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6.3 Reflections on being a practitioner-researcher within a live city of culture bid

The role of a researcher in a live project can be varied depending on the nature of the supervisory staff and the manner in which a working arrangement is established. If a researcher is embedded in a team for a live project team there is a potential benefit both to the host organisation and the researcher themselves, as both parties are able to utilise the skill sets and mindsets of each other for mutual benefit. It has been said that creative professionals have a unique viewpoint and particular training which allows them to contribute a diverse viewpoint or challenging mindset (Metzger, 2011), and that the training of a creative professional promotes creative thinking strategies aimed at creating positive workflows (Banks, 2014). Manninen (2008, p.228) argues that city teams should link up with the research community, as it leads to “improved channels” of communication around policy, impacts and new ways of thinking.

The PhD training process promotes a training and practice in academic and philosophical skills and a way of thinking which those without such training may not naturally possess therefore embedding a researcher within a project team that researcher is naturally able to bring a high level of analytical and problem-solving skills to a project. The funding landscape of competitions brings difficulties for those applying, as to submit a bid requires a

significant amount of investment in expertise, time and community engagement. Winning the title of UK City of Culture does not in itself come with a promise of funding; yet the bid documentation specifically asks that bidders present “realistic, affordable and deliverable” bids (DCMS, 2017, p.4). Being ambitious and yet resourceful requires a lot of skill, particularly as teams are forming and growing around a new workstream. The challenges of assembling a team which can make culture the focus for a city are marked, when culture does not sit in one policy area, and is not integrated into all government areas it necessitates cross departmental working. Research by McDonough, Alexandra and Wekerle (2011) showed that many Canadian cities did not have a single team for culture, but the remit for cultural work often sat within the area of regeneration because this was an established team and culture led regeneration was seen as beneficial. Planning for bidding took place far before the official guidance for 2021 was released (January 2017), all potential bidders had to take actions based upon the guidance available for the 2017 City of Culture unless they only commenced bidding in the immediate run up to the formal bid was due (April 2017), which is clearly a tight timescale and unrealistic for most Local Authorities as lead bodies for bidding who would require to receive approval from internal committees.

The live nature of the project within which the research was situated brought challenges and advantages. The time pressures of the bid deadline was a factor in producing the practice- based elements of the research, as if the work was to assist in answering the questions from which the bid originated (DCMS, 2017) it must be timely and relevant for this purpose. At the outset of the project, the updated guidance for bidding cities was not available, therefore any project team aiming to produce a bid for 2021 was working to the previous guidance for 2017 UK City of Culture. This time delay in the publishing of an updated guidance document on bidding is of concern for both researchers and those putting forward a bid, as major changes may have taken place between the competitions.

Being a researcher who is embedded within an organisation allows access to information which must be used responsibly, none of the information within the digital cultural asset map is sensitive however as a researcher I was given privileged access to corporately subscribed software which allowed me to create the digital map, and intranet documentation which differs from the outward facing websites of both funding partners. Ethical use if this information was essential, and this ready access to information is not necessarily available to all practice-based researchers, therefore this is a relatively privileged position, not to be taken for granted within an academic research culture (Dobbs and Moore, 2002) as not all

researchers are afforded such access. This need for developing trust and positionality as an early career researcher, and the privileged position which I held, is highlighted in the following extract:

“Stakeholders don’t necessarily work with the lead experts in an area, often seeking instead people they know and trust, and/or who communicate effectively. Thus networking, establishing relationships and communicating your research through numerous channels is key” (University of Glasgow College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences, n.d., p.5)

Dealing with the evolving nature of technology is an ongoing challenge for researchers who work with digital techniques, with beta versions of software becoming available and the challenges of the expiry of digital information; when websites are redesigned it is common for domain names or pages to be archived or removed, meaning hyperlinks are dead. Project based websites may be archived at the end of a project or domains not renewed once completed. In working within a collaborative environment, where industry is a funding partner the legacy effect of any research outputs should be considered, and archiving taken into account (Pietrobruno, 2013). It should be remembered that there are implications for all researchers and digital consumers from this, as “the impact of new media is not just on what we study but how we think. There is then no opting out of digital scholarship” (Crang, 2015, p.353).