Yesterday I attended a research event on Creative Research Methods organised by researchers at Birmingham Institute of Art & Design (Birmingham City University) and Communication and Media Research Institute (University of Westminster). I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but knowing some of the people involved, hoped for the best. An early mention of Lego was promising.
Margaret St Creative Methods day

I’m sure there’ll be some feedback and writeup of the day on their site, and there was also some use of the hashtag, but I thought I’d offer some of my personal thoughts.

I was one of a few people coming from BCU’s Media School, and it made me realise the attendees were either arts based researchers, or media and communications. And by the end of the day I was wondering if creative research methods mean different things to those two distinct areas, and whether they should. It seemed that creative research methods for artists can be quite reflexive, and very personalised, often dealing with physical objects. Whereas media might typically be deploying methods more specifically to gather required data, and are more likely to be how about how participants relate to the outside world.

I also take ‘creative’ in the context of research methods to mean unexpected, disruptive, surprising, unsettling and unusual. I think innovation slightly different, but that was another term that came up. I definitely think there is something to be said for taking research participants / subjects slightly out of their comfort zone to produce unexpected and emotional results. We all know how to respond to a questionnaire, but what would you do if someone gave you a box of Lego?

That’s another aspect, playfulness. We also talked about ‘making’ as a research method, whether that’s drawing or collage, or even something digital. An act which pulls us out of the normal routine of our day and pushes us in some other creative direction seems likely to provide interesting results. ‘Honest’ responses? Maybe, maybe not. If an activity is to alienating and awkward, most of us would probably place up some kind of barrier. So there should be balance, between creating unexpected experiences, but not so much that the participant is distressed.

A question of data came up too. It was unclear to some how an audio recording from a walking tour, or a lego model could be usefully analysed. Having explored various methods for my own studies recently, I’d imagine a narrative analysis would be more useful than a strict content analysis. e.g. an analysis that simply thematically coded up the points of discussion on a walking tour’s audio wouldn’t be taking into account such factors as: who held the recorder; how did they feel about recording themselves; were they confident operating the recorder, and was this something they were used to; pauses in discussion; inflection in the language; slang, etc.

Typically, the day posed as many questions as answers, but it was hugely enjoyable, always nice to rub shoulders with people from other disciplines, seeing Professor Richard Coles introduced to Lego for the first time in his life. It certainly has got me thinking about how creative methods might be of use in my own studies. Prof. Richard Coles plays with lego for the first time Poster

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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