This is a short article outlining a process for creative research methodology design.
This article responds to a need (as a collaborator once phrased it) to 'make the research methodology as interesting as the findings'.
And it invites us to develop our personal research practice by meditating upon the word 'insight'. 'Insight' is one of those words whose meaning expands the more you dwell upon it. For some, an insight is heavy: something deep, transformative, and profound. For others, an insight is light: a decision-making tool, a flash of inspiration, and a useful part of other, perhaps more strategic, processes.
Where do you stand on this spectrum?
A short note on 'New Forms'
This is a phrase that has stuck with me since youth. It's an album title by a musician called Roni Size. With New Forms, released in 1997, his mission was 'to make music that sounded like the future'.
Our mission is similar: to make the insight methods of the future. So, as a tribute to that album, we'll start with a quick analysis of lyrics from the albums opening manifesto song, 'Railing', sung by Dynamite MC:
- Collaboration is key: 'a skilled ever-ready strong team of inventors'
- Resist the allure of simple binaries: 'go deep, right into the middle of the beat'
- Be resilient: 'hang tough, when the rhythm gets rough'.
Break it down: your insight system
Insight is a complex word. The more you meditate upon it, the more it expands.
So, to make it easier to innovate, we can split it into three parts/stages: collection, analysis, and communication. We can think of these as the three main modules of your insight system.
This part is all about going out into the world (and into the web) to find out stuff. This stage may involve connecting with interesting people, taking photographs/videos, writing discussion guides, conducting interviews, immersing yourself in subcultures, holding workshops, designing surveys, finding statistics, setting up instant message discussion groups, scraping comments from social media, immersing yourself in subcultures, observing people, doing 'serious noticing', walking around key spaces, creating algorithms, visiting events, writing thick descriptions, and so on.
A key part of this is developing your style of documentation. This might be carrying a notebook, sketching mind-maps, and using tools like Trello and Slack to create insight archives.
Other elements of the 'collect' stage include building the confidence to approach people, and developing techniques that build trust and rapport.
This stage also involves critical and creative reading, ideally from a diverse variety of sources: theory, poetry, archives, magazines, trend reports and so on.
This part is all about organising the data you collect into something meaningful.
This might involve 'coding' or 'tagging' your data into groups and clusters so that you can discern patterns. For example, you might tag any collected words that refer to processes (usually verbs ending with '...ing'). Or you might tag anything that relates to emotional states.
Another aspect of analysis is processing your findings through existing frameworks, models, mindsets, concepts, canvases, processes and so on. This might take the form of applying theory such as postmodern, ecocritical, feminist, queer, postcolonial, Marxist theory - or anything from the broader post-humanities movement.
Ultimately, this is the stage where you are working towards insight epiphanies - the 'aha!' moment when things come together. You are also working towards answering the 'so what?' and providing the design/strategy implications of your research.
This part is about sharing your research story and achieving impact with different audiences.
A key term here is multimodality - using multiple modes of communication. This might mean creating an insight podcast, an infographic, comic-book, poetry collection, insight documentaries, set of ideation cards, visual collage, board games, social media accounts, or insight web-portals with good user experience.
Going beyond digital tools is the opportunity to craft insight experiences. Creating dramatic performances, running social experiments, designing insight installations, setting up insight 'pop-ups', or playing interactive games. These types of methods help elicit emotional states in an audience that transforms their relationship to the insight.
Thinking of research as a narrative opens up new dimensions of communication. We can leverage different genres like horror, sci-fi, fantasy, myth, detective, and romance; we can make an audience feel haunted, thrilled, unsettled, strange, and defamiliarized; we can aim to provoke laughter, pleasure, desire, and pathos; we can play with irony and secrecy ; and we can create enemies to revenge against.
Developing a research style
Ultimately, new forms of insight will emerge from individual styles and experimentation.
Here are two examples of this - the first is a definition of the type of research we aim to do at InsightOS, and the second is a graphic I made several years ago when I was expanding my own conception of insight.