Creative research methods have a long tradition in the arts and humanities, but are much less familiar in the social sciences. So I’m delighted to see this new book from Dr Helen Kara offer a welcome insight into the growing field of creative research methods for social science research. The book is a positive romp through a whole range of creative methods and approaches. Inevitably this means that the book is wide in scope rather than deep in detail on any one approach but for me this was a plus. The book feels encyclopedic in the care and attention that has been given to documenting references, case studies and examples, providing a vast range of references to works for you to explore at your leisure in more detail as you want. It’s a timely and much needed prompt to all social scientists about the importance of thinking outside of the box and not being afraid to jump out of our methodological comfort zones once in a while.
I was particularly taken by an early example of the use of crochet to model the geometry of hyperbolic planes by Latvian mathmatician Daina Taimina. And I was pleased to see concepts like ‘bricolage’ and ‘remix‘ in research being discussed. Creative combinations of methods and reworking established approaches into new and exciting designs are all part of the creative landscape we are encouraged to explore.
The book is really thought-provoking, as I read through its pages I found myself considering a wider range of methods than I might normally and if it has the same effect on others we could be in for interesting times. From innovative uses of ‘conventional’ social science methods like surveys or focus groups, through to creative mapping (see for example this video on using emotion mapping in clinical practice with families), performative research, technology enabled research (good to see the #NSMNSS network getting a shout out too :) ) and the use of graphic novels, it urges us to think differently about what social science research looks like. I also like that the book is clear that not all creative approaches to research will be innovative and that you can (and should?) be creative with tried and tested conventional methods like interviews, focus groups and surveys. This is important, especially for applied researchers where research clients and funders may be less open to the more overtly creative approaches of performance and art-based social research.
Rather than having chapters on specific creative approaches the book is organised around different stages in the research process, providing guidance and examples of how and why creativity can be built into research design, data collection, analysis and writing. It also does not shy away from the thorny issues of ethics and rigour. The book challenges social scientists to reflect on their methods, to try new approaches and apply some creative thinking. But it doesn’t do so mindlessly, it also reminds us to think about the ethics, quality and rigour of what we are doing as we experiment.
I’ll be writing more about creativity later this month seeing as I’m attending a day long workshop on creative leadership this week swiftly followed a day at the Social Research Association’s first conference on creative research methods. But for now, it’s a big thumbs up from me for this book, a great read, one I expect to be dipping into time and time again!