Asset-Based Research

For me, one of the greatest developments in research methods so far this century is the genesis and expansion of asset-based research.

Up to the end of the last century, research was almost entirely based on deficits. What we studied were problems, lacks, difficulties, deficiencies, gaps. This is understandable: people generally do research to try to improve matters, so starting with something that needs improvement makes sense. However, we were missing a big trick.

Around the turn of the century, psychologists Martin Seligman and Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi founded the positive psychology movement. Before then psychologists had exclusively studied topics such as memory loss, criminal and deviant behaviour, attachment disorders, psychopathology and the like. The positive psychology movement chose to study topics such as happiness, resilience, well-being and so on, to find out what we can learn from people who are flourishing and how we might be able to extend some of that to others.

Organisational researchers David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva were taking a similar approach. They developed the method of Appreciative Inquiry which begins by looking at what an organisation does well and is proud of, and then considers how it can improve in the light of its successes. And researchers from various disciplines around the world have been drawing on Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach to consider what Indigenous and other marginalised people can and do contribute to their communities.

Asset-based research is also beginning to be used in other fields, including Autism research. I am proud to have made a small contribution to this process myself, through a journal article Aimee Grant and I wrote which was published in Contemporary Social Science last month. The article is called Considering the Autistic advantage in qualitative research: the strengths of Autistic researchers. Much Autism-related research has been conducted by neurotypical people based on a view of Autistic people as deficient. By contrast, in our article, Aimee and I demonstrate that Autistic people like us have a lot to offer to qualitative research teams. We have also formulated some guidance, for teams with a mix of neurotypical and neurodiverse people, to facilitate effective inclusive working.

I am delighted to say the article is open access so you can all read it! I am also delighted that it has generated a lot of interest, with over 2,500 views in its first three weeks. And I feel proud to have been able to make this contribution within nine months of my own Autism diagnosis. Though I should acknowledge that I couldn’t have done it without Aimee, who was an excellent collaborator. Also, we had fantastic support from the journal editors and the anonymous reviewers. If you are looking for a home for an article on researcher experiences and research methods, or would like to propose a special issue, I would encourage you to consider Contemporary Social Science. It is the journal of the Academy of Social Sciences, of which I am a Fellow, but you don’t need any links to the Academy to submit work to the journal. They publish four issues a year, of which only one is open access at present, but that may change in time.

Anyway, if you find our article helpful or interesting – or disagree with the points we make, because all reasoned debate is useful – then please let us know, either here in the comments or over on Twitter.

This blog, the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, and the videos on my YouTube channel, are funded by my beloved Patrons. Patrons receive exclusive content and various rewards, depending on their level of support, such as access to my special private Patreon-only blog posts, bi-monthly Q&A sessions on Zoom, free e-book downloads and signed copies of my books. Patrons can also suggest topics for my blogs and videos. If you want to support me by becoming a Patron click here. Whilst ongoing support would be fantastic you can make a one-time donation instead, through the PayPal button on this blog, if that works better for you. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

The Research Trajectory

I have been talking about the research trajectory with my students for years. I describe my conception of this trajectory, which I call ‘The Helen Kara Inverted Bell Curve Of Research’. I often use this conception to help me explain why it is usually not a good idea, when data analysis is challenging, to decide that all problems will be solved by throwing in a few extra methods – gathering more data, reading a new body of literature, and so on.

It occurred to me that manifesting the image I see in my head might be entertaining for me (it was!) and perhaps useful for others. So I made a graphic. Here it is. Does it resonate with you?

The Helen Kara Inverted Bell Curve Of Research

This blog, the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, and the videos on my YouTube channel, are funded by my beloved Patrons. Patrons receive exclusive content and various rewards, depending on their level of support, such as access to my special private Patreon-only blog posts, bi-monthly Q&A sessions on Zoom, free e-book downloads and signed copies of my books. Patrons can also suggest topics for my blogs and videos. If you want to support me by becoming a Patron click here. Whilst ongoing support would be fantastic you can make a one-time donation instead, through the PayPal button on this blog, if that works better for you. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

The Wonder Of #CRMethodsChat

I have been running a creative research methods Twitter chat most months since May 2019. It lasts for an hour, usually on a Tuesday, and the time varies from 8am to 7pm BST/GMT to try to accommodate people in as many time zones as possible. The chat is often very lively, with a mix of regular chatters and new people. I have also heard from a number of people who appreciate the chat but prefer to lurk rather than to join in. A regular chatter recently described it to me as ‘a very special community of people’, and I would agree: a friendly, creative, supportive bunch, all ready to share ideas and learn more about creative research methods.

