The Knitting Circle

Amy Twigger Holroyd, Birmingham Institute of Art & Design, Birmingham City University

Part of my PhD research, ‘Folk Fashion: amateur re-knitting as a strategy for sustainability’

Disciplinary background(s) design, craft, fashion

When did the research take place? PhD, 2010-2013; this research activity, summer 2012

Aims of research 

The overall aims of the research were to investigate people’s lived experience of homemade clothes, and to explore this ‘folk fashion’ as a strategy for sustainability.

In my literature review, I had noticed how little academic knowledge there is about the experience of wearing homemade clothes. My main research activity – which I would also describe as a creative method – involved working with one small group of amateur knitters in a series of workshop sessions, culminating in each participant designing and executing a re-knitting alteration to an item from their wardrobe.

I supplemented this method with a complementary strategy, which I have chosen to focus on in this case study: gathering comments about knitting and homemade clothes from a large group of knitters.

Description of creative research method

This method grew out of activities which I was already running as part of my practice as a knitwear designer-maker and my label, Keep & Share.

Since 2009, I have run a knitting tent at summer music festivals, running a free communal knitting activity. I aim for this to be an engaging and accessible activity that will provide an enjoyable experience of knitting, embracing knitters of all abilities. The completed pieces of knitting are left on display, growing in number as the festival progresses.

Knitting tentThe activity is popular, and creates a constantly shifting temporary knitting community. I have found that knitting brings people together and engenders conversation; knitting also evokes memories. With this in mind, I ask people to ʻshare a knitting memoryʼ on small cardboard tags, after their time spent knitting. The tags are attached to the knitting and become part of the public display.

L09-432I started gathering these comments as a way of making the knitting activity more engaging; however, I realised that they could be of value to my research. In 2012, the knitting tent visited three festivals (Latitude, Port Eliot and End of the Road), and I asked participants to share their feelings about wearing homemade clothes. This strategy was effective; it prompted conversation on the topic, and comments which recorded memories and opinions.

Lat-1Lat-10In 2012, 245 separate comments were written; combined with the tags from the previous years, I have gathered and analysed over a thousand responses. The tags themselves are open, allowing the commenter to use the space as they wish. Some comments are very short; others squash a lot of writing into the small space. Some include drawings, symbols and underlining for emphasis.

Why did you choose to use this method? 

In my previous work, I had found that knitting as a group encourages open, constructive conversation. The tags provide an interesting insight into the thoughts that are provoked by the activity of knitting, rather than more distant reflections, as would be gathered by a conventional questionnaire or survey.

What did you learn from the research process? 

The comments make fascinating reading, offering brief yet diverse thoughts on knitting and homemade clothes from a broad range of people. They provide a materialised version of the snippets of stories, anecdotes and comments that I hear during my practice. Such comments inform my tacit knowledge of amateur knitting, yet are difficult to record.

While many tags directly respond to the prompt that I supplied, the majority discuss knitting more generally. Often they relate to the experience that the commenter has just had, learning or remembering how to knit; a significant proportion is dedications, usually to mothers or grandmothers.


In developing my methodology overall, I was influenced by David Gauntlett’s book Creative Explorations, described in this case study, and Matt Ratto’s critical making methodology, described here.

Further information

More information about the knitting tent and Knitting Circle can be found here.

Quotes from the Knitting Circle tags are included in this paper:

Twigger Holroyd, A. (2013) Identity construction and the multiple meanings of homemade clothes in contemporary British culture. Fashion: exploring critical issues, 5th global conference, Oxford, 9-12 September 2013. PDF document [accessed 9/12/13]

Further information about my methodology more generally is included in this paper:

Twigger Holroyd, A. (2013) Unravelling the power of knitting. Crafting the Future, 10th European Academy of Design Conference, Gothenburg, 17-19 April 2013. PDF document [accessed 9/12/13]


Narrative walking in the Birmingham canal-scape

Dr. Zoë K. Millman, Birmingham Institute of Art & Design, Birmingham City University

Part of my PhD research on ‘Landscape narratives and the construction of meaning in the contemporary urban canal-scape’ (awarded March 2012)

Disciplinary background(s) My influences include geography, landscape architecture, psychology, philosophy, phenomenology, ethnography and art.  My prior degree in the History of Art and MA in Museum Studies taught me a humanities approach to research. The PhD enabled a broader, creative approach encompassing multi-modalism (considering all the senses), performance and art.

When did the research take place? Spring 2010

Aims of research 

The wider research explored how individuals use and perceive the canal-scape in central Birmingham. Early on I found that participants were recalling memories triggered by sensory experiences as they walked – memories of other places, not just the canal-scape. Participants used these memories to attribute personal meanings to the landscape and support their identities. It was not the aim of this study to uncover participants’ experiences of the canal landscape, but rather to uncover the experiences they chose or were able to share. Individuals were to be left alone to experience and reflect on the landscape, talking aloud into an audio recorder. I hypothesised walking would enable relaxation through rhythmic movement and sensory experience of the landscape, allowing the mind to wander, while talking aloud enables a cathartic ‘voicing’ of their experience and understanding.

