Less Talk, More (Inter) Action with Guest Speaker Professor Alan Bryman: A workshop presented by the York Policy Review

What does it mean to be innovative in social science research? It has been a buzzword as of late: the ESRC postgraduate training framework, the AHRC “Research and Innovation” guidance, and the National Centre for Research Methods’ research hub, have all called for researchers to use “innovative” methods and approaches in their work. But what is an innovative method? How does being innovative compare to traditional approaches? Does any of this matter?

At the workshop Less Talk, More (Inter) Action, hosted by the York Policy Review and the White Rose DTC on 20th June 2016, a range of leading researchers from across the country explored what it means to be innovative within social science research and provided examples of their own work. In the spirit of innovation, this was not an ordinary workshop – presenters were encouraged to be interactive in their delivery and get the attendees to participate in activities demonstrating their approaches.

The day began with the session Collecting your Body of Evidence: Who wants to lie down? with Angela Collins (Qa Research) and introduced workshop attendees to the graphic elicitation  technique of “body mapping.” Here, a volunteer lies down on a large piece of paper and an outline of their body is drawn by other research participants (with the importance of using pens with non-permanent ink underscored!). In responding to a question posed by the facilitator – in this instance ‘what makes a good qualitative researcher?’ – participants annotate and draw their responses on the paper. Engaging, visual and flexible, this method is particularly well-suited for use with younger people or those who may have had negative experiences of traditional interviewing.

This was followed by Dr Kate Brown’s (SPSW, University of York) workshop on Exploring structure and agency through activity-based interviewing, where attendees grabbed their paper and pens again to map their PhD journeys. In this exercise – where the focus is on drawing key events, experiences, actions and decisions – attendees could both communicate key information and also reflect on their journey so far. The value of using activity-based elements as part of an interview provided a focus for the discussion.

Professor Alan Bryman’s (University of Leicester) keynote then stepped back and looked at the broader question underpinning the day: do we need methodological innovation? Having demonstrated that claims of innovation have increased dramatically in recent years within academic journals, Professor Bryman maintained that ethical guidelines and standards should introduced to respond to new and emerging approaches. His presentation ended with a ‘primer’ for workshop attendees pertaining to how statements of innovation can be successfully defended, during which he emphasised the importance of having a valid motive for not employing ‘traditional’ methods.

The afternoon was split into two workshops, each using ongoing projects to demonstrate the potential of visual research methods. The first of these, with Sarah Brookes-Wilson (SPSW, University of York), focused on Asserting the importance of service access for policy and practice using maps, icons and cameras. This session explored the importance of visual methods, particularly for hard-to-reach young people, before providing an opportunity for attendees to interact with a variety of different approaches both as the research subjects and as the researcher.

The final session was delivered by Dr Ruth Patrick (University of Liverpool), and was entitled Combining participatory principles and visual research methods – reflections from the (PhD) field. This presentation looked at the benefits and challenges of co-production within social science research alongside the potential for visual outputs to be an effective means of dissemination. Using the Dole Animators project as a case study, the session focused on what it means to undertake participatory research and how best to involve participants in any associated outputs.

This was the first workshop organised by the York Policy Review and we hope there will be many more to come. The event would not have been the success it was without the fantastic contributions from both presenters and participants. The enthusiasm to get involved ensured the day was both useful and enjoyable. Thanks also goes to the White Rose DTC and Dr Neil Lunt (University of York) for their support in making this happen.

We hope that those who attended also gained an insight into what the York Policy Review is all about. We aim to be much more than just another journal. In a context where social policy is evolving at a radical rate, the research we undertake as graduate students is more important than ever. We are committed to getting the word out about ongoing projects and supporting graduate students in developing their research careers. Events like these are intended to be part of that process.

N.B. Do you have something to say about innovative methods? Consider submitting a “Methods-in-Practice” article to the York Policy Review. Details are available at submissions.yorkpolicyreview.co.uk