Practice Based Research: main points

According to REF 2014 definition, research is a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared.

In the next series of our posts we will be focusing on research and research outputs, with particular emphasis on research in Art & Design.

Breaking down the REF definition in smaller components of ‘process of investigation’, ‘leading to new insights‘ and ‘effectively shared‘ may offer a useful means to study this definition more closely. This post will look at the ‘process of investigation’ and ‘leading to new insights’

‘Process of investigation’ or a process of inquiry is mainly concerned with research strategy and methodology. More traditional research methodologies are characterized by well-established and widely shared strategy and procedures, using very clear research methods (Haseman and Mafe, 2009). For example, let’s try to map the above REF definition with social research paradigm:

process of investigation’ needs to:

  • Have clearly stated aims, that are
  • Related to existing knowledge and needs, and that are
  • Investigated within limitations imposed through time, money and opportunity
  • Use precise and valid data collected and used in a justifiable way

new insights’ need to:

  • Contribute something new to knowledge
  • Produce finding from which generalizations can be made (Denscombe, 2002)

Artists and creative practitioners do not always operate within conventional research strategies and methodological assumptions, although some traditional methodologies may meet some of the artists’ needs (e.g. reflective practice, action research , grounded theory and participant observation).  Practice based research is a distinctive and widely established research strategy with the methods stemming from long-standing and accepted working methods and practices of the creative disciplines (Haseman and Mafe, 2009)

What is Practice based research?

Carole Gray in Inquiry through practice: developing appropriate research strategies proposes the following definition and sets out two aspects:

‘… firstly, research which is initiated in practice, where questions, problems, challenges are identified and formed by the needs of practice and practitioners; and secondly, that the research strategy is carried out through practice, using predominantly methodologies and specific methods familiar to us as practitioners in the visual arts.’

Gray’s definition offers practice as a focal point of the research process: the questions are informed by the practice and the investigation is carried out through practice. The main quality of the methodology seems to be responsiveness, driven by the requirements of practice and the creative dynamic of the artwork.

According to Gray, practice and theory are reciprocal. Critical practice generates theory and theory informs practice. One of the characteristics of practice-based research is the use of visual and multi media methods of information gathering, selection, analysis, synthesis, presentation/communication.

Some of the specific research methods used within practice based research are:

making art/design work; observation and drawing (in all forms);sketchbook/notebook, idiosyncratic notation/symbol;  visual diaries/self reflection/personal narrative/ critical writing; photography, video, sound;  models/maquettes, experimentation with materials; concept mapping, diagrams; use of metaphor and analogy; organisational and analytical matrices, flow charts, story boards; multimedia/hypermedia applications; modelling/simulations, soft systems; electronic databases, visual and textual glossaries and archives. These have been augmented with useful social science methods, usually adapted in some way, e.g.: case study, participant-observation, personal constructs, interviews, questionnaires, multidimensional analysis, evaluative techniques like semantic differential, multiple sorting.

 

References:

Denscombe,M.(2002) Ground Rules for Good Research: a 10 point guide for social researchers, Maidenhead: Open University Press pp.2-3

Gray, C.(1996) Inquiry through practice: developing appropriate research strategies, available at: http://carolegray.net/Papers%20PDFs/ngnm.pdf [accessed on 23 May, 2017]

Haseman,B. Mafe, D.(2009) Acquiring Know-How: Research Training for Practice-led Researchers. In: H.Smith, R.T.Dean,ed., Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts, 1st ed. Edinburgh:Edinburgh University Press Ltd., pp.211-228

 

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