I developed this method of ‘narrative walking’ in response to the literature from various disciplines and results from previous studies, but it was untested with participants. My main concern was participants feeling uncomfortable talking to themselves, hindering their ‘flow’ and interfering with their ability to access the memories I hoped for.

Description of creative research method

I worked with 8 participants aged 23 – 63; 3 men and 5 women from diverse backgrounds including Italy, Kashmir, Iran, Pakistan and Britain. Participants were alone with a map, some instructions and an audio recorder which they spoke aloud into. I tried to mitigate any potential fears by devising a circular route rather than using Debord’s method of aimless wandering.

Before: Participants described themselves and their expectations of the canal-scape in a short questionnaire, providing useful personal information for consideration during analysis.

During: I met the group in Brindleyplace, a square by the canal in central Birmingham, to share recorders and instructions. Participants then began their walks and I remained. They walked in a loose group, within sight of one another. Around 1 hour later returned to the square. We had coffee in a nearby café to allow them to share their experiences and immediate reactions.

After: At a discussion session 3 weeks later we discussed their recollections of the activity and their recordings, which I had transcribed in the meantime.

When listening to the recordings I noted references to sensory perceptions, musings, feelings, memories and actions. This enabled me to codify the narrative and build a picture of how they perceived their surroundings.

Why did you choose to use this method? 

In previous studies I was usually present to offer guidance and move the conversation along. However, these methods result in a ‘negotiated’ narrative because they are the result of an interaction between two people, usually acquaintances, if not strangers. The ‘interference’ of the researcher is an issue in qualitative research. Of course, all human interaction is ‘negotiated’, either by the language we use or our behaviour. Plus, all of our understanding is run through our individual thought processes, so that misunderstandings are common.  Quantitative methods that yield scientific results are also problematic; in the same way that language can be manipulated and misunderstood, so are quantitative data subject to the biases and vagaries of those who design the method and analyse the data.

Knowing that bias is extremely hard to mitigate in any research, I opted for a method that still allowed participants to experience and reflect on the landscape, and record their thoughts, but without my presence. This method encourages participants to be aware of their ‘whole-body’ sensory experience, or ‘multi-modalism’, including any associations, musings or memories which they experienced during the walk in addition to sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.

What did you learn from the research process? 

  • Working with participants really is the only way of testing a participatory method.
  • Some participants were initially wary of the idea of ‘talking to themselves’ in public, but soon forgot the fact because they were in a state of ‘flow’ – a relaxed, rhythmic state brought on by steady walking that seems to support personal reflection.
  • Some found the maps confusing – perhaps due to switching focus from walking, thinking and talking, to map reading and making sense of directions? I have used this method successfully since, without maps.
  • Each participant performed the task differently; each journey was exploratory as they strayed from the route according to their unique interests and tendencies. Some focused on the senses, some solely on their musings and memories, some simply described what they saw.
  • Participants recalled other landscapes: the canals of Milan, England and Pakistan; the lakes and rivers of Kashmir and Iran; Niagara Falls in Ontario/New York; the seaside in Italy and the public water gardens of Kashmir. These recollections were elicited by bodily sensory experiences, with visual stimuli being the most common.
  • Certain places on the route were more conducive to memory recall, leading to the idea of ‘memory hotspots’.
  • All of the participants mentioned their childhood homes at least once during the walk.
  • During and after the walk participants described the process as therapeutic.

“It made me think just about me and the environment actually having to talk about it into the microphone, but it was really quite good because that was just for me and how I was reacting, rather than walking and chatting to people, it was how special it was to me and it did make me notice these extra things that I wouldn’t earlier. It was a good experience.” (Annie)

“…at the seaside when the water go against the rocks, the sea, I have that image. But now it disappeared, I’m back in Birmingham.” (Carlo)

“It made me more aware of what I was actually thinking….It was one of the best days I’ve ever walked along the canal”   (Graham)


Some of my influences include John Wylie, Sarah Pink, Divya P. Tolia-Kelly, Richard Long, and John Gray.

Further information

Coles R. and Millman  Z. (eds.) (2013). Landscape, Well-being and Environment. Routledge: Oxford.

Millman Z. (2013). ‘Photographic postcards as research tools: the ‘Postcards from the Cut’ study’. Graduate Journal of Social Sciences. Vol. 10 (2).

Coles R., Millman Z, Flannigan J (2013). ‘Urban Landscapes – Everyday environmental encounters, their meaning and importance for the individual’. Urban Ecosystems. Vol. 16 (3).

Millman Z., Coles R, and Millar G. (2008). ‘The Canal Environment Soundscape of Birmingham – A Pilot Study’, Proceedings of the Institute of Acoustics’ Spring Conference, ‘Widening Horizons in Acoustics’, Vol.30. Pt.2.

