective considerably. As we looked down, we could see groups of houses and the paths of roads and the clustering of towns and villages – like a 3D, live map – truly a ‘bird’s eye view’. This ‘big picture’ is much like quantitative research. It gives you the lay of the land, and allows for a good understanding of the totality. Though picturesque and remarkable, it literally lacked depth.
Continuing with the idea of the balloon experience as a metaphor for research, the ‘on the ground’ experiences were like qualitative research. When we worked to drag out and unfold the 1 tonne balloon, and our feet slipped on the wet field as we tried to spread out the mammoth fabric, we got a much deeper experience of the specific point in the landscape; of the detail in the ballooning experience. The landing in a rugby pitch was another experience highlighting the depth – the cut grass sticking to my shoes, the team effort to flatten and roll-up the balloon, and even the champagne toast to celebrate the flight.
Though I know that both qualitative and quantitative research has each its own place in understanding, I would typically show much more favour to the qualitative. I thoroughly enjoy the ‘digging in’ and probing to understand the detail of the reasons why. The balloon ‘bird’s eye view’ reminded me of the power and majesty from the expansive understanding from quantitative research, and gave me a renewed appreciation. Who knew that the glorious experience of a hot air balloon flight could help change perspective and challenge my established views?