How to Use Creative and Participatory Methods Within and Beyond Research Settings

How to Use Creative and Participatory Methods Within and Beyond Research Settings

By Alice Willatt, 10th February 2022

Ever wanted to know more about using creative methods in research? Or how to use creativity to develop person-centred activities for the people that interact with your services?  

Over the past eight months the Connecting Through Culture research team have been working alongside 18 older adults (aged 60-75) who are disabled and/or identify as socioeconomically or racially minoritized. This group of ‘co-researchers’ play a key role in the project, bringing their knowledge, expertise and lived experiences into the research process and co-design of digital cultural experiences. We began working with co-researchers by using creative methods to explore and understand more about their daily lives, social connections, digital participation, and experiences of social exclusion and marginalisation.  

At the heart of this process is a tool kit of creative methods. One method we have used is the ‘My Album’ activity in which we provide co-researchers with an album, creative materials, a camera and a list of prompts or questions about their daily lives. The co-researchers work with different mediums, from photography to creative writing and collage, to create an album about their lives. After several weeks we interview the co-researcher to learn more about their album, using its contents as a prompt for the discussion (also known as the ‘diary interview method’). 

This blog provides a beginners guide to the My Album activity, demonstrating how it can be used to generate a person-centred and holistic account of peoples lives, as told by them. The guide may be of interest to researchers, but also those working in the community sector or educational and health and social care settings, who are looking for participatory ways of working with marginalised groups.

How to run the My Album activity:  

The research team has worked 1-2-1 as well as in small groups (2-3) to run this activity. We start by meeting the co-researcher/s, either virtually or face-to-face to introduce them to the activity and provide them with a ‘My Album pack’ (can be sent in the post), which includes a list of questions prompts to get them started. We then meet with them a week or two later to see how they are getting on and give them the opportunity to share what they are working on. In the final meeting we ask them to give us a ‘tour’ through their album, asking questions about what they have included, and reflecting on how they have found the process of putting it together. 

What’s in the My Album pack?

  • A large spiral bound book with blank pages
  • A selection of creative materials (pens, pencils, stickers, glue, scissors, etc)
  • A polaroid camera (a digital, disposable, or phone camera also works)
  • Outline of the activity with question prompts

What sort of question prompts can I use?  

We have found the following prompts helpful to get co-researchers started on the album activity, but you can adapt them to suit the people you are working with.

  • The people, objects, events or places that mean the most to you.
  • Consider things and people from your past and those from the present day.
  • Is there a space in your house where you spend a lot of time? What can you see from the windows?
  • Is there an object in your home that is important to you? Maybe it’s a photo, or something you have been given by someone else?
  • What do you love doing? Can you take a photo that shows this activity?
  • Times when you are outside the home and enjoying yourself.

5 top tips to keep in mind when facilitating the My Album activity

  • We recommend completing the My Album activity yourself, alongside the individual or group you are working with, to make it a shared collaborative experience.
  • It can take people time to work out how to use their album, some people enjoy working purely with visual images, through photography and collage, others enjoy accompanying the visual with written explanations, creative writing or poetry.
  • The method can be adapted to suit the interests and abilities of the people taking part. For example, if you are working with a group that has diverse literacy skills, their albums can take a purely visual form through the use of photos, collage, drawing, painting, etc.
  • It’s important the album belongs to the person who has created it and is theirs to keep. Many co-researchers have become attached to their albums and have wanted to share them with friends and family.
  • It’s important not to ask people to close or finish their albums (unless they want to). They can be kept open, so they can continue to document their lives beyond the period of time you are working with them. Visit out blog in a couple of weeks time when we will share a bit more about what we have found out from using the My Album method along with pictures of the albums and quotes from co-researchers!