Creative Methods Q & A #5

Categories: Creative Methods, Focus Series, Research, Uncategorised, Visuals

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Creative and Arts-Based Methods were a focus for June and July. Find the whole series here, and follow the link to view the recorded webinar, Get Creative! Research with Pictures & Stories. MethodSpace will continue to include creative research examples, even though this summer 2019 focus has concluded.

Questions raised during the Get Creative! Research with Pictures & Stories webinar inspired a series of follow-up posts.

One more question: “are creative methods legitimate?”

More questions were generated in the Research with Pictures & Stories webinar than we had time to answer. You can see four Q & A posts in response to attendee questions. As we close out this series, I’d like to consider a question about the credibility and legitimacy of creative methods. This questioner was concerned about approval of a proposal based on these approaches.

Researchers have used photographs and recordings, arts and artifacts, to understand individual, social, and cultural experiences. Whenever tools are invented, from the camera to electronic communications, intrepid researchers will find a way to use them for research purposes. What we are loosely describing as “creative methods” have been around for a long time.

What has changed today? Here are three observations, with a few tips to help you win support for your design choices.


  1. Accessible digital tools. Today the phone in your pocket can do more than the heavy camera equipment researchers lugged to remote sites. The cost of purchasing and transporting equipment was a significant barrier to wide adoption of creative methods. In contrast, we can easily capture images and sound, or create graphics, comics, media and more from our own computers. We can use analog techniques, such as drawing, then use digital tools to scan and save them. As a result, creative methods can more readily be included in a study.

    Tips: While you can try all kinds of cool techniques, new creative researchers benefit from clarity and focus. Be clear about whether and how you will use creative methods at what stage of the study: collecting and/or analyzing data, visualizing and/or disseminating findings. Specify what tools you want to use, why, and how. Specify whether you will be the one to generate creative representations or whether participants will be expected to take photographs or record some aspect of their lives.

  2. Electronic distribution of scholarly work. Print publications centered on the written word. Electronic publications can include more images as well as links to media and other materials. This means we can more easily disseminate examples of visual or aural data, or representations of the research context. Another aspect of electronic distribution is that we are no longer limited to reading books and journals from our own disciplines, meaning we can look at a wider range of examples.

    Tips: Look for publications that feature scholarly work in ways that extend beyond the written word and simple figures typical of conventional journals. Study the ways other researchers integrate linked or embedded visuals or media in scholarly articles. (See Figuring it out: Trends for visuals in academic writing.)

  3. Interdisciplinary attitudes. Academics are slowly realizing the value of using methodologies and methods from other fields. When teaching leadership and management, I was initially surprised to see the increase in the use of methodologies such as ethnography by business researchers who wanted to understand organizational or consumer culture. It is no longer considered strange for scholars to borrow approaches from other disciplines. We can learn from forward-thinking efforts in fields such as anthropology and sociology– where visual and creative methods are widely used and accepted.

    Tips: Look for examples from your own and other fields that demonstrate the effectiveness of creative methods for answering the kinds of research questions at the heart of your proposed inquiry. Don’t be afraid to contact the researcher to ask about approaches used– researchers are generally thrilled to know that someone is interested in their work!

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