Getting creative with research: A reflection on training 


As a researcher working primarily with young people Lucy Ellis is always looking to up-skill and utilise more engaging and effective research approaches for her target audience. Here she reports back on her SRA Training course in Creative Research Methods led by Dr Helen Kara. 

Arriving for training

I never know what to expect, walking up the road towards the NCVO buildings for a training course. I always look around to see if anyone else striding up the road looks as though they too might be there for the same purpose. Then it is the apprehension about what time to get there, I never want to be there before the training lead, but I also don’t want to be the last in, with less choice in seating (or biscuits).

Today it was the Social Research Association course on Creative Research Methods, led by Dr Helen Kara. I was incredibly excited about the potential of this course. As a research team at the Youth Sport Trust we really try to incorporate creative approaches into what we do but are always on the hunt for new ideas. 

Everything was fine of course, and I arrived on time and was welcomed in by Dr Kara. We were a small group but that made the content even more personalised and we had plenty of time to share and ask questions.  

A chance for self-reflection

The training approach involved looking at creative research methods by broad areas of research including mixed-methods and arts-based research. This offered an open approach to the content which made it appealing to all around the table. The morning session focused on content and learning which was then developed through practical activities and presentations in the afternoon. 


Within each broad area we considered the challenges and opportunities creative research methods could provide. Exploring ‘why’ we want to use creative methods helped to both enable self-reflection of our own practice and the way we each approach research projects. Creative methods can help me to be more effective at engaging all young people in research activities as well as helping to elicit more in-depth and reliable responses. This is vital to us at the Youth Sport Trust to ensure that we accurately capture and project the youth voice as well as ensuring that all young people have a positive experience of participating in research.  

The discussion opportunity within a safe space supported me to consider my skills as a researcher. What are my barriers and challenges and which of these are outside of my direct control, and how I could think differently about challenges to provide solutions? It was great to be able to talk to others who may have experienced similar challenges and to see how they had overcome such barriers.


Embedding creative methods into research practice

When the context was set, we considered how creative research methods could be embedded into each stage of the research design process, from evaluation design to data analysis and dissemination. This allowed me to see on a practical level how creative research methods could be incorporated into and improve all areas of the research process. 

For me, the discussion around analysing and presenting data using creative methods was incredibly insightful. Techniques such as ‘I poems’, diagramming and screenplay encouraged me to challenge the 20-page written report ‘norm’. These techniques also offer the opportunity to appeal to multiple audiences. In particular, working with children and young people, I could see how these could be valuable for feeding back to the participants involved with the research in an appealing and attractive way - an area that we as researchers can also do more in. 

We also discussed how technology could be used to support creative research methods. There are many opportunities that exist to vary the way you collect data and  make the process easier and, in many cases, cheaper through using technology - even something as simple as a smartphone. Dr Kara always provided a balanced approach and we also considered the challenges that may come with the use of technology, such as sampling bias, costs and consent. 

The afternoon session involved practical activities in small groups followed by presentations to the whole group. As I’m sure is the same for many, when trainers say ‘group work’ and ‘presenting’ the fear sets in. However, it was incredibly useful to work with others in a supported environment and I got a lot out of the opportunity to apply the techniques and skills we had learnt to a hypothetical scenario. 

I found the whole course incredibly useful for my work. Since coming back I have worked with my team to apply more creative approaches to our work, both in how we collect data but also how we present it. 
The course not only provided an opportunity to hear from an expert in the field, but also provided a chance to learn from others in the research space and build networks. The resources and take-aways are useful to refer back to at a later stage. Most importantly, the lunch was great. 

Author Bio:  Lucy Ellis is currently a Research and Evaluation Specialist working at the Youth Sport Trust. Previously Lucy has worked as a Researcher at the National Foundation for Educational Research and the British Red Cross.