Want to try creative methods? Planting the seed to inspire you

Whether you are an experienced researcher or just starting out, Dr Narelle Lemon (Associate Professor in Education, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia) thinks creative methods are something you should check out. As a researcher and ex arts educator who has worked across performing and visual arts in a variety of educational settings, including schools, museums and the community, one thing she has noticed is that often researchers are intrigued about working in different ways but do not know where to start.   

Creative methods enable us to work with participants, ask questions, explore responses, interrogate data, and even present findings in so many different ways.  We are provided the opportunity to dig deep and reveal insights that push our thinking in new and wonderful ways. 

Creative Research Methods in Education: Principles and Practices by Helen Kara, Narelle Lemon, Dawn Mannay and Megan McPherson is being launched into the world in mid-March 2021. Back in 2017 I first started talking about this book with Helen, we then invited Dawn and Megan to join us with a strong vision to make creative research methods accessible to those working in and across educational settings (educator, future educator, teacher-researcher, artist-teacher, education researcher or any other professional working in a formal or informal education setting).  

In this book we bring together best practice examples and reflect on creative research in education in all its stages – design, data gathering, analysis and dissemination. We’ve written this book a little differently as well, with the practical in mind, so we’ve drawn on a wide variety of approaches, drawn on evidence and then translated these into case studies with an outline on ‘What’, ‘Why’, ‘How’, ‘Tips’, and ‘Traps’ and a series of ‘Reflective questions’. 

Working with creative methods

Creative approaches often involve techniques that invite participants to engage differently from more conventional methods employed in education research. For example we can work with photographs, illustrations, poetry, dance, multi-media or even song. Creative methods are particularly helpful in addressing complex contemporary research questions that are hard to answer using conventional methods alone. We can open up dialogues and expression related to lived experiences in ways that extend beyond a survey or interview, that can embrace and acknowledge sensitive, hard to say or personal experiences. Working this way can also support participants to think about a problem in a different way as well. Creative methods may compliment, pair together, or replace conventional methods. 

Working with creative methods brings complexities to the surface. What we love about working in creative ways is that we can inquire in ways that enable unique, detailed, and a layered discovery of knowledge, doing and being, feelings and expression of lived experiences, reflexivity and ethics. For example, one of our case studies draws on my work with young people being invited to be digital makers. In photographing their own world and then using their photographs in interviews, young people are able to tell the story they wish to share, forming a visual narrative of their lived experiences of a specific moment in time. The layers revealed in both the photographs and then interviews is remarkably different than what would be elicited from an interview alone, or a questionnaire.  

Questions to ask

Our aim with the book is to guide and facilitate you if you are accessing creative research methods for the first time and want an introduction to what might be possible in working creatively in education research. 

As you begin to think about what could be possible for you, I’ve shared a set of questions to spark your thinking about engaging with creative methods. They are just beginning points, but offer support to explore what might be possible for you:

  • What is possible?
  • What is the purpose of your research?
  • What question are you asking?
  • Who are you working with?
  • What is the best way to approach this research to glean meaningful data?
  • How will the participants be involved? Will they be researched or co-researchers for example? 
  • How do you position yourself and your project in its design and context?     
  • How do you gather data and analyse all of your work and processes?
  • How might I work with data in a creative way?
  • How might I present my data in a different way?
  • What excites you?
  • What is happening in your context at the moment?
  • What opportunities exist to inquire further?

Working through these questions brings into focus how creative research methods and methodologies might be possible for you and your research. 

Inspiring you to work in different ways

Covid has us rethinking how we work in every way, personally and professionally. With our researcher hats on, some of us have been forced to rethink how we collect data, design our research, and present our findings. Creative methods may be the solution for some of you.

Within education research, different disciplinary approaches influence the ways in which creative research is practised. This book includes arts-based research, digitally mediated research, mobile methods, place-based research and transformative research frameworks such as participatory, feminist and activist research.  What we invite you to do in this book is to consider how creative research methodologies challenge what education research may look like. We see inquiry as emergent - we do not have the answers, but we can explore and inquire in different ways as we pose questions situated in place, spaces and time. 

There is no one answer to designing and undertaking research, and we want to spark possibility in working in different ways. We aim to inspire to help begin the conversation for you. There are various different ways we can work as researchers – for example, through song, dance, theatre, movement, craft, sculpture, sketch, crochet, cartoon, poetry, writing, blogging, journaling or photography. These offer powerful ways to ignite and illuminate voice, participation, and engagement across the various different stages of research design and dissemination. 

We invite you to consider, in each of the case studies, how the researchers position creativity in their research. This book is a starting point – dive into the case studies, and find new ways of seeing, feeling and experiencing research. 

Sample case studies included in the book:

  • Activism with children
  • Kahu and reclamation of Indigenous knowledges
  • Drawing weekly lived experiences on a postcard
  • Dance as a way of knowing
  • A living inquiry of digital portfolios for reflection and learning in art education
  • Hip hop and youth voice
  • Ethnodramatic writing and ethnotheatre for analysis
  • Ethnotheatre for analysis
  • Using creatively gathered data in research reporting
  • Research report in comic form
  • Digital storytelling
  • Using artefacts and audio to communicate alternative gender discourses




Narelle Lemon is an interdisciplinary researcher in her fields of education, positive psychology and arts, holding the position of Associate Professor in Education at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. Narelle is a researcher who focuses on translating theory and evidence into practice to enhance engagement and participation for teachers and students across all fields of education. Recent research has investigated mindfulness in education, self-care and wellbeing to empower educators, arts and cultural education, and her award-winning scholarship of learning and teaching in the integration of social media for learning and professional development.