Dr Michael Johnson and DrMarianne McAra delivered a full day workshop on Creative Engagement as part of the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities (SGSAH) Summer School in June 2019. This sought to build on the research and career development they’ve been able to receive delivering their Creative Economy Engagement Fellowships(CEEFs) supported through the SGSAH. Michael’s CEEF project, Craft and Place in the Highlands and Islands, was delivered between January and November 2018, which explored the role of place for craft makers establishing themselves in this northern region of Scotland. Marianne’s CEEF project (January-July2019) is exploring youth cultural heritage advocacy on the Scottish Western andNorthern Isles, with a focus on creative engagement and youth migration.
The Summer School workshop invited PhD students in the Arts and Humanities from across Scotland to explore and learn about creative engagement approaches as part of their research or future practice. The day was split into two parts. In the morning, Marianne leda session on ‘Engaging People Creatively,’ which focused on creative methods for engagement in research. In the afternoon, Michael led a session on‘Engaging Creative People,’ which focused on engagement within contexts of research within the creative economy.
Engaging People Creatively
Marianne’s session began with a presentation about her practice-based research where she shared insights into the value of creative engagement and the ways in which it can be applied at the different stages of a research project. As the participants were from a range of disciplines that typically use more traditional quantitative and qualitative research methods from the social sciences, the aim of this first session was to provide an experimental space to explore how these could be used more creatively in their work; facilitated through the activity ‘Methods Bingo’.Each student filled in bingo tickets that asked for a key challenge they are currently facing in their research, the context within which they work, their sources and tools they use, and for their creative hero. These tickets were then used in the bingo where, in teams, they randomly selected tickets to forma design brief, and were given a traditional method (interview, focus group or questionnaire) to hack in response to their brief.
After the method hack challenge, each group presented their concept and prototypes back to the rest of the participants. The first group designed an innovative approach to digitally staging a focus group, which could be used when seeking the participation of people who wish to remain anonymous. The second group designed an artefact-based approach to conducting an interview, centred on making ‘participant signatures’ in the form of symbols. The third group designed a visual approach to conducting a questionnaire where responses could be physically woven to create ‘response swatches’.
Whilst each hacked method was speculative in nature, the Methods Bingo activity provided the participants with an opportunity to undertake a collaborative innovation process, where collectively sharing insights from their own research practices provided design inspiration for how they could harness more creative approaches in their future research.
Engaging Creative People
Michael shared his work using visual mapping, based on Actor-Network Theory, to model creative growth for creative enterprises and stakeholders in their development. The first activity involved a show and tell from the participants where they presented artefacts representing types of engagement they had used or were planning to use in their research. When presenting their stories of engagement, they placed their artefacts within the Creative Growth Model, as laid out on one of the tables using folded signs and black paper. This framed four areas where creative engagement could take place around research projects: Network Growth, using creative engagement as part of scoping & recruitment; Knowledge Growth, using creative engagement as part of research practice and data collection; ValueGrowth, using creative engagement as part of analysis and outcomes; MarketGrowth, using creative engagement as part of dissemination.
The experiences and artefacts shared showed a great diversity of examples and challenges to creative engagement. Michael kicked off proceedings by sharing a small wine bottle with a bespoke label on the front visually stating, ‘Land & Sky, What makes this region ideal for making wine? –Terroir.’ He shared how this was one of set of sixteen bottles to form a ‘wine tasting rack’ of themes, sub-themes and questions to facilitate a series of discussions exploring identity for the emergingBritish Columbia wine regions in Canada. Michael emphasised the importance of it being co-designed with an expert on regional wine industries from KEDGEBusiness School in Bordeaux, as he had little prior knowledge of the wine industry or how regional identities were framed and would have struggled to provide a high quality discussion with wine industry stakeholders. Marianne brought a sea urchin preserved with expanding foam that was gifted to her by a recent research participant in the northern isles of Scotland. The item was used when making creative outputs as part of her research to explore and express personal and local identity.
The participants then shared their artefacts. One design PhD student shared how she would bring biscuits to sessions engaging with a group of older women in order to set a friendly tone and reduce any sense of taking without giving something back. Small gestures like this were emphasised as really key to show care and develop trust with participants as part of any engagements. Two students shared how they were working with historical manuscripts, placing a magnifying glass and Gaelic manuscript image, and explained how they sought creative engagement to both develop interpretations in practice, while finding ways to make what they learn become valuable and communicable to wider audiences. Another example was a student sharing their phone as part of their research into IP laws for the rapidly changing music industry. They shared their challenge of accessing streaming services and music artists, many of whom were the student’s own current networks, as part of requesting sensitive data. In this case, creative engagement was framed around having a rigorous, ethics-ready plan for data collection and management across digital platforms, which could also facilitate more exploratory discussions. Overall, the show and tell opened up the diverse possibilities and challenges to creative engagement, as well as some of the key sensibilities in preparing it well.
Making Sense ofCreative Engagement
The following activity explored key issues around creative engagement in more detail through a Provocation Discussion. This involved a Likert scale of StronglyAgree to Strongly Disagree being signposted in each corner of the room, and four statements relating to the role of creative engagement in research being read out for the participants to agree or disagree with, stating their position.Michael frequently uses this exercise in his work as it offers a really simple way to breakdown controversial topics and challenge assumptions, whilst avoiding adversarial arguments. The four statements asked were:
· Engaging creative people requires a prior understanding of what they do;
· You need to be creative to use creative methods of engagement;
· Making sense of data IS a creative process open to creative outputs
· ALL research would benefit from more creative ways of sharing their findings.
The discussions proved highly reflective and engaging, with each statement revealing a range of different perspectives. One highlight from the discussion explored a belief in how all people can be creative, but that this can break down in different ways depending on the quality of the creative input (i.e. through a collaboration with craft makers or artists to access their creative knowledge). Another highlight was in comparing the analysis of qualitative data with a creative discipline, full of subjective interpretation towards emergent findings, and what this means for how you might choose to articulate, model or visualise findings. The discussions effectively built upon insights shared in Marianne’s session, where the participants considered key questions about what role creative engagement could have in arts and humanities research.
The afternoon session concluded with postcards entitled Staging Creative Engagement, offering a visual mapping tool to plan or design a potential opportunity for creative engagement. The students spent a short 10-15 minutes to try out what each question might mean for their research, but the aim was more to provide them with a useful reference to take away.
Reflecting on the workshop, Michael and Marianne both agreed that finding opportunities for research-led teaching is extremely valuable as it ensures you find clear ways to communicate what you are doing and learning, and is, in fact, creative engagement in itself. The team will betaking an iteration of this workshop, shifting the emphasis onto island contexts, to the Shoormal conference at Mareel, Shetland, titled New coasts and shorelines: Shifting sands in the creative economy, between 18th – 21st September 2019.