Written by: Kirsten Williams Edited By: Anna Wohlrab and Gioel Gioacchino

Coding is the process of categorizing and making sense of your research data.

This exercise will help interpret your data through movement and images – watch what else comes out when you embody your codes…

Our experience using this technique:

The inspiration for this exercise came about in the middle of a workshop with Hector Aristizabal – a theatre practitioner working with methodologies such as theatre of the oppressed, theatre of witness, and rituals, among other things. Movement is a big component of Hector’s work. During the workshop we played with creating images and shapes with our body, alone and with others, while moving through the space. Hector encouraged us to take on different postures and remember the posture so that we could go back to it and create a series. He wanted to encourage us to tap into the language of the body and he referred to each position as a ‘code’ – at this point we thought ‘coding!’. Could embodying research codes help us discover something new?

Since then, we have piloted the exercise to find that coding with our body can be very insightful…

Research and Development:

What are we trying to understand about the community?

We’re trying to understand how people relate to key themes that emerged in the research.

Why is it important for the community’s development?

It is easy to make data collection participatory and engaging. But what happens when a lot of data has been collected and you need to make sense of it? The data analysis phase is more likely to be left in the hands of nerdy researcher(s), that might take the decisions of what is important in the data, and what can be dismissed. This exercise allows the co-researchers to engage with the collected data and to ground it in their embodied experiences. All this in the name of making coding more reflective and insightful.

At what stage(s) of the research cycle is this method used?

Data Analysis.


What do I need?

Your data (if available), post-its, a space to move in.

How long does it take?

The time it takes to define research themes might vary depending on the research process. Allocate about one hour and half including debrief and reviewing/modifying the themes for steps 2 to 6.


This activity should take place once you have collected some data, and you are looking to make sense of it. You can do this exercise with the team of co-researchers, or with a group of research stakeholders?, depending on your design.

  1. Themes selection: (Optional step). Make the date you have collected available (e.g. interviews transcripts, workshop notes, etc.) and give participants the time to review the material. Ask them to highlight parts that they find interesting, and come up with a title to write on a post-it that captures the theme of the parts they have highlighted. Following this individual work, ask the group to review all the post-its and agree on 5 to 7 themes that have emerged in the data and that they wish to explore (ideally, the themes should be related to your research question). **Depending on the context and the type of material you make available, this step might take some time. Make sure to make the transcripts anonymous, especially if working with sensitive data.**
  1. Introduce the exercise by explaining that you will be exploring the themes through embodied knowledge: ‘We’ll create codes with our body to capture the data we have collected. Some codes will be represented by individuals, some will be done in pairs, trios, small groups etc.’ Ask if anyone has an issue with making contact with others. If so, they can simply do codes as an individual.
  2. To warm up, you should have the group get used to moving in the space. Ask them to move as different (absurd) characters (a kid superhero, an old witch, a giraffe astronaut). This helps them loosen up and get comfortable.
  3. Once the group is all warmed up, you’ll start introducing the codes. Read out one of the themes and invite people to discover it with their body. Once they have it, ask them to freeze and remember the posture they are making and exactly the spot they are making it in. This is their code 1.  
  4. Continue this process, starting to also introduce themes that can be worked in pairs, groups etc. It might help the facilitator to decide beforehand which themes can be worked as an individual, a pair, a group, etc. Continue reminding the group to remember their spot, position, and partner(s).
  5. After they’ve created a body code for each theme, start cycling through them in different orders. When you call out the code, they should go back to the spot where they created the code, and if they did it with someone they need to resume the same posture.
  6. In your debrief, explore how they experienced embodying some of the themes. Then guide the discussion back to the themes of the research. Do they accurately capture the full breadth of the research? Were there some topic overlooked? Can new themes be introduced or existing themes be modified?

Benefits and Challenges

What are the benefits of using this technique?

This technique allows participants to revise the themes of their research by adding a lens of their embodied knowledge. This way you make sure that data analysis stays grounded as opposed to purely rational.

What are the challenges of using this technique?

Some themes can be hard to capture! The facilitator should review the list of themes beforehand and consider which ones would be better to explore as an individual code and which should be interpreted as a pair or group code.



How to adapt the technique

The process of defining codes can be done at the beginning of the research, or emerge out of the research data itself. Most likely, you will end up with a mix of the two approaches. For this reason, it might be really helpful to do this exercises in different moments of the research process. The exercise should generate different insight in different phases.

Tips and Traps

Remember, a code can be based on Themes, Topics, Ideas, Concepts, Terms, Phrases, Keywords. Be creative with the way you select codes.


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