In recent months I have hosted all the chats from my own office, but before the pandemic I often hosted chats from hotel rooms in various countries and once even from a train in Ireland (Iarnród Éireann have great wi-fi). After each chat I curate the tweets, and any relevant links, into a Wakelet for those who couldn’t attend at the time. Chats to date, with links for any you would like to follow up, are:

14 May 2019 Inaugural Twitter chat about creative research methods

11 June 2019 Creative methods of data analysis

9 July 2019 Creative methods of dissemination

10 September 2019 Visual research methods

8 October 2019 Embodied research methods

12 November 2019 Using social media creatively in research

14 January 2020 The future of research methods over the next 10 years

11 February 2020 Performative research methods

30 June 2020 Participatory textile making as a creative research method with co-hosts @StitchingTgthr and Amy Twigger-Holroyd

21 July 2020 Teaching creative research methods online

15 September 2020 Using online methods in research and teaching

20 October 2020 Remixing research methods with co-host Nikki Pugh

17 November 2020 Research ethics in a pandemic with co-host Christina Silver

8 December 2020 Creative and collaborative research with co-hosts Narelle Lemon and Janet Salmons

28 January 2021 Creative writing for social research with co-host Richard Phillips

24 February 2021 Creative methods of analysing data with co-host Julia Puebla Fortier

27 April 2021 Creative research methods across disciplines with co-host Dawn Mannay

1 June 2021 Creative methods of gathering data with co-host Louisa Lawrie

15 July 2021 Embodied inquiry with co-hosts Nicole Brown and Jennifer Leigh

5 October 2021 Making participants comfortable when using creative research methods with co-host Suzanne Culshaw

You will notice that for the last year I have always run the chat with a co-host or two. This is because the chat has become increasingly popular and is now really too busy for one person alone to manage. There is a lot to do: responding to tweets; keeping an eye out for tweets intended for the chat where the tweeter forgot to include the hashtag, and retweeting them with the hashtag to bring them into the chat; finding links to share – sometimes even with two or three of us it is absolutely non-stop. So far the quietest chat was the one on performative research methods in February 2020, with just 43 items in the Wakelet (“items” = tweets and links – in Wakelet you can’t click on a link in a tweet, so I track down the link and include it separately). The busiest one to date was embodied inquiry in July 2021 with 288 items. That chat ran at an average of four tweets a minute, or one every 15 seconds. Two other chats had over 250 items each, two more had 200–249 items, six had 150–199, four had 100–149, and the other five had under 100 items (all of those five were in the first year).

People have various reasons for co-hosting. Some have a book or other output to promote which is relevant to creative research methods. Some want to find out more about a topic, or form a special interest group. The main reason I am writing this post is because I would like more co-hosts for the chat. If you’re Twitter-literate and you just fancy helping me out from time to time, that would be fine by me! But whatever your reason, I will be happy to hear from you.

Co-hosting is easy: we agree the date/time for the chat and the questions to be used; in the run-up to the chat I will send out some promo tweets and tag you so you can retweet them if you like; then attend the chat itself and help people to feel welcome and interact. If you want more detailed information before you decide, there are a couple of blog posts on the topic: one from me on the Research Whisperer blog including reflections on the first #CRMethodsChat, and one from Pat Thomson, full of characteristic wisdom, about the #VirtualNotViral chat she runs with Anuja Cabraal. There may well be others, too; if you know of any please comment on this post with a link.

I am aiming to set up chats in advance, so if you have a book coming out any time in the next year or so, or you’re doing – or supervising – doctoral studies and you want to know about some aspect of creative research methods, or you have a project on the horizon that might benefit from increased knowledge of creative methods, please do get in touch via Twitter or my contact form.