Mobile nodes: Mobile and locative media, everyday life and sense of place

Didem Ozkul, Communication and Media Research Institute, University of Westminster

PhD research

Disciplinary background(s) Communication and media studies

When did the research take place? 2012

Aims of research 

The research aims to shed light on the social and spatial interactions in urban spaces in relation to the proliferation of mobile communication technologies and their location-aware features. To do this, herein the development of locative media, as specific types of location-aware mobile devices and services, is shown to be intimately interrelated with different aspects of place-making and self-presentation in everyday life. The research demonstrates that the mobile and locative media provide platforms, through which users of such technologies can communicate different aspects of their selves in relation to specific places as well as construct a sense of those places by sharing individual narratives of their everyday lives.

Description of creative research method

I organised 7 workshops (focus groups) in London with a total number of 38 participants – all of whom were mobile communication technology users. Each participant was asked to draw a sketch map of London showing ‘frequently visited places’, which they then presented to the group.

Mobile Nodes 1The workshop setting

After the initial stages of warm up and drawing, I asked the participants to add more places that had particular importance for them (in whatever sense they liked) on their maps. They were also told that the maps they drew did not need to be geographically accurate, but rather should show London as they experienced it in their everyday lives. I employed sketch mapping as a creative methodology in order to provide the respondents with a platform where they could freely draw and create their own selective representations of London and through which they could discuss how they use mobile communication technologies in London as part of their everyday interactions.

Mobile Nodes 2A participant drawing her own map of London

During the workshops, I recorded all the discussions and conversations. Then I transcribed those discussions in order to find emerging themes for the data analysis. I did not use any visual analysis of the sketch maps, because I was interested in how the research participants reflect on their own sketch maps and what they say about those maps – rather than me analysing what was drawn on each map.

Mobile Nodes 3Part of a participant’s map showing place-specific communication using a mobile phone

As each workshop progressed, after the initial stages of drawing sketch maps, and as the participants started talking about their maps and memories of London, they would typically mention and discuss their use of mobile and locative media in relation to different memories, associations and meanings of places in London.

Why did you choose to use this method? 

Creative visual methodologies are useful to overcome the difficulty of expressing different perceptions of places and meanings associated with those places. As a limitation of verbal elicitation (such as interviews), we cannot know about people’s images of their observable nonverbal behaviours.

What did you learn from the research process? 

Creative visual methodologies could be used as supplementary tools to verbal elicitation in order to base our understanding not only on what people say but also on what they do and how they interpret what they do.


Kevin Lynch’s influential work The Image of the City and David Gauntlett’s creative approach to research methodologies in media studies.

Gauntlett, D., (2007). Creative Explorations: New Approaches to Identities and Audiences. London: Routledge.

Lynch, K., (1960). The Image of the City. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Further information

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

And the Doctor Said…..

Mark Webster, Staffordshire University; Dr Alannah Tomkins, Keele University; Dr Geoff Walton, Northumbria University; Dr Jackie Reynolds, Staffordshire University

This is a collaborative project between Staffordshire and Keele Universities. The idea for the project came about as a result of the research team’s participation in an Arts and Health Group, based at Keele. It also involves partnerships with four freelance creative practitioners: Maria Whatton; Deborah McAndrew; Dave Reeves and Chrissie Hall. It is a Connected Communities project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Disciplinary background(s) Community studies, community and participatory arts, history

When will the research take place? It is a two-year project, running from March 2012 – February 2014, with the majority of the activities taking place in 2013.

Aims of research 

The research aims to explore people’s experiences of healthcare in north Staffordshire through creative writing and story-telling, to generate new insights and fresh perspectives on people’s health experiences, which can be widely shared and may contribute to future healthcare developments.

Description of creative research method

The project involved a series of two-day (or four half-day) creative writing workshops. The workshops took place in community venues and were led by creative writers who were commissioned for the project. In the workshops, participants were encouraged to discuss and to write about their health experiences, either in the past or more recently. The workshops were organised and supported by a researcher.

And the Doctor Said....1

There were four sets of workshops, each one led by a different creative writer, and involving different participants. They all involved some group activities, to encourage people to interact and to share their experiences, as well as some form of creative writing, either individually or as a group.

And the Doctor said...3

Voices of Experience with Maria Whatton

Voices of Experience is a mutual support group for women who have experienced domestic abuse. The women took part in two one-day workshops led by Storyteller and Creative Writer, Maria Whatton. These workshops took place in January and February 2013 at the Emma Bridgewater pottery factory in Stoke-on-Trent. On the first day, the women discussed their experiences of healthcare as a group. They began to write their pieces individually, and continued to do so between workshops. At the second workshop, they shared their writing and also chose key words or phrases to paint onto pottery. These pieces of pottery, along with the writing, will be included in a project exhibition.

And the Doctor Said...4

Women and Healthcare with Deborah McAndrew

Deborah McAndrew, an Actor and Playwright, worked with a group of teenaged Mums and a group of older women, in a series of four half-day workshops that took place at the Mitchell Arts Centre in Stoke-on-Trent (February-March 2013). Deborah made audio-recordings of the women discussing their healthcare experiences. She then transcribed the conversations, and worked with the group to develop a three-act audio-documentary, which was recorded on the final day.

