< Previous | Contents | Next >

2.3 Value Basis


2.3.1 Practice-Based Research

My desire to undertake PhD level research was influenced by my desire to further my academic career and interests, and work on an issue which allowed me to use and develop my existing academic, professional and creative skills within the context of a practice based project. The Paisley 2021 City of Culture bid represented a unique snapshot of time within which to produce work; observing a live civic bid was a valuable opportunity and not something which researchers are always able to do. The theoretical framing of the thesis was informed by the extensive reading and reflection which I undertook in year one of the PhD studentship, including reading around the academic disciplines relevant to the work, gaining an understanding of the policies and strategies of relevance to a city of culture bid, and making links between and among the fields of cultural planning, heritage, regeneration and planning, aiming to “meaningfully (involve) stakeholders in applied social research” (Flicker et al., 2008, p.240). My methodology draws upon participatory approaches, as it was chosen

specifically for “mutual learning” rather than strict “disciplinary conventions” (Cornwall and Jewkes, 1995, p.1669).


My work sits with the approach described as part of a trend for geographical studies and research to have an “ongoing orientation towards embodied and practice- based doings” (Hawkins, 2015, p.248). In this instance, practice-based research is appropriate for working with community partners and adopting an informed approach to being a researcher embedded within a live project, as it allows integration of theory and practice, and is an embodiment of the three part planning, implementing, evaluating approach explained in the Vee Heuretic (Wheeldon and Åhlberg, 2012) , described in section 2.1. The methods used within the research fall within the areas used in both the arts and social sciences (Gray and Malins, 2004), and sit within the emerging field of “social science 3.0” (Ravetz and Ravetz, 2017, p.104) due to their highly visual nature. This is a development of early millennial thinking that practice-based research sat within “a third space, situated within the limits of theory and the limitations of practice” (Dallow, 2002, p.59). Conceptually, cultural mapping is situated across both arts and humanities and social sciences straddling the disciplines of cultural planning, urban design, participatory arts and digital humanities and in designing the research, I was mindful of these academic strands. My initial professional training will always be the grounding of my academic identity, but town planning has roots in sociology, politics and economics and is by its nature multi-disciplinary and incorporates elements of science and the arts (Geddes, 1949). Training in education and creative media practice allows me to bring these angles to community engagement work and nurture my own creative tendencies, therefore the research builds on these aspects.


Within the context of the arts, Sullivan (2010) makes a comprehensive case for the benefits of practice-based research. Sullivan’s model applies to the research in that it is positioned within the discursive domain of enquiry, and the postdiscipline field of practice. This work incorporates methods and theory which draw on the fields of cultural heritage, regeneration, urban planning and creative media. Discursive practice is essential for the success of the practice-based PhD as without researching the theoretical context for the practice the methods used could not have been successfully executed; the research informed the decision to employ the methods used (as described within this chapter). Interestingly, given the context of Paisley’s fabric manufacturing history, there are references to threads of thought as weaving through the research process and informing the entire project; clew which means thread (Little et al., 2013, p.10) and braided frameworks (Sullivan, 2010, p.105) where ideas

and thoughts ravel and intertwine to inform the overall project outcome. This analogy is easily applied to the research, in basing work on a live project informed by academic theory, bringing the previous education and experience of the author together to form a practice- based research project.


According to the following definition, practice-based research also includes elements of action research:

1. Practitioners who engage in action research strive to improve their

practice as a direct result of the research.

2. It tends to be autonomous and is evaluated from the

practitioner’s/client’s perspective.

3. Although tending to be autonomous, it may be undertaken by peers in collaboration in a specific workplace or environment.

4. Improvement in the immediate context is a major driver of the research.

(Thornton, 2013, p.70)


Integrating practice-based and action research approaches can lead to more solutions-focused research activities, working with partners (communities, institutions) and adopting the principle of democratic practice. These approaches also related closely to urban planning principles. For example, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has discussed issues surrounding the integration of academic work with planning practice on the ground. Hurley et al. (2016) highlighted three particular main challenges within this context; accessibility, usability and collaboration. A practice-based approach to research directly overcomes these three obstacles, as the practice-based elements of the work are created in response to a need for research (coming from the community) into opportunities to document and increase cultural participation across Renfrewshire and improve partnership working between the Local Authority and University within the context of the 2021 bid.


