Design