Local History and Healthcare with Dave Reeves

Writer and Historian Dave Reeves worked with a mixed group of participants at the Burslem School of Art. He ran two one-day workshops in June and July 2013. There was a particular focus in these workshops on historical aspects of healthcare, with participants writing about their memories, for example of childhood encounters with healthcare professionals. A wide range of writing was submitted, including poetry and prose.

Life Story Writing with Chrissie Hall

The final workshops in the project took place at the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme. Life Writing Facilitator Chrissie Hall worked with a mixed group of participants and supported them to write about their experiences of health and illness in north Staffordshire. There were two workshops, both in September 2013, and again, a wide variety of writing was submitted, including several longer pieces about people’s lives.

Each of the workshops included filming and/or photography and audio-recording on the final day, which gave participants an opportunity to read some of their work and to comment on the experience of taking part in the workshops. There were also interviews with the workshop leaders and the project co-ordinator. The filming was carried out by staff and students from Unique Media Production, Staffordshire University. The films are shared, with appropriate consents, on the project website. These will also be a travelling exhibition and a book publication in Autumn/Winter 2013/2014.

And the Doctor Said...2

Why did you choose to use this method? 

The method was chosen because it is highly participatory. It enables people to express their experiences in their own words, but also to gain support and guidance in how to develop their creative writing. Moreover, the approach is designed to provide participants with opportunities to engage in creative activities in a fun and enjoyable context.

What did you learn from the research process? 

We learned that there is much interest in this approach to research, from both participants and practitioners. People engaged in the project with great enthusiasm, even though many had no particular background in creative writing. The wealth and diversity of writing that was produced after just two days of engagement certainly exceeded our expectations.

There were a wide range of barriers to people’s participation in the creative writing workshops (e.g. childcare, transport issues), and we were able to address many of these so that people could take part. Occasionally, however, barriers proved more intractable, for example those experienced by some full-time carers or by people who are very ill themselves but would like to have taken part.

Finally, we have learned a great deal about both the opportunities and the challenges of implementing a research project with non-academic partners, and of disseminating it using multi-media approaches.


The project is influenced by narrative approaches to social research and by the work of medical humanities researchers.

Further information

Project website:

The Campaign for Objects in Purgatory

Julia Keyte, Sheffield Hallam University

The first stage of a part-time article based PhD in design, examining the emotional dimensions of keeping home possessions

Disciplinary background(s) Product and jewellery design, craft

When did the research take place? The 1st phase of the Campaign for Objects in Purgatory, which is outlined here, took place in May 2011.

Aims of research 

The Campaign for Objects in Purgatory examines how the meaning of a possession develops and changes as it is integrated into the home, and explores the implications of this for research on emotionally sustainable design, and for designers seeking to create lasting meaning in their products.

Through the Campaign I collect the stories of uncherished gifts, which despite their negative associations for the owner, are still kept. These possessions offer rich potential for exploring attachment, because they usually embody a contradiction in emotional value; as much as a recipient might want to rid themselves of an uncherished gift, they may also feel compelled to keep it.

Description of creative research method

In order to gather data on uncherished gifts, and to create open discussion on how they are located in the home, I staged a live event and exhibition through which I collected uncherished gifts and their connected narratives, by inviting audience contributions.  Visitors were invited to describe their object and its location, to enter into a discussion about its story, and to exhibit their submission in the exhibition. Each contribution took the form of a physical object, photo, sketch, written text or recorded audio narrative.


The exhibition took place in the Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery over 8 days in May 2011. The majority of participants were university community, although members of the public also visited and contributed. 72 objects and / or their stories were submitted.

The drawings, photos and narratives collected were catalogued, and a two-stage coding exercise used to identify patterns and themes. The first stage sought to categorize the more straightforward descriptive data (e.g. object, giver, location) and to identify the themes addressed or suggested in the submissions (e.g. the reason for disliking the object, or conflicts over the value of an object between family members).  The second stage sought to interpret and categorize expressions of value and emotion connected to the objects.

1970's telephone

Why did you choose to use this method? 

The method developed out of my own creative practice, initially as a way of raising discussion about Christmas gift giving, and its role in hyper-consumption.  The open and discursive nature of the project allowed themes and ideas to arise from visitors’ discussion of their experiences.

As visitors contributed their objects and stories, these in turn prompted new visitors to engage with the project, and to contribute.

What did you learn from the research process? 

The objects and stories were displayed anonymously. This was especially important as there was a risk inherent in publically revealing the stories of unwanted gifts that had been given in good faith.  It became apparent that many visitors enjoyed engaging in this shared public disclosure of stories that aren’t normally discussed; it was a successful method of opening up a subject that is not always easy to pursue through conventional research methods (such as an interview with an individual participant).

Annotated drawings formed the majority of submissions and were key to the effectiveness of the exhibition, as they allowed visitors to make immediate responses.  Drawing and writing facilitated personal expression, but objective information about the object was limited. Recorded audio narratives usually contained more detail about the object and its story, and enabled self-expression through language and vocal emphasis.


