LEGO Identity study

David Gauntlett, University of Westminster

Academic research project, leading to a book (Creative Explorations)

Disciplinary background(s) Sociology / visual studies / media studies (I suppose! – not keen on ‘disciplines’ though)

When did the research take place? 2005-06

Aims of research To see what happens when people are invited to represent their identities in metaphors, using LEGO (as a development of the consultancy process, LEGO Serious Play): to see how they represent their identities, and to see if and how this works as a method.

Description of creative research method

Ten groups of people took part in the workshop sessions. Groups were typically of seven or eight individuals; 79 people took part in total. They were from diverse backgrounds: three groups were unemployed or low-paid part-time workers; other groups included social workers, architects, and charity managers. The sessions took at least four hours. Because it would be difficult to persuade most people to participate in such a time-consuming activity, most participants were paid or rewarded for their time, showing recognition and respect for the time that they had given up to take part.

Sessions were photographed, but the most important data-capture was the audio recording of people telling the ‘story’ of their models, near the end of the session, and also a form which they were asked to fill in, which sought to capture the key bits of what they had represented and how they had represented it.

This is a very brief summary of the process. More information can be found in the book Creative Explorations and references below.

LEGO Identity study 1

Why did you choose to use this method? 

I had already conducted research where people were asked to make things as part of the process (video, drawing, and collage) and this was an extension of that work. I had been approached by the Director of LEGO Serious Play, who had noticed that I was doing research of this kind, and was interested in how this would relate to the LEGO Serious Play consultancy process, which was also a process which asked people to make things as a way of representing and reflecting on their experience.

I agreed that it would be interesting to see if metaphorical building in LEGO could be used as a tool for social research rather than organisational consultancy – and it was, both interesting and useful.

LEGO Identity study 2

What did you learn from the research process? 

I found that asking people to build in metaphors was really valuable. Visual methods often face the problem that you can only record things that you can point a camera at (in video or photography projects), or have pictures about (in collage); or that people feel they lack a suitable level of skill (in drawing or making). LEGO offered an easy-to-use, accessible tool, which rather leant itself to metaphor, which enabled people to make things which communicated their personal meanings, and which they felt were satisfactory objects.

Metaphors were often rich with multiple meanings, and were used to communicate often quite subtle and personal information and feelings. Once explained to others, the metaphors were memorable and often the source of insights, and delight.

LEGO Identity study 3

Further information

Gauntlett, David (2007), Creative Explorations: New approaches to identities and audiences, London: Routledge.

Gauntlett, David, & Awan, Fatimah (2011), ‘Action-based visual and creative methods in social research’, in Heywood, Ian & Sandywell, Barry, eds, Handbook of Visual Culture, Oxford: Berg.

Specific resources about this project:

More general resources related to this kind of thing:

Creative Explorations