This blog, the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, and the videos on my YouTube channel, are funded by my beloved Patrons. Patrons receive exclusive content and various rewards, depending on their level of support, such as access to my special private Patreon-only blog posts, bi-monthly Q&A sessions on Zoom, free e-book downloads and signed copies of my books. Patrons can also suggest topics for my blogs and videos. If you want to support me by becoming a Patron click here. Whilst ongoing support would be fantastic you can make a one-time donation instead, through the PayPal button on this blog, if that works better for you. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Travel Broadens The Mind

view from front door

View from the front door of the villa where we’re staying

I’m on holiday right now in Al Ain, the second city of Abu Dhabi, on the border with Oman. I have travelled in the Middle East before but I’ve never been to the Emirates. It’s a fascinating place, only officially defined as a country in 1971; before that it was populated mainly by nomadic Bedouin tribespeople.

The landscape is desert, arid and very hot – currently around 45 degrees at midday, dropping to 28 or 30 at night. It’s beautiful and deadly: few people could survive for long unaided unless they had learned the necessary skills. But then few people would have to survive unaided, because the people of this country, like most people in the Middle East, have a tremendous ethos of hospitality and care for visitors and strangers.

The culture here is very different from my own. There are three differences which have impressed themselves on my mind as having something to teach me about my professional life. These are they.

First, coffee. Coffee here is enormously symbolic. If you enter someone’s house, they are obliged to offer you coffee; if they don’t, it’s a serious insult. Equally, if you don’t accept the coffee offered by your host, that is a serious insult. However, there is a form of wording you can use to refuse their offer of coffee, which means, ‘We have a problem and we need to talk about it.’ Once that discussion has taken place, you can say you will accept their offer of coffee, which signifies that you regard the problem as resolved.

This made me think about the way coffee has become symbolic in academia. I’ve lost count of the people I’ve “been for a coffee with”, as a euphemism for chatting about anything from our respective projects to a potential or actual collaboration. I love going for coffee with clever, interesting people. And I don’t even drink coffee! Coffee gives me migraines – the antithesis of intelligent thought – but it’s still something I suggest to actual or potential colleagues. ‘Shall we meet for coffee?’ is so much easier to say than ‘Shall we meet for a, er, well, probably peppermint tea in my case, but most people have coffee, and there might be cake, anyway, it would give us time to chat about, er, well, what do you think?’

Second, gender. Abu Dhabi is a thoroughly patriarchal society. I am travelling with my male partner, and staying with our old friend, also male. In restaurants or cafes, they are always served first. In malls, I get funny looks – from women and from men – for walking with two men. I’m not surprised as all adults who are out in public are alone or in same-sex pairs or groups – and they’re mostly male. However, the concept of equality is not completely absent. For example, if a man takes two or more wives, he must treat them all equally, which in practice means building each of them a house that is identical in every respect to his other wives’ houses. So the concept is of equality within, rather than between, the genders. (And yes, I know gender isn’t binary – but they really haven’t caught on to that here, at all.) Part of me minds about this and part of me doesn’t. The first part is the Western feminist, the second part is the part that thinks it’s important to honour and respect different cultures. These two parts argue with each other, the first questioning the merit of honouring and respecting discriminatory cultures, the second standing up for the importance of honouring and respecting other cultures even if their priorities are different from my own. I doubt I will ever reconcile these opposing views within myself. Yet this experience is, I think, useful for my research work because it reflects many of the ethical dilemmas we meet as researchers, where there is more than one way to be ‘right’ and there is no easy answer.

Third, ethnicity. While I am experiencing daily micro-aggressions related to gender, I have not experienced a single one related to my ethnicity. (Yes, I know it’s not always possible to separate the two, so I may be mis-reading this. But I’ve thought about it a lot since I’ve been here, and I’m fairly sure of my ground.) Beyond the gender-related discrimination described above, local people here, and migrant workers, all treat me as a human being who is worthy of respect. Even the men are unfailingly polite and welcoming. I grew up in a society that discriminates on the basis of ethnicity, and I know that affects my interactions with people. UAE society may also discriminate: the migrant workers here from countries such as Sri Lanka and the Philippines, India and Pakistan, might tell those stories. But as a white Westerner, I feel safe here in this country of friendly hospitable people.