A diverse range of conflicts in meaning connected to the gifts were evident in the collected data. Most commonly, contributors expressed distaste in connection with their objects, and this was often expressed alongside disappointment with a fake brand, perceived material cheapness, or a style conflicting with the home interior. Yet despite these negative associations participants were compelled or motivated to keep their objects. Meaning was often present, expressed as connections to memories, important people, and appreciation of a personal investment, e.g. hand-making.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. and Halton, E. (1981) The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Chamberlain, P., and Yoxall, A. (2012). ‘Of Mice and Men: the Role of Interactive Exhibitions as Research Tools for Inclusive Design’. The Design Journal, 15(1): 57-78.

Wellcome Trust (2010) Public invited to contribute ‘Things’ to Sir Henry Wellcome’s curious collection. Available: [link] [accessed 31st August, 2012].

Further information

Forest and Film Club / Wild Films Courageously (Re)Present

Sharon Watson, Birmingham City University

Two participatory research projects working with children

Context for research The research was carried out as part of my PhD study, jointly funded by the School of Architecture and the School of Health. What attracted me to a practice-based PhD was the opportunity to investigate aspects of landscape and well being using immersive, in-situ investigation, and the chance to develop analytical skills.

Disciplinary background(s) My research adopted a multi-disciplinary approach, and was influenced by other research in geography, visual anthropology, art and landscape.

When did the research take place? I carried out pilot studies during my first year in 2010, to test the methods I wanted to use for data collection during the second year. I am now entering my fourth year and writing up the thesis.

Aims of research To investigate children’s imaginative responses to nature in urban wildspaces.

Description of creative research method

I approached a number of schools and playschemes to recruit participants for the research. From which, two ‘host organisations’ agreed to take part and provide a platform for the research projects. Working collaboratively with school staff and volunteers, I led a programme of investigative outdoor adventures for groups of children, aged between 5 to 10 years old. These trips took place during the school holidays or after-school, when we ventured out to explore local parks and nature reserves.

The trips offered participants the opportunity to play and explore different outdoor sites, led by their own interests. On each trip, we bought small digital cameras for the children to use to capture their responses if they wished. In addition, children had access to the camera equipment back indoors, and compiled ‘souvenir’ dvds to take home.

Using the cameras facilitated the collection of experiential, in-the-moment responses and produced an array of narrative streams – interviews, self-narratives, stories and silences – which traced participants’ responses and interaction, from in-situ to indoor locations.

The projects lasted 12 weeks in duration, with individual trips lasting between 2 to 5 hours, depending on the time available. My analytical framework traces how imaginative responses travel and transfer from outdoor to indoor locations, by building in-depth case studies from the films the children created, using discourse analysis tools to interpret their meaning.

Why did you choose to use this method? 

Other researchers, such as Edith Cobb for example, have written about the impact of play in natural spaces and subsequent creativity in later life by asking writers and poets to reflect on their childhood experiences in nature. Piaget’s work also reveals the role of the imagination in children’s understanding of the world and natural phenomena. Both are inspiring precedents, however, with the development of easily transportable cameras, this enables children to capture their imaginative responses by themselves.

What did you learn from the research process? 

By handing control of the cameras over to the children and letting the children move away from the researcher and other adults, this creates the distance needed for their own eloquent, articulate responses and techniques to emerge. For example, they can quite literally challenge adult perspectives by avoiding commonly accepted ways of framing landscapes. Also, how they incorporated their own silences and chose not to speak added a dimension that may have been obscured if it was not something they had control over.


The two practitioners whose work with children and young people that has influenced me the most are Wendy Ewald and Miina Savolainen, for the generosity and curiosity they bring to the relationships they are able to establish in their work.

Further information

Please email me at bootsandbrollies[at] if you would like to know more about the research.

Cultural intermediation: connecting communities in the creative urban economy

Paul Long, Birmingham City University

This is a large project involving multiple stakeholders and a variety of parallel activities. It involves researchers from University of Birmingham, Salford University, City University, London, Liverpool John Moores University and Birmingham City University. Click here for further details of the researchers involved.

The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of its Connected Communities programme.

Disciplinary background(s) Team members on the project come from a range of specialisms including geography, sociology, policy studies and art history. Paul Long, the author of this case study, is Reader in Media and Cultural History, BCU. Without collaboration between the different researchers in the project from their different disciplinary positions, the investigation of cultural intermediation would be somewhat two-dimensional and would have much less academic impact. Interdisciplinary working and collaboration are therefore key to the project management and form an object of study in its own right!

When will the research take place? This is a 4-year project that commenced in 2012. The approaches described here are to commence from January 2014.

Aims of research 

The aims of the project concern histories, policies and practicalities of cultural intermediation. As is stated on the project blog: ‘cultural intermediation is a process which connects different kinds of communities into the creative economy and wider society. It plays a critical role in raising aspirations, upskilling and building confidence, all of which are vital to allow people to engage with and benefit from one of the most dynamic sectors of the contemporary UK economy.

