Creative Research Methods conference – 8 May 2015

This SRA conference, where my latest book was formally launched, was a wonderful gathering of diverse researchers. We had academic researchers, government researchers, researchers working in research companies and charities and other organisations, and independent researchers. There were researchers from North and South America, Canada, and other European countries as well as the UK. And we had researchers from across the arts, humanities, and social sciences: from media, design, law, sociology, psychology, and geography, among others. This diversity made for an incredibly stimulating environment. A delegate commented to me that the conference could easily have run over three days, not one, and I think they were right.

Some of the delegates during the pipe-cleaner exercise (photo by David Gauntlett)

Some of the delegates during the pipe-cleaner exercise (photo by David Gauntlett)

The keynote speaker was Professor David Gauntlett. He spoke about the ethical imperative of reciprocity and dialogue in research, and how making and discussing metaphorical artefacts could provide a positive experience for participants. David often uses Lego, but on this occasion he used the pipe cleaners in delegates’ packs to involve us in a participatory demonstration, asking us to build a metaphor of our feelings on our journey that morning to the British Library conference centre. This short exercise was entertaining and instructive, and David built on that to show how making things and talking about them could yield richer data for researchers than simply asking questions. His presentation was dynamic and set the tone for the day.

The morning and afternoon workshop presentations made up a wonderful patchwork with 24 vibrant blocks of colour. They were in four concurrent streams, which regular readers of this blog will recognise: arts-based research, research using technology, mixed methods research, and transformative research frameworks. Presentations included:

This is only a small selection, chosen because they had further information online that I could link to for anyone who wanted more than just a headline. Details of all the workshop presentations can be found in the conference storify which was ably created by our official live-tweeter, Annika Coughlin. The presentations I went to (in the transformative research frameworks stream) were excellent, and I gather from those in other workshop streams that the quality was consistent throughout.

One of the most exciting moments for me came just before lunch, when I discovered the conference hashtag #CRM15 was trending on Twitter! After lunch Jude England, Head of Research Engagement at the British Library, gave a talk on ‘The Pleasures and Perils of Digital’. She encouraged researchers to find, use, and reference secondary data, and gave some good tips on how to do this, as well as explaining how the Library works and how it can help researchers.

At the end of the conference, I gave a short speech to launch my book, Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide. This was immediately followed by a celebratory wine reception, kindly sponsored by my publisher Policy Press. Overall it was a wonderful and inspiring day. I can hardly imagine a better conference, or a more enjoyable book launch.

Creative Research Methods

Creative research methods in the social sciences [FC]I have always been interested in creative research methods: not at the expense of traditional methods, but to augment them. I have used a variety of creative methods, when appropriate, such as storytelling and photo-elicitation for gathering data, fictionalisation and photo-essays for writing research, and drama for presenting findings. I have also combined methods where necessary, used technology in research, and worked within a participatory framework where possible.

A couple of years ago, for reasons I can’t now remember, I went looking for a book on creative research methods. I searched all the usual online booksellers but couldn’t find anything that fitted the bill. So I decided to write one.

In the process of writing this book, I read hundreds of journal articles, book chapters, sometimes whole books. I didn’t read everything there is to read – that wouldn’t be possible – but I learned a lot. And it slowly dawned on me that the field of creative research methods could be conceptualised as having four broad categories:

  1. Arts-based research – e.g. visual arts, performance arts, textile arts
  2. Research using technology – e.g. social media, apps, computer/video games
  3. Mixed methods research – traditionally qual+quant, but also quant+quant and qual+qual
  4. Transformative research frameworks – e.g. participatory research, feminist research, decolonising methodologies, activist research

Clearly I am not suggesting that these categories are mutually exclusive. In fact I did find some examples of research employing tools from all four categories. But they do provide a useful way of thinking about the subject for now (I say ‘for now’ as the field is developing fast, so may need a new conceptualisation in time).

I found many fabulous, inspiring, examples of research across all of these categories and from all over the world. There are over 100 boxed examples in my book, with others scattered throughout the text, and I still didn’t have room to include everything I would have liked to cover. I also realised that ‘creative methods’ doesn’t always mean ‘innovative methods’ (though it often does). It may mean being creative with traditional methods, such as by combining those methods in an unusual way or taking a new look at an existing method. For example, in recent years researchers using focus groups realised that they could get more out of the data by analysing the interactions between people in each group, as well as the content of the text yielded by the transcripts.

I’m delighted to say that even though the book isn’t out yet, it has received a good reception from academics around the world. It has been described, among other things, as an ‘inspiration’, a ‘treasure trove’, and ‘ground-breaking’. And most wonderful of all, especially as my first degree was in psychology, my creative research heroes Kenneth Gergen and Mary Gergen have very kindly written a foreword.

So publication day is 10 April in the UK, May 15 in the US. Here’s a very short book trailer I made for you.

If you would like a copy, you can buy direct from the publisher, Policy Press, at a 35% discount, by signing up to their monthly e-newsletter. This applies wherever you are in the world, and the discount is on all their books, not just mine. They publish some excellent work so I’d recommend checking this out.

If you want to know more about creative research methods, I hosted a twitterchat on 26 March, on the #ecrchat hashtag, and the storify is here.

The book will be formally launched at a one-day conference at the British Library Conference Centre on 8 May. The conference has four workshop streams and I’ll bet you can guess what they’re on… yep: arts-based research, research using technology, mixed methods research, and transformative research frameworks. There seems to be a real appetite for this topic, as we had an unprecedented number of abstracts – four for each presentation – so we have a terrific selection of workshops. Over half of the places are already booked. So if you’d like to come to the conference, please don’t leave it till the last minute, as it is likely to sell out. I hope to see you there!

Creative Research Methods Conference – Great News!

I blogged about this conference when we opened for bookings, fireworksand now I have some fantastic news to share. Last week was the deadline for the call for papers. This is always a bit nerve-racking in a ‘is anyone coming to our party?’ kind of way. We’d had quite a few abstracts in before the deadline – almost enough to start feeling confident – but on the deadline day the abstracts were piling in and the conference email inbox was red hot.

We’ve counted them now. There are 90 abstracts! NINETY!! To fill 24 presentation slots. I understand this has smashed all previous records for a conference organised by the Social Research Association. And people were still emailing this week to ask if they could make late submissions. (Sorry, no; we have more than enough.)

This means several things. First, we’re going to have to disappoint a lot of people. I feel really bad about that; it’s not what I would choose. Second, it’s going to be a helluva job deciding which to include and which to leave out. People often say ‘it’s a really difficult decision’ even when it isn’t: to be tactful, or to make people think their conference (or recruitment, or whatever) is in demand. But these decisions actually are going to be really difficult, and I’m very glad to have the help and support of experienced volunteers from the SRA’s events group. Third, the event will be popular; we may well run it again in future years. Fourth, this conference is going to be EXCELLENT.

Talking of which, it’s at the British Library Conference Centre, on Friday 8 May 2015, and booking is open now with early bird discounts available until 31 January 2015. In the circumstances, I suspect it will sell out fast, so do book soon if you want a place.

I am so looking forward to this conference!! And not just because my next book, Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide, will be launched there – although of course that is a part of it, for me. But I think it’s going to be a fantastic day, with loads of opportunities for learning and networking. I can’t wait!

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.