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Methodological Explorations between Design and Social Sciences

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - METODA (Methodological Explorations between Design and Social Sciences)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-02-28

METODA is a research project that explores how we can use techniques from design and art to develop creative and experimental research methods. Examples of such techniques are mapping, prototyping, drawing, probing, storytelling, and scenario making. Techniques used in designing include a variety of tools and devices used to create visual representations, narratives, fictions, probes, prototypes, and speculative proposals. Design techniques involve the use of artefacts, images and narratives as experimental thinking materials. They offer new and interesting ways for researchers to engage with research subjects creatively such as play, performance, simulation, and appropriation. They offer researchers new ways of thinking about the worlds, the material, technological, social and sensory environments and the people who are research subjects. The project highlights the potential of these techniques as research methods that build knowledge through making, experimenting and disrupting. The project did this by collecting and showcasing examples of other projects that used design techniques as research methods. The project engaged in a series of dialogues with researchers that explored design techniques as part of their research. The project conducted a series of workshops with students and researchers across different disciplines and venues to explore trial and experiment with design techniques in research practice. The project also developed a prototype of a methods kit for anyone doing research that wants to experience and learn how techniques from design and the arts can function as research methods.
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To map existing sites of methodological innovation the project has collected and showcased examples of projects that used design techniques as research methods. It has profiled projects using methods explored at various sites – from artistic events on the street to classroom assignments, staged conversations in bars to road trips along the coast, and from Brazil to Spain, Norway to South Africa. These projects are profiled on the project’s (metodaproject.net) website and discussed in the project’s publications.
To explore how methods and techniques drawn from design project engaged in a series of dialogues with researchers that explored design techniques as part of their research. The project conducted a series of workshops with students and researchers across different disciplines and venues to explore trial and experiment with design techniques in research practice. These dialogues and engagements were aimed both at gaining experiential knowledge about how design techniques actually work as methods in different research contexts. They were also part of an effort to build a conceptual framework for a designerly approach to methods.
This conceptual approach is further developed in a book proposal currently under review. It proposes a framework for exploring how design techniques can constitute a distinct style of knowing. By drawing on design techniques the book will focus on the process of making as a style of knowing. It argues that design techniques are particularly relevant for investigating phenomena that are not very coherent, non linear, messy and emergent.
To make the project’s results suitable for widespread exploitation, the project proposes has developed a prototype of a methods kit for anyone doing research that wants to experience and learn how techniques from design and the arts can function as research methods. It is designed to serve as a pedagogic resource for use by students and teachers in research methods courses. Academic and non-academic researchers might use it as inspiration for designing creative and inventive methods for their research. The kit is published in the resources section of the project’s website (metodaproject.net).
Here is a summary of the dissemination activities that are presented in more detail in the technical report:
Completed: 1) Public engagement events. 2) Workshop series. 3) Book proposal submitted to Routledge. 4) Project video. 5) Blog post in the University of Oxford, Faculty of Law, Border Criminologies Blog (https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2017/06/traces-and-places )
In review: 1) Article in special issue of Qualitative Inquiry journal. 2) Chapter in Designing in Dark Times: A Lexicon by Bloomsbury Press. 3. Article in special issue of Cultural Politics journal.
The project has had significance in education. Through the series of workshops organised in universities all over Europe, the project has introduced design techniques and designerly approaches to methods to new and diverse audiences. In a workshop organised for master’s students in sociology at the Paris Descartes University, for example, the researcher invited participants to trial an eclectic set of visual and sensory design techniques for experiencing Parisian neighbourhoods. In another workshop organised for master’s students in Environmental Humanities at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, the Fellow introduced participants to prototyping as a method of research. For students who previously worked mostly with theoretical texts, introducing the craft of making as research had significant impact in widening their perspective about what was possible in terms of methods and research.

The project made a significant contribution to research on interdisciplinary methods. Within the design disciplines, the social sciences, and science and technology domains there is an increasing interest in innovations regarding research methods. This has recently been manifest in the form of calls for methods that are termed variously, inventive , messy speculative, creative and designerly. The issue of futures is increasingly becoming a major preoccupation within different disciplines. Within a diverse range of fields, the question of how to understand and engage futures, what intellectual and practical strategies to put in place to address futures challenges, have become key concerns. In a paper titled “Inventive methods for studying futures: Exploring research devices from design and art” presented at the 2017 Anticipation Conference in London, the researcher made a persuasive case for considering design techniques as methods for studying futures. The fellow continued his line of argument at a workshop that he organised at the 2017 ECSCW Conference in Sheffield. During this workshop he invited researchers in Human Computer Interaction, Science and Technology Studies and Design to reflect on the methodological potential of the design techniques that they used in their research and practice.The Fellow is working on the manuscript for a book titled “Methods by Design”, where he will articulate the major arguments on the innovative nature of design techniques as methods supported with examples. The Fellow is currently in negotiations with Routledge for a book contract.

Finally, the project managed to generate some impact outside of academia. It has established the basis for future collaboration with some design bureaus. The Fellow is currently collaborating with the French bureau Design Friction (www.design-friction.com) to design a series of methods kits to be used for fieldwork by NGOs.
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