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Method: Action Experiments

The first step was to identify people in the college and in the community who we thought would be interested in participating in what we called a series of action experiments. By this term we meant asking participants to develop and actively try out ideas together in a given space, recording the process, then analyzing it as a basis for ensuing steps. We use the term experiment in this chapter only to imply an exploratory learning-by-doing—trying something out in order to see what happens. We do not mean it here in the sense of a laboratory experiment, which implies both clear predictions about what should happen and a high degree of control so as to permit a clear linkage between cause and effect. In this case the action experiments entailed bringing mixed groups to explore what the Studio for Social Creativity could be in future. Victor approached each person personally and afterward sent a brief written description of the studio and the experiment. The text also explained that the sessions were to be filmed as a basis for development of and research on the studio. We organized five sessions in June 2009, distributing the 18 volunteers so that each session included participants with experience in social entrepreneurship, conflict engagement, and the arts, as well as both Jews and Palestinian Arabs, and men and women.[1] The size of the groups varied from five to nine people, including the researchers. Although some of the participants knew each other, each mix included one or more people they did not know, so none of the sessions had groups whose members all had experience working together. In other words, each set of participants entered what was for them a new space with a new group and a new task.

The research team consisted of three people: the two authors and the cameraman, who was a drama student and the son of one of the authors. The members of the research team did not define themselves as facilitators or observers standing outside the experiment but rather interacted with the participants and took part in the thinking and action processes that unfolded. Victor participated fully in each session. Because Ariane did not speak Hebrew, the nature of her participation varied depending on whether the session was held in Hebrew (Sessions 2 and 4) or English (Sessions 1, 3, and 5). The cameraman filmed all of the sessions in the red-nose mask from the world of theater. He felt it would greatly enhance his ability to look on the action with curiosity and openness. By definition there was no language barrier for the cameraman: The Nose does not speak; it communicates with eyes and the rest of the body. As it turned out, the Nose also became part of the studio, signaling to participants as soon as they arrived that it was an unconventional place in which playfulness was allowed.

Our hope was that the participants would generate an output that would articulate their ideas in ways that could be observed, recorded, and shared with others. We also hoped that the participants would not only interact verbally but also use the room and art materials in some process of thinking and acting together. At the same time, we wanted to leave things as open as possible rather than impose a particular process on the participants. Our intention was to maximize the probability of generating newness. As Stark (2009) pointed out, “spaces of ambiguity” (p. 3) are important when the challenge is to generate newness by integrating knowledge from different domains. Prior to the experiment, we therefore defined for ourselves a number of principles that guided our behavior as conveners and researchers.

  • • Allow the participants to be as self-organizing as possible in their use of the space, their interactions with each other, their use of the resources, and the topics and issues they choose to discuss.
  • • Bring the participants’ knowledge together on as equal a footing as possible. Although we were keenly interested in seeing how art might contribute to this process, we did not privilege the artists, nor any of the other participants, by explicitly attributing to them the status of experts, facilitators, or leaders.
  • • Set a clear time frame (2 h maximum). Aside from practical considerations, our research on artistic interventions sensitized us to the fact that time constraints can stimulate groups to reach higher levels of performance than the participants had previously considered achievable.

By choice, we wanted to allow each group to develop its own approach, so the general principle we followed was “trust the process” (McNiff, 1998).

The studio was sparsely furnished with art equipment: easels, stools, folding chairs, a platform (probably for a model), a spotlight, and a ladder. Each time we arrived in the studio these furnishings were already distributed around the room in no given order, and we did not arrange them for our participants. The walls were bare, except in one case, where balloons had been left hanging by the previous occupants. After each of our sessions, we removed whatever work had been produced so that it would not influence the participants in the subsequent session. Building on the artful-listening approach with which Ariane had been experimenting to support reflection and expression in groups, we bought materials (e.g., oil pastels, finger paints, plasticene, scissors, glue, a bell, a beach ball, and different kinds and sizes of paper) for the participants to play with during the sessions. Experiments in seminars Ariane had conducted had shown that people often reported that their listening was enhanced when they occupied their hands with other forms of expression. We placed the materials on the low platform, which was at the middle-front of the room.[2] The participants were also invited to bring with them materials or tools they typically use in their practice. Only the musician in Session 1 took up this offer, bringing two musical instruments (an oud and a recorder).

We invited the participants in each session to meet in Victor’s office and then walk together across campus to the studio so that they would begin the experiment together. The cameraman waited at the studio entrance to greet them as they arrived. Once everyone had entered the studio, we briefly explained the background to the experiment: the idea of the Studio for Social Creativity and how it had originated, the history of the space itself, the participants’ task, and the guidelines. After this introduction we suggested that the participants explore the space for themselves, encouraging them to take the initiative and engage in the task without our guidance.

  • [1] We also held a sixth session but do not report on it here because it was quite different in format.It encompassed 60 students from the nursing program in the college, for whom the participants ofSession 2 planned an intervention in the studio.
  • [2] Having observed in the first session that the act of unpacking the materials might have been abarrier to using them, we took them out of their packaging as of the second session, spreading outthe oil pastels and paint bottles on the platform to make them more easily available.
 
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