I concur with the statement that “to engage in a practice is to engage with the traditions of that practice” (Lennon, 2015, p.67), therefore an awareness of the positionality of my work as a practitioner researcher is necessary, including a need to act upon the need to “recognise.. common/conflicting interests within own and adjacent disciplines/research areas” (Vitae, 2011, p.30). My town planning practice sits more within the aesthetic school advocated by Geddes, and within my research I adopted an approach which aligns with the reincorporation of the “artistic component of city planning” (Talen and Ellis, 2004, p.22), bringing my

academic background in creative media practice together with previous academic training which sits more in the realm of authorised heritage discourse (Smith, 2011, p.12).

I am part of a professional community of practitioner-researchers within the cultural heritage field (Waterton and Smith, 2010). I do not find this problematical, as suggested by these authors, as I deliberately recognise that I work with communities and strive to develop practices which can help empower and give a voice to “seldom heard” people (PAS, 2014, p.13).


As a reflective practitioner, through my academic training in education, I am specifically aware of the need to accommodate different learning styles and needs when operating within the sphere of community work (Hillier, 2005, Minton, 2005). Similarly, in assessing my professional development needs I work on the basis of planning, learning and reflecting which is encouraged by the CPD cycle (Royal Town Planning Institute, 2016, p.3). I volunteer with built environment organisations (Doors Open Days and PAS), as I believe in equality of access to built environment opportunities and enjoy contributing my knowledge and skills in this manner. I am comfortable working with communities and for communities, and am able to work within the higher level of the collaboration scale and competencies due to my experience and training (Vitae, 2011, p.12) but also recognise that I have personal and professional development points as a practitioner-researcher.


As an ethical practitioner, I hold core values which I align my professional practice to. In any consultancy activities I adhere to the code of conduct for my professional memberships (Institute of Historic Building Conservation, 2009, Royal Town Planning Institute, 2016), operate within an ethical research framework (University of the West of Scotland, 2016) and am aware that I am developing my training as a practitioner-researcher through the PhD “journey” (Janson and Howard, 2004, p.169).


A practice-based research approach, involving community members aligns with my professional ethics and values and is rooted in the ladder of participation (Arnstein, 1969) - believing that people should be able to influence their environment rather than have decisions imposed on them. Furthermore, it also aligns with the Geddesian approach of being aware of the fragile environment in which you operate and taking a survey-analysis-plan approach where work is informed by deep thought before action (Geddes, 1949). Both approaches suggest that residents must be involved in decision making to avoid a top-down decision- making process which can impose undesirable projects upon an area. The process for

involvement must, where possible, be accessible and open, and creative methods form a valid form of discussion to engage as wide an audience as possible in accordance with the principles of ‘working on the edge’ with communities (Sarkissian, Hurford and Wenman, 2010), expressing ideas through play and creativity (Gauntlett and Holzwarth, 2006) and that everyone can engage with creative idea generation and is to some degree creative (DeBono, 2012). Discussions which argue that “people’s “lived experiences” are valid sources of knowledge” (Strand et al., 2003, p.11) are particularly relevant to this thesis, as digital storytelling and cognitive mapping use these elements to harness creative methods to record memories, and discuss what culture means to a diverse range of ‘local’ participants.


The practice-based approach to working within the community is also beneficial because it is based on giving voice to those often left marginalised when discussing the field of culture.

