Using Creative Methods in Social Research

In recent months I’ve been reading more and more about creative research methods. Indeed, my doctoral proposal indicated the use of this method as part of my research process. This workshop is led by Professor David Gauntlett from The University of Westminster who also happens to be my PhD supervisor. Over the summer I read one of his many books, Creative Explorations: New approaches to identities and audiences (2007). This developed my curiosity even further. I’d seen his highly regarded workshop on a YouTube video but I also wanted to participate and experience this first hand.

The workshops take the form of individuals being asked “to make visual representations of their own identities, influences, and relationships.” This is done using Lego Serious Play packs that allow the user to built models. The basic premise being that engagement in a creative activity helps unlock creative potential and encourages participants to offer a more considered and insightful response during research questioning.

Day one begins with two groups of eight people on two tables. Each person is given a box of Serious Play Lego and asked to build a tower as high as possible. Then we’re asked to make an animal. All very straight forward to far. But then comes a distinct change and here is the key. We are now asked to change the animal to reflect how we feel on a Monday morning or a Friday night. In doing so we have moved away from simply building models and into representation of feelings through visual metaphor. This change feels good. But it is also very revealing. In the next few tasks we were asked to build representations of our identities and then explain them to the rest of the group. I found that I was disclosing much more about myself through the visual metaphor and, although I needed to decoded my model when explaining its meaning to the rest of the group, I was surprised how I seem to have done much of this subconsciously. If I had spent time writing this down I would never have revealed as much as I did. It was here that the spark lit in my brain. I could instantly see it’s uses. It gives research participants the opportunity to build a deeper understanding of the subject and illicit a more insightful response. The day ended with each member of the group incorporating part of their modal into one group model (see picture above).

Day two continues the themes of the previous day using other materials like plasticine. Interestingly, I felt that this was less successful as a material because it enables the user to make recognisable objects and this means that the participant is less inclined to use metaphor as visual representation.

Lego Serious Play has many uses outside of the field of research and was developed as “a powerful tool designed to enhance innovation and business performance.” Delivery of the workshop is only allowed after an intensive course at Lego in Denmark. This was an enlightening and fun two days, delivered adeptly by David Gauntlett in his own inimitable and engaging way.

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