OPUS Listening Post Methodology

Listening Post is a psycho-social research tool that seeks to surface the dominant assumptions framing participants’ understanding of how an organisation or system functions: the implicit, unquestioned rules that participants feel expected to follow without necessarily knowing why.

OPUS Listening Postmethodology has been used for over 40 years as a tool for understanding social dynamics and as a bellwether of societal change. It searches for traces of ‘large group’ (in this case, the Further Education Sector) culture, dynamics and discourse within the contributions of a small group of representatives, seeing beyond the specifics of individual contributions to the underlying themes and patterns that are symptoms of broader influences.

Listening Post draws upon two types of source data: conversational speech and associative (verbal, visual, musical) imagery:

  • For 30 minutes, a group of between 3 and 10 participants sitting in a circle discuss with each other their experiences – in this case, of working and/or learning in their roles within the Further Education sector.
  • This conversation is unstructured and unfacilitated (except to keep participants on task).
  • A second group of approximately the same number of participants ‘witnesses’ the conversation from an outer circle (without joining in the conversation), and notes down whatever verbal, visual or other associations they have to the matters being discussed.
  • The groups then swap places and roles. The process is repeated for a further 30 minutes.
  • There is a further period of 30 minutes in which the two groups come together to identify and develop any emerging themes and patterns

The discussion is recorded (audio only) in order to produce a transcript of exactly what is said. The recording is not retained. Participants’ identities and identifying details are not revealed. All participants attend as representatives of the sector rather than in an individual or organizational capacity.

Listening Post is not an empirical process. It explores possible meaning emerging from unconscious group dynamics. This has value in providing a basis for links and connections to be made between otherwise unconnected organizational dynamics and in validating and explaining ‘hypotheses’ about the psychological drivers underlying group actions or decisions.

The data collected is inherently subjective, reflecting individual personal experience:

  • first, the preoccupations of individual participants as they subjectively experience them and choose to recount them;
  • second, the subjective experience of witnesses as they listen to participant accounts and form their own subjective associations;
  • third, the identification by the researchers of themes and patterns emerging from the data they have captured and
  • fourth, the formulation of hypotheses to account for them.