The language of cultural heritage can be isolating and exclusive, and imply that only those who can navigate the official rhetoric can participate in decision making or identification of important assets (Lowndes et al., 1997), and that only certain kinds of culture are seen as valuable or valued (Matless, 2013). The approach I adopted worked on the basis that residents know more about their own area than ‘imported’ consultants or the local authority, and know more about how decisions will affect them- locals are therefore experts on cultural heritage most relevant to that community (Schofield, 2014). Culture is a multi-faceted concept which includes not just officially designated assets, but also the locally important issues. The identity of an area is formed by far more than just the buildings and spaces and street names; the character is based on the juxtaposition of the different weavings of tangible and intangible heritage which form a tapestry of experiences over time. Everyone has a unique perception of their neighbourhood based upon the activities which they are involved with, their home location and place of study or work; the mental map formed as a result of this is key to the methodology for the cognitive mapping work (after Lynch, 1960).


Evans (2009) highlights the need for practice-based case studies to be undertaken by appropriately qualified practitioners in order that the lessons learned are applicable across other situations, otherwise a unique contribution to knowledge would not be met. Whilst this examination of this form of practice was intended to consider the field of design or engineering, parallels with this research project exist as I am able to bring a unique mixture of professional and creative skills to the PhD; without the freedom to explore multiple creative practices to examine the issues of cultural participation around the 2021 bid the

range of creative outputs produced would not be possible. In the case of my research, the use of the methods explained in section 2.4 fuse to form a package and portfolio of creative outputs that examine the issues around culture in many ways, echoing the view that “if employed within an appropriate methodology, the use of practice can provide rich contextual (quantitative and/or qualitative) data that would be difficult or not viable to collect using any other means (such as observing a practitioner progress a project from start to finish)” (Evans, 2009, p.8).


This research contrasts with practice-led research which is “concerned with the nature of practice and leads to new knowledge that has operational significance for that practice… (and) in a doctoral thesis, the results of practice-led research may be fully described in text form without the inclusion of a creative outcome” (Candy, 2006, p.3). This work is not practice-led as the creative work is needed to understand the results, and this understanding could not have been achieved without carrying out the practice. Although I advocate a multi- modal method combining the methods I introduce fully within section 2.4 (digital cultural mapping, digital storytelling and cognitive mapping), these are not new methods as such; in my work I seek to make an original contribution to cultural discussion, but the practice leads to an understanding of how culture is viewed and what constitutes a cultural asset, as opposed to manifesting a new creative method or developing a new understanding about existing methods.

The journey described by Nelson in ‘from practitioner to practitioner-researcher’ encapsulates perfectly my attitude to the juxtaposition of creative practice and being an academic; “(Little et al., 2013). I further consider that my praxis echoes this “creative practice approach to scholarship”(Robson in Little et al., 2013, p.139) as a creative practitioner, continually learning and reflecting. As a practitioner-researcher, the cultural field is an interesting terrain to occupy as “this is research that inhabits the gaps and fissures of making, doing and interpreting, and requires research approaches that are (truly) inter- disciplinary” (Scullion and García, 2005, p.125). The advantage of culture sitting across several policy domains is that it can be viewed as a complementary action to different project areas, such as health and wellbeing in the example juxtaposition of mental health and participatory arts (Mental Health Foundation, 2011) or leveraging economic regeneration benefits from restoration of cultural heritage assets (Historic England, 2017b) This thereby increases the possibility of partnership working which is beneficial to building cultural

connections and realising cultural opportunities, as it reduces the tendency for silo working (Stevenson, McKay and Rowe, 2010).


The nature of being a researcher placed me in a position of privilege, “by way of.. resources, status and contacts” (Dobbs and Moore, 2002, p.162), particularly given my link to the live civic bid, which was very topical and the subject of much local and national media coverage. With a high profile event such as this there is a risk that fatigue may be experienced by participants, as they are tired of reading or taking part in related activities. My research was designed to avoid the “usual suspects” (McAreavey, 2009, p.319, McGillivray and McPherson, 2012, p.128, Miles and Ebrey, 2017, p.64) and work with people who may not normally have a say in cultural activities. I was also mindful of the challenges in working with communities who may have different opinions and views from my own, the “multiple- publics” issue highlighted by Umemoto (2001).