The UAE is full of Muslims, so many Brits would regard it as highly dangerous. But it is very peaceful. I have walked in streets, and mosques, and malls, and on beaches, populated mostly by Muslim people, and I have never once felt threatened or in danger. I feel safer here than I feel in London, my own capital city. And the UAE is friendly to migrant workers. Indeed, it needs to be: for example, in Dubai, only 15% of the population is indigenous, and most of the other 85% are migrant workers. There is acceptance, here, that non-indigenous people have a place in the social economy: to do the jobs that locals don’t have the skills for, or don’t wish to take on.

This experience makes me feel ashamed of my own country. The UK is depressingly hostile to people of different ethnicities and to economic migrants. Many of us can’t see how much our society could and does benefit from their input, or how much, in fact, we need their support. I have felt this for a long time, but my experience here in Abu Dhabi has reinforced my belief that it is possible for society to work with a much higher proportion of economic and other migrants than we have at present in the UK. This makes me think about how the research I do is culturally constructed. Growing up with the scientific tradition as a backdrop can lead us to conclude that our methods of investigation are neutral – but they’re not, they spring from our culture. We think findings produced by our favoured methods inform our decisions, while in fact these findings may be created, albeit unconsciously, to reinforce our ways of thinking. We need to bring this new understanding into our consciousness and use it to help us move from policy-based evidence (‘migrants and refugees will swamp us’ etc) towards evidence-based policy (‘migrants and refugees can help us economically, though there may be social costs’).

I have long believed that we need to make good decisions based on evidence rather than hearsay or fear, and my experience here in the Gulf has reinforced that belief.

Anyway, the three of us are off to Oman tomorrow, on a road trip for the next few days. So I won’t be around online much this week. I’ve never been to Oman, either. I look forward to having my mind broadened further.

Four weeks to go!

I am already very excited about the 8th of May 2015. Because, on that day, I will be at a conference on Creative Research Methods, run by the Social Research Association, at the British Library. And my next book will be launched there!

So why am I saying ‘four weeks to go’ when it’s clearly six months away? Because there is just one month to go to get your abstracts in, if you want to present your work at this conference and earn yourself a hefty discount on the cost in the process.

I’ll let you know when we’re open for registration – should be in the next week or two.

#Vitaehangout

I took part in a live online “hangout” on 23 October, for Vitae, an international programme dedicated to the professional development of postgraduate and early career researchers. I was part of a panel of doctoral researchers and PhD graduates discussing things we wish we’d known when we started out. It was great fun, with questions pouring in about how to be original, when to start writing, how to manage relationships with supervisors, how much data to collect – all the kinds of preoccupations of early-stage doctoral students. The panel had loads of ideas for ways to address these topics, and the time seemed to go past in a flash. We weren’t able to deal with all the questions during the panel, so the nice people at Vitae put the rest into a document and we’ve made some more suggestions there.

Find out more on the Vitae website, or just watch the video below:

Previous blog posts

For the last couple of years I have been a blog cuckoo, laying my wordy eggs in other people’s blog nests.  Here is a round-up of the posts I’ve made elsewhere.

I began on the British Library‘s Social Science blog, writing on ‘What do practitioners need to know about research?’

Then I went to the Policy Press blog and wrote about the covert censorship of Gold Open Access.

On Eva Langsoght’s blog, PhD Talk, I wrote about managing the research process.

Then on Sukh Pabial’s blog I wrote on how to unlearn separatist learning.

On the NVivo blog I wrote about how to add value to your research with diagrams and models.

Most recently I’ve been back on the Policy Press blog, beginning a series on ‘a year in the life of an academic writer’.  So far I’ve covered me and my books, why another blog on academic writing?, where a book begins, how much pre-writing research you need to do, three compromises you have to make when writing a book, the difficult second book in a genre, dealing with reviewers’ comments, and impostor syndrome. And now I intend to continue that series here. Though I may still write for other blogs from time to time. Maybe even yours.