Had the great good fortune to attend the Creative Research Methods Symposium at the University of Derby today.

With the majority of participants (it seemed) coming from creative, art-influenced disciplines, I wasn’t sure whether this was the right arena to talk about my research. I needn’t have worried. Apart from the main speakers, many of us were doctoral students, so had that instant shared sense of experience. And of course we were talking about our methods, which arguably has a more universal appeal.

Given the theme of the symposium, it’s hardly surprising that we were introduced to a number of less conventional activities. Unfortunately my imagination doesn’t work so quickly and as a consequence, I invariably find them quite tough. But then that’s part of it surely? For example, in Pam Burnard‘s session on ‘Engaging with arts-based research methods,’ we were asked to choose from a bunch of picture cards, the one or ones which most closely resembled us. An exercise in thinking reflexively about our identities and how that positions in our research. For me, that was hard, and yet if required me to look at my positionality in a different way, and to rethink reflexivity more generally.

Catt Turney‘s workshop on ‘Coping with Creative Data’ brought us together in small groups to look at some data samples from her study and think about them differently. The interview transcripts our group examined looked conventional, and were familiar to each of us in the way they were structured. As such, it proved difficult to reimagine a creative way to explore them. This is where I think software like NVivo can help. Not in the routine coding/thematic analysis, but in producing word clouds and other visualisations. Because an algorithm takes over, it re-presents the data in a different way to that which we might have done, thereby potentially offering fresh insights.

My modest offering was in the ‘Innovative Creative Approaches’ presentations strand in which Jon Rainford shared how he had used a ‘research informed comic to present emerging findings,’ Louise Folkes described how she dealt ‘with the unexpected when utilising creative methods in community and home settings,’ and Clare Daněk desccribed how she used a ‘stitch journal as a reflective tool.’

Three very different creative approaches drawn from three very different aspects of doctoral research, and all the more informative because of that.

In the ‘Long Table’ discussion which closed the day, participants covered a number of issues, were clear about what they were taking away from the day. The generosity of other participants, the permission they felt the day had given them to be more creative and the nourishment they felt they had got from being amongst peers and colleagues who shared similar views. This struck me as being so similar to some of the views expressed by participants on my research. It’s good to be challenged, yes, but it’s also important that that’s done in a generous and supportive, rather than provocative way. I wonder if that’s sometimes the problem with Twitter? That it doesn’t always allow the breathing space to allow such generosity? Or is that some people get their pleasure from proving others to be ‘wrong,’ and don’t feel the need to offer support?

What I did notice though was the number of people who were tweeting with the conference hashtag #CreativeMethods18. This was no doubt helped by the efforts of the organiser, Emily Bradfield, promoting the symposium in advance. One consequence, and I shouldn’t have been surprised about this, was that I felt I knew some of the participants before we arrived. To be fair, Emily had done a great job in all respects; the symposium was well organised, well structured and well…coming!

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