As the Paisley 2021 was the new focus of activity for the Local Authority, this allowed for the formation of new groupings and links across departments, adopting an approach akin to “defamiliarization (sic).. of stakeholders from their habitual common sense presuppositions, as a first stage of forming a new, more open and earnest climate of dialogue than that which commonly permeates planning processes” (Metzger, 2011, p.220). New department groupings were formed to progress the civic bid (called workstreams, where both internal and external stakeholders took part in the planning and effecting of projects which aimed to achieve intended targets with a view to submitting a winning bid for UK City of Culture).

As a practitioner-researcher I was able to observe meetings, and make contacts across these groups by meeting staff in different Local Authority departments and sections to understand how culture was positioned. and as the groupings were open to the role of research within the bid, my work was well received and critiqued through open dialogue at meetings. This is an example of the Lowndes et al (1997) approach, adopting a networked approach to local government, however it furthers my aim to work within the RDF CPD framework which shows that a researcher can be someone who “offers ideas that encourage people to think differently; states expectations clearly as a role model” (Vitae, 2011, p.18).


A useful analogy from academic research is that I aspired to the type of approach where “difficult conversations can be held which contest the demand for narratives of slick, polished and productive projects and allows for the necessary messiness of these processes to be valued and explored” (Druiff and Hope, 2015, p.192); in this case the public “face” of the

Paisley 2021 bid is the polished project, which I was separate from as a researcher (for example the Local Authority had local government workers and teams devoted to Paisley 2021 who all have their own Council agreed workplans and performance indicators), yet I was able to be given a view of the bid work through the practice-based research and work at a grassroots level on creative interventions where participants were free to express their own opinions (including criticising the bid) without fearing judgement, as I was working in the capacity of a researcher.


The creative outputs and research produced as part of this practice-based thesis and portfolio were used to inform the Paisley 2021 bid, as the Local Authority were taking a research led approach, building upon previous strategies for physical regeneration but refocusing to recognise that “the assets within Paisley clearly stretch beyond potential visitor attractions and embrace a wide range of forms which provide a link to the past and basis for future regeneration” (Renfrewshire Council, 2014a, p.77). The following testimony underlines and explains the contribution made by my work for the purposes of bidding by the Local Authority:

“Alison’s research formed an important and empirical baseline of the depth and diversity of cultural activity in the area. The bid team relied heavily on this evidence and were able to use it to form the basis of narratives that described Paisley’s unique cultural identity and its relationship with cultural activities” (McMillan, 2018)

In this instance, the threefold ”social life” analysis used to assess the input of research into cultural policy (O’Brien and Lockley, 2015, p.89) is appropriate, my work as a researcher was supported and enabled by the institutions involved in my work (Renfrewshire Council and the University of the West of Scotland), who also used the research outputs, which are in turn useful in the wider academic community. My description of the context of my study, and the use of the multi-modal methods of creative engagement present my perspective on the reality of the situation at that time. For further discussion on the nature and impact of contributions of my work, see section (6.4) and view the portfolio at www.crenellatedarts.com/phd.


Working within the context of a practitioner-researcher within the context of a live project is challenging, as highlighted within this extract:

“Self- referentiality, self-reflexivity and ghettoization have meant that relevant festivals, exhibitions and showcases can sometimes feel to the external observer or non-aficionado as something akin to incestuous

affairs, where small ‘gangs’ of people (/geeks) are recycled as practitioners, curators and audiences in contexts that appear insular and

impenetrable” (Chatzichristodoulou, 2013, p.312).

Although this analogy refers to digital maker spaces and festivals, the same issues apply to other immersive contexts, including that of the dual University and Local Authority environment within which I was based. Practitioner-researchers undertaking PhD level work are thus at risk of self-referentiality; in order to minimise this risk, engagement with the wider academic context is needed, as well as exposure to other points of view, and provocations. Islam (2015) raises a useful provocation on the nature of a researcher working within an organisation, in that they “may appear increasingly like a para-ethnographer, leading to a blurring of differences between researcher and organization member that carries implications for knowledge production” (Islam, 2015, p.234).