Individual artists, professional networks, events, festivals, commissioning bodies, creative businesses, arts and cultural organisations both large and small can all play intermediary roles.  Some of the most exciting opportunities for research in this area are occurring in the city regions. In part this is because of their size and multiplicity of cultural resources, but also because these areas have large concentrations of communities suffering multiple deprivation who are being left behind by the post-industrial creative economy.’

The particular focus of this blog concerns two work packages (the community experience of intermediation and creative interventions), the aims of which are:

  1. to explore how intermediation connects communities into the creative economy and how this can be enhanced to break down the tension between hard-to-reach communities and inaccessible cultural resources;
  2. to design and deliver practice-based interventions with local stakeholder panels of academics, policy-makers, community groups and artists to improve the effectiveness of cultural intermediation.

Description of creative research method

Many arts and cultural funding streams under the New Labour administrations were tied to activities targeting ‘hard to reach’ groups. Nonetheless, many communities remain ‘invisible’ to intermediaries and, conversely, many manifestations of the creative economy remain ‘invisible’ to different communities. This paradox requires investigation and ties directly to how we seek ways to measure the value of different intermediation activities within the communities nominally targeted by them.

An important, and under researched, concept here is that of cultural learning. This is about the use of cultural means to allow individuals and communities to develop memories, behaviours, skills, values or knowledge (Holden 2008). While this may not directly represent instrumental training in skills necessary to build creative capacities, cultural learning is a valuable theoretical tool for examining the most effective ways of engaging communities with different aspects of the creative economy.

A critical analysis of cultural learning processes fostered by cultural intermediation brings some rigour to common sense assumptions that arts are ‘good’ for people (Belfiore & Bennet, 2007). Work here therefore examines how formal processes of cultural intermediation have engaged with different communities, particularly those that have been hard-to-reach. The extent to which these activities have served to facilitate the connection of these communities into the creative economy can therefore be critically evaluated.

Our case studies emerge from earlier work undertaken with creative organisations and individuals in Birmingham and Salford in order to connect what different institutions think is happening to how intermediation activity is experienced on the ground.

The methods used will be primarily ethnographic, deploying shadowing activities, with up to 80 walked and conventional interviews, focus groups and participatory events. The ethnographic approach will seek to capture ‘vernacular’ appraisals and articulations of intermediation practice in the context of the lived cultural spaces of participant communities. Drawing upon the interpretative methods and traditions of cultural studies for instance, research will engage with textual artefacts, symbols, meanings and interpretations produced in the process of intermediation with community members, encouraging participants to articulate their own conceptual sense and critical review of these processes and outcomes. In evaluating the impact and legacies of intermediations, the ethnography will explore methodological innovations; for instance, through collating the cultural production of community members and narratives of space and place. Crucial to this work is the engagement of community researchers, drawn from the sites we intend to explore in detail in Birmingham (Balsall Heath) and Salford/Manchester (Ordsall/Hulme).

This work informs what will happen with our idea of ‘creative interventions’: There is a rich tradition of action research with an emphasis on participatory approaches and co-construction of knowledge with communities and stakeholders (Brydon-Miller et al., 2003). If work to produce better forms of intermediation is to have any meaning, then it must take a practice-centred approach, working in collaboration with stakeholders to ‘learn through doing’.

Local panels will be established in Birmingham and Manchester comprising academics, practitioners and community members in order to commission new intermediation activities. Those intermediaries commissioned to undertake these projects will design their interventions drawing on the work undertaken in the different work packages and informed directly by communities themselves.

Why did you choose to use this method? 

The research outlined here places different kinds of residential community at the heart of the project, not as objects of study, but as co-constructors of knowledge examining the connections between communities and intermediation activity.

What did you learn from the research process? 

We’ll keep you posted!


Belfiore, E. & Bennett, O. (2007) ‘Rethinking the social impacts of the arts’. International Journal of Cultural Policy 13(2), 135-151.

Bevir, M. & Rhodes, R. (2006) Governance stories. Routledge: London.

Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction. Routledge and Kegan Paul: London.

Brydon-Miller, M., Greenwood, D. & Maguire, P. (2003) ‘Why action research?’. Action Research 1(1), 9-28.

Costa, A. & Kallick, B. (1993) ‘Through the lens of a critical friend’. Educational Leadership 51(2), 49-51.

De Propris, L., Chapain, C., Cooke, P., MacNeill, S. & Mateos-Garcia, J. (2009) The geography of creativity. NESTA: London.

Florida, R. (2004) Cities and the creative class. Routledge: London.

Glaser, B. & Strauss, A. (1967) The discovery of grounded theory: strategies for qualitative research. Aldine de Gruyter: New York.

Hall, P. (2000) ‘Creative cities and economic development’. Urban Studies 37(4), 639-649.

Holden, J. (2008) Culture and learning: towards a new agenda. Demos Consultation Paper: London.

Layard, A. (2011) Cultures of knowledge production: a review of interdisciplinarity/reflexivity. Scoping paper produced as part of AHRC Connected Communities Development Grant. PDF document [accessed 30/6/11]

Miller, D. (2003) ‘The virtual moment’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 9(1), 57-75.

