Research Methodology: Cultural Animation

Definition:

Cultural Animation (CA) is a participatory art-based methodology of community engagement and knowledge co-production that draws on the everyday experiences of individuals from all walks of life and their creative abilities to achieve individual and collective goals. The methodology was developed by Professor Mihaela Kelemen and Sue Moffat, Director of the New Vic Borderlines as part of the work they carried out with the Community Animation and Social Innovation Centre (CASIC) at Keele University, UK.

CA has been used to co-produce practice centred solutions to local and global problems, in areas such as volunteering , community asset mapping , food poverty, market place exclusion, health in the community , sustainable artisanal mining, social innovation, communities in crisis and post-disaster reconstruction . The approach has been tried and tested in multiple community and business settings in the UK, Japan, the Philippines, Canada, Greece, France and Kenya attracting over £2M from the AHRC, EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, Leverhulme, HEFCE and GCRF.

Theoretical underpinnings:

The methodology is underpinned by American Pragmatism, in particular the work of John Dewey. American Pragmatism sees thinking and acting as intertwined: the starting point of research is a problematic situation that cannot be solved by using habitual thinking and existing ways of inquiry. Doubt and indeterminancy are seen as generative mechanisms that lead to discovery (i.e., new theory). Theories are not judged in abstract terms but in terms of their consequences on practice. A theory is valid only if it is useful, i.e., if it provides tools to think and orient ourselves better in the world. Inquiry is also a collective and democratic process and as such it underpins the ethos of co-production present in the Cultural Animation methodology.

Aims:

  •   build trusting relationships between participants by inviting them to work together in a series of activities which start with a picture of the present and proceed with imagining a shared desirable future.

  •   'give life' to the dynamics of everyday life by encouraging participants to reflect on the potential for change within themselves and their own communities

  •   dissolve the hierarchies between experts and non-experts by valuing in equal measure academic expertise, practical skills and commonsensical knowledge

  •   promote multiple ways of knowing and different types of knowledge: experiential, practical, propositional and presentational knowledge

  •   use the power of play and creativity to generate bottom up stories and understandings of sensitive topics

Techniques and exercises:

Rather than relying solely on the written word, ideas are also explored through actions and images. A typical CA workshop includes a mixture of creative tasks, embodied activities and small group discussions to explore key themes. The workshop will begin with a series of name games, designed to put people at ease with each other, building on the idea that when people move about, different ways of approaching and solving problems are possible. More specialised games will follow: these games account for the local context in which the research is being done and for the research topics that are being studied. The activities will rely on the use of day to day objects (boundary objects) such as frames, buttons, ribbons, cardboard etc. We ask participants to bring with them objects that are significant to them. In fishing communities, people brought fishing nets, seashells, bamboo shoot, etc. These objects are used to build art installations and as part of small perfomances. The games along with the creation of various artefacts/installations encourage communication, collaboration and problem solving by dissolving traditional barriers associated with academic expertise.

Outputs

songs, poems, human tableaux, short performances and art installations.

Our GCRF Project

Our current GCRF project puts the voice of the miners and mining communities centre stage. Through the CA methodology, artisanal miners and other relevant stakeholders engage in the co-production of sustainable solutions to mitigate the negative social, health and environment impacts of artisanal mining in Kenya. Our participatory methodology promotes dialogue and cooperation with other ASM stakeholders to co-create a more responsible and inclusive ASM sector in Kenya.



By drawing on the everyday experiences of the miners and their creative abilities to achieve individual and collective goals, the methodology encourages the miners and other ASM stakeholders to reflect on the potential for change within themselves and their own communities. Through various games and creative problem solving tasks, CA helps to build trusting relationships between participants by inviting them to work together in a series of activities which start with a picture of the present and proceeded with imagining a shared desirable future in ASM.




By 'giving life to' the dynamics of everyday life through creative and participatory activities, cultural animation encourages participants to reflect on the potential for change within themselves and their own communities. The participatory and creative nature of the CA methodology responds to criticisms that Business and Society researchers tend to use traditional research techniques like interviews and surveys which fail to give voice and power to so-called ‘informants’ particularly marginalised communities in developing countries.