The sense of coalescing and stewardship implied in Wenger’s model (Janson and Howard, 2004, p.169) has proved helpful to the development of my work throughout the PhD, in this sense I have endeavoured to engage with as many of the University opportunities to become part of a diverse community of practice (CoP) through teachmeets, writing retreats, teaching and learning conferences, informal gatherings and Graduate School workshops. Meeting other PhD students from outwith my own institution has also proved helpful, with attendance at summer schools, external training events and workshops, and making the most of opportunities to present my research at diverse events and in different forms, such as research slams, external blogs, 3 minute thesis, Pub PhD and Pint of Science. These all force a coherence of ideas and challenge the manner in which I viewed my own work, opening up lines of enquiry beyond my immediate comfort zone.


The Researcher Development Framework (RDF) offers an insight into the manner in which practitioner-researchers can look to progress their development when collaborating with multiple actors; for example by aspiring for the higher levels of phases within each descriptor and sub domain to specifically progress personal and professional development skills:

“Varies approach and presents research to professional peers/expert and non expert audience in an inspirational way” (phases 4 and 5) (Vitae,

2011, p.31)


Recent research as part of Heritage Counts for Europe (CHCfE Consortium, 2015) stresses a four domain approach to sustainable development, of which cultural heritage is the fourth

domain where the traditional approach only included social, economic and environmental issues. Cultural researchers need to be mindful of this development, and consider the complementary issues in other domains when designing research questions, as this will contribute towards a more holistic research study. Cultural mapping and work involving cultural heritage works best when a variety of interests are represented (Ebewo and Sirayi, 2009). Residents must be involved in decision making to avoid a top down process which can impose undesirable projects upon an area. To avoid this, the approach advocated by PAS (2014) which has an open and inclusive three-pronged method for successful community projects is adopted, and adapted, to embrace participatory GIS and storymaps, digital storytelling and cognitive mapping and provides an approach to contextualise the environment within which I operate as a chartered planner with a creative practitioner angle. The complex and multi-dimensional nature of culture is well encompassed in the statement that “all activities and, therefore, all public policies, acknowledged or otherwise, have a cultural dimension” (Ebewo and Sirayi, 2009, p.284), and the recognition that if adopting an inclusive approach to culture “individuals interpret culture in differing ways with no definition of culture being seen to be superior” (Flinn and Mcpherson, 2001, p.5).


2.3.2 Community and practice-based research participants

Community is a contested term within research, in both defining who or what constitutes a community, and in discussions relating to audience engagement (Arts Council England, 2011), event policy (Foley, McGillivray and McPherson, 2011) and placemaking (Sainz, 2012). If “Community and heritage are both vague and elusive ideas, yet together they have gained popular currency and are used as the basis of multiple myths” (Crooke, 2010, p.17) It is therefore important to define the intended community and give reasons as to why this particular partners are chosen. It is important for cultural asset researchers to remember that whilst the primary nature of a community group may not have culture at its heart, some of its activities will be directly cultural such as visits to a local heritage attraction, other work may be more implied such as working towards a badge or award to recognise a skill which involves crafts, personal qualities or technical expertise (for example Boys Brigade or Girl Guides). These groups often meet in multi-purpose cultural venues, occasionally own their own property which is sub-letted to further groups and also form a local community social grouping in which a large number of people may be involved, although groups will operate in different ways depending on their structure, size and governance (Walton, 2012) therefore each practice-based workshop should be tailored to the participants.