O’Brien, D., Wilson, K. & Cambell, P. (2011) The role of cultural intermediaries. Scoping paper produced as part of AHRC Connected Communities Development Grant. PDF document [accessed 30/6/11]

Further information

The project is ‘live’ and the communities work package will commence in January 2014 with commissions for interventions developing throughout the following 18 months or so. Those interested in tracking how creative methods develop in this process (or how creative the methods are), may follow the blog here or contact Paul Long directly:

The Moveable Museum of Found Objects

Katie Smith and Dave Briggs, Creative Communities

An artist-led consultation activity showcasing a curious crowdsourced collection of found objects

Disciplinary background(s) Socially Engaged Art, Digital Engagement

When did the research take place? The Moveable Museum of Found Objects pitched up in 5 different locations over a six week period during June and July 2013.

Context for research

In 2012 Arts Council England launched the Creative People and Places fund. The fund focuses investment in parts of the country where people’s involvement in the arts is significantly below the national average, with the aim of increasing the likelihood of participation. South Holland & Boston Borough in Lincolnshire has been awarded nearly £2.6million through Transported, a consortium comprising of artsNK, Lincs Artist Forum and Lincolnshire CVS. The first phase of Transported was an artist-led consultation which took work and performances by commissioned artists on the road throughout Boston Borough and South Holland. It gathered information from residents via a team of Community Researchers which is now being used to inform the delivery phase of the programme.

The Moveable Museum of Found Objects was commissioned as an artist-led consultation activity. It showcases a curious crowdsourced collection of found objects which have been accessioned and curated in a 5 berth caravan. Exploring notions of value and beauty in objects that have been lost, forgotten or discarded, it aims to take a museum experience to unexpected places and unsuspecting audiences.

TAM 02a

Aims of research 

The purpose of ACE’s investment in South Holland and Boston Borough is to encourage experimentation ‘with new and radically different approaches and to develop inspiring, sustainable arts programmes that will engage audiences in those communities.’

The major challenge for Transported is to engage with the unengaged; in order to do this the programme’s stakeholders (artists, arts organisations, libraries, heritage and local authority partners) felt that current attitudes towards the arts, existing audience behaviours and aspirations for future arts provision needed to be understood. Through a series of open space events they developed theories to explain why people’s involvement in the arts is so low in the area with the intention of testing these theories through a public consultation.

The stakeholders identified that an issue with ‘consultation’ is that people can only put forward an opinion about the things they have already done or seen and that this could be problematic in an area where opportunities to take part in the arts are often perceived by residents as being limited. The thinking behind the Transported consultation phase was therefore to provide real and innovative arts experiences for people to challenge their thinking and make them more open to the idea of talking about what taking part in the arts meant to them. The intention was to create a rich qualitative data set that could be analysed and used to inform the delivery phase of the programme, ensuring that future strands were developed and planned to be responsive to the needs, interests and locations of the communities of South Holland and Boston Borough.

Description of creative research method

The museum pitched up in a variety of locations during the Transported consultation, (a summer fayre, supermarket, church, truck-stop and market) and was accompanied by 2 Community Researchers on every trip who used a structured questionnaire to gather qualitative data from visitors. To supplement this process we created a reflective blog post illustrated with photographs and completed an artist evaluation for each trip.


UL 01a

Why did you choose to use this method? 

The familiar space of the caravan combined with the surprise of its unusual collection and location encouraged interaction from an audience who ordinarily may not have considered visiting a museum. This created a relaxed environment which encouraged natural openings for conversations with visitors about what taking part in the arts meant to them, the current provision in their area and their aspirations for the future. By structuring the research around an arts experience that was seen as non-threatening and accessible we were able to encourage visitors to complete a questionnaire with the Community Researchers without them feeling pressurised or as if the process had no relevance to them.

LS 04a

What did you learn from the research process? 

As creative practitioners we learnt a huge amount about working effectively within a research team. We found that the research process worked best when there was a seamless link for the visitor between the act of experiencing the museum and the gathering of data from them. The more experienced of the Community Researchers were able to use conversations that occurred naturally between ourselves and visitors as a lead into their questionnaires, homogenizing the two parts of the process.

The biggest challenge for Transported as an organisation has been how best to analyse and present the vast quantity of qualitative data collected during the consultation phase (the Moveable Museum was one of over 30 artist-led activities) and to clearly evidence how findings will influence future strands of the programme. This is work in progress and although the consultation was not a piece of academic research, support from academic partners from the University of Lincoln will ensure that the findings are scrutinised with rigour and presented in a way which is transparent and accessible to all of the project’s stakeholders.


Stephen Willats – Artwork as Social Model

Further information

View a short film about The Moveable Museum of Found Objects

Media, community and the creative citizen: personal media ecology timelines

Jerome Turner and Dave Harte, Birmingham City University

Media, Community and the Creative Citizen is an AHRC-funded major research project under the Connected Communities programme. This project consists of three complimentary strands investigating the nature, practices, and value of various forms of creative citizenship in the UK: hyperlocal publishing, community-led design, and creative networks. The participatory method described here was designed for a workshop, working with members of the public in order to explore their everyday news media consumption practices.

Disciplinary background(s) Journalism, audience studies, community studies

When did the research take place? The project spans 30 months, ending in November 2014, but this particular method was first used in workshops taking place November 2012.

Aims of research 

Hyperlocal publishing is a term used to describe the emergence of neighbourhood news websites in the UK, sometimes in response to the scaling back of traditional media. The aim of the method, in this instance, was to contribute to two ongoing case studies of hyperlocal publishers, which includes a study of potential and existing audiences in those case study geographical areas. The timeline method described here specifically sought to tease out the various ways that people consume (whether by osmosis or design) news and ‘information’ throughout the day, first on a very general level, and then looking at local news. These findings might then inform the hyperlocal practitioners’ practices.

Description of creative research method

The timeline method described appeared halfway through a two-hour focus group, whereby we had already entered into discussion about news events, so the ice had been broken within the group. The timeline process then followed in three steps:

1.Your day (5 minutes)

Participants are each handed a landscape A1 sheet which had already been marked with a horizontal axis and numbered with hours of the day from 5am to midnight. They are asked to block out, below the line, the main types of activity that make up their day, but without too much thought or detail. The facilitator demonstrates this on their own example sheet.

2. Your everyday news consumption (15 minutes)

The participants are then given stickers graphically representing various types of media: television, radio, internet, Facebook, Twitter, face to face chat, telephone, local newspaper, national newspaper, magazine (4 are offline or traditional, 4 are online). They place the stickers on the timeline to show when they are using these media in a typical day to consume news, where news is framed as not just hard news but also finding out new information about anything topical or timely e.g. finding out an uncle is sick. The stickers should not overlap each other, but should stack vertically like a column graph. Participants can use a pen to draw a bracket or umbrella depicting a long period rather than using multiple stickers. Participants are also encouraged to note in pen details of these media e.g. newspaper name. Facilitator again demonstrates this on their sheet.

3. Local news consumption (5 minutes)

Participants were finally asked to place dot stickers on those instances of media news consumption that at least included (if not entirely consisted of) some local news.

media ecologies 1

media ecologies 2

Why did you choose to use this method? 

It was inspired by a timeline method used by colleagues on the project. They were creating timelines with participants who were working within the arts and, it was expected, had more experience of doing such workshop activities. Therefore, we sought to break down the process into meaningful but manageable steps that helped our participants (members of the public) tell their story.

We were also looking for a method that would really allow people to explore and describe how they digest news, whether by intention or osmosis. The alternative might have been to simply ask “Where do you find out news in the day?” It’s expected that many people would have answered “I watch the news before going to bed”, or “I read the paper”, without truly exploring their intake throughout the day.

There was also an element of looking for a practical ‘hands on’ method within the workshop.

What did you learn from the research process? 

Participants were able to follow the instructions accurately within the timeline, and needed little additional guidance. Where they deviated slightly from how we expected them to place the stickers and draw, this was no problem, and could even be said to add meaning to the data (see next point). As a novel exercise, people did not unhelpfully try to second guess the process and jump ahead, deliberating and concentrating on each step, as required.

Despite the fact that graphs are usually considered representation of quantitative data, in this instance, the method is largely qualitative because participants do, and are allowed to, interpret their application of the process in a way that seems fit or appropriate to them, as a narrative. i.e. it’s not simply where they place the stickers, but how, and why. Various individual media narratives could be recorded and analysed. E.g. many participants described having media on “in the background”, usually in the case of traditional media such as radio (in the mornings) and television (in the evenings). Where social media such as Twitter and Facebook were mentioned, they tended to be ‘peppered’ more thinly throughout the day.

One other reason that this couldn’t be applied as a quantitative exercise is because of the limited numbers of participants, 10 in this case. However, with larger numbers completing the task, the individual stickers and ‘local’ dots applied could be analysed as data to ascertain whether patterns emerge. E.g. it would be possible to recreate the process as a ‘drag and drop’ website exercise which could then be accessed by thousands of participants.

One unintended outcome was that completion of the task, and ensuing discussion, made participants think differently about news media. In many cases they were surprised to find how much news they are taking in throughout the day, and how they are doing it.

Finally, the process of breaking down a complex exercise into staged, but still meaningful, parts would be applicable to other situations. Participants were pleasantly surprised by the narrative they had recorded by the end of the three steps.


The method was initially inspired by research colleagues on the Creative Citizens project who had used timelines and stickers to explore different ideas; the project as a whole often shares ideas, methods and expertise across the strands. The idea of a ‘hands on’ exercise was also influenced by the researchers’ experience of running focus groups, where it is often advisable to break up long periods of semi-structured conversation with activities. This means varying kinds of data can be recorded, but also helps prevent participants from tiring.

Further information

Full details of the project can be found at:

Some of the completed media ecology sheets can be found at:

A further blog post about the process can be found here: