Setting (up) and Mapping: First phase of the postdoc

As mentioned in my previous post, I have started working on the postdoctoral research project Common Ground. Practice, Philosophy and Ethics of Research at HKU since January 2019. In this post, I like to share a bit of the process during these first weeks of the project, and what the plans for the coming weeks are.

The central idea of the project is to empower students, teachers and researchers to improve doing, teaching, supervising and thinking about research.

This first phase is very much a time of “setting up”, characterized by mapping the fields and contexts in which the project inquires and operates, and what the different areas and potential opportunities and challenges within the organization will be. I work on different kinds of mappings, such as:

  • the knowledge on research methodology in the different areas of the institution;
  • the practice and education of research design in the broader field of higher education (including areas outside of the arts) in The Netherlands and its resonance with the project;
  • the actor-network of the project, both within the institution and beyond it;
  • the strategy of research itself.
Mapping activities in the design studio aka living room.

Next to the necessary exploration of the discourse and international discussion in the context of the research, I conduct interviews with the central actors of the projects: starting with the lectors (leading “associate professors” of the various research groups), I talk to the directors of the faculties involved (conservatoire, theatre, fine arts, art & economics, games & interaction, design, music & technology, media, and the master programme “crossover creativity”) and the respective research supervisors; in order to map knowledge, biographies, pedagogies and states of discussion concerning research strategy.

The first round of interviews with the professors is almost completed, and it is already possible to see what kind of image emerges from these conversations: All four professors come from quite different backgrounds and research traditions, as diverse as anthropology, action research and change management, theatre and literature sciences, information sciences and digital media. I expect that this will lead to a diversified and polyphonic image of philosophical, ethical and societal values of research at HKU – which provides the necessary foundation for an approach towards research design.

 

Design model

The conceptual core of the project is the creation of a model for designing research, which on the one hand offers a clear guideline to design research strategies, and on the other hand is flexible enough to be used in a large variety of possible research projects. The latter concerns both kinds of research, as well as different levels of research experience. To give a first introduction to the project, I like to share a schematic version of the model, obviously still in process, and briefly explore its different functions and possible applications. The development of this model departs from current theoretical and conceptual positions such as Henk Borgdorff’s notion of “methodological pluralism”, from my previous teaching experience concerning designing research, and from earlier experiments with such models in various master programmes.

The model contains four layers: Collection, Structure, Timing and Emergence. These four layers interact in a flexible, fluid and ephemeral structure of a network; they are not meant to be understood in a sequential order or hierarchy, but as four interconnected layers.

One of the first schematic in-progress iterations of the design model.

This model can act in a variety of functions: as a model to actually design research, as a framework for reflecting on a design or finished research project and for providing feedback on a research strategy. Another possibility is to use the model as a framework for supervisors with which they can ask questions to students in order to shed light on potentially underdeveloped aspects of a research design.

I will write a separate post dedicated to the details of this model in the next coming weeks. At the moment, especially the fourth layer, dealing with emergence and the yet-unknown during a research process is the most exciting area of inquiry, which promises to be a central area of exploration during this research project. It remains to be seen what will emerge!

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