In approaching a group for potential involvement in a cultural research project it may be advantageous to look at the remit of groups beyond just culture (in this instance my research worked with groups who had an interest in culture but whose underlying purpose as wider than this. Mapping exercises allow for free annotation of information and invite dialogue on stories behind the drawings made, although some research has highlighted that building trust between the researcher and those who create the maps is key (Perry, Smith and Warren, 2015). For this reason I chose to work with some organisations with which I already had a positive relationship, and then develop this further with other groups, which echoes the advice of established practice-based researchers who suggest “this collaborative approach enables them to see you for who you really are and can help demystify your approaches. But more importantly, you can tailor approaches for the people with whom you will be working” (Sarkissian, Hurford and Wenman, 2010, p.54)


My workshops were geographically based in north Paisley (Roar and Star), the west (Roar), East (Roar) and the centre of Paisley (Create), and thus attendees potentially came from a wide area. This research aimed to design engagement activities to work with “under- represented” groups who may traditionally find participation in cultural engagement activities difficult or specialist (Heritage Lottery Fund, 2010, p.7), therefore working with young people (Create), older people (Roar) and those in a more economically disadvantaged area (Star) allowed an insight into the views of those within these demographics. PAS guidance on engagement is to “seek assistance from organisations specialising in promoting inclusiveness and relevant local authority staff: Equalities Officers, Youth Engagement Officers, Access Panels, etc” (PAS, 2014, p.13), the group profiles meet these nuances. The PAS method is designed for working with community consultation exercises, and is a recognised approach for community engagement, endorsed by a Scottish Government (2010) advice note.

Although this approach is rooted in a community engagement, cultural planning goes beyond the scope of community engagement in town planning and this document has a wider application than originally intended and its use was applied in this practice-based research within a creative context , as fitting in with the placemaking concepts.


Table 2 below shows a summary of the nature of the groups:


Table 2- Group profile


Group/ character

Star

ROAR

Create

Geographical area

Paisley North End

Paisley West End,

Paisley East End, Paisley North

Centre (and across

Paisley/ from Renfrewshire)

Participant

Adults

Older persons

Younger persons

demographics

(the Star Project is


(Create Café is open


located within an


to ages 12-21 (Create


area which is viewed


Paisley, 2017a)


as a more




economically




disadvantaged area,




situated within




declile 1 and quintile




1 of the Scottish




Index of Multiple




Deprivation




(Scottish




Government, 2016)



Source: Adapted from own practice-based research

Roar was established in 2009 and aims to undertake a range of activities aiming to improve the wellbeing of older adults in Renfrewshire, including social activities which reduce isolation, and programmes such as exercise classes, digital skills workshops and befriending services. My research workshops constituted the activity for the day and were delivered within the context of the Roar clubs, which are a “network of clubs, activities and projects that are designed to provide an opportunity to meet people, socialise and laugh whilst investing in your physical and mental health through our wellbeing programmes... many providing a two course lunch and an activity after lunch or/and many provide Otago exercise” (Roar Connections For Life, 2018). I recognise that this programming was a privileged position to be in as a researcher, as gaining access to community groups can be difficult (Dobbs and Moore, 2002), yet I managed to negotiate this approach for all of the sessions with Roar, and the other two groups which I worked with through friendly discussion.


Create began in 2009 as a series of events run by church organisations and youth groups, and has now grown into a Christian charity, aiming to support young people and offer mentoring and skills development in safe spaces. (Create Paisley, 2017a). The café is a small but

regular part of the charity portfolio activities, who also run street outreach programmes, arts events, a youth forum and a parallel social enterprise wing which undertakes filming and audio-visual hire activities, aiming to support the work of the charity. Create Cafe is a “free safe creative space for 12-21 year olds to express themselves through music or art, connect with friends, enjoy amazing cakes and drinks and just relax” (Create Paisley, 2017b) and my workshop took place as part of this café event.


The Star Project started in 1999 as aiming to assist in “prevention or relief of poverty… the advancement of citizenship or community development, the relief of those in need by reason of age, ill health, disability, financial hardship or other disadvantage” and offers a large range of activities including walking groups, breakfast clubs, signposting and counselling services, parenting sessions, WeeStars toddler arts and bookbug activities, all of which complement the aims of supporting the community objectives listed above (Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, 2017). My workshops took place as part of three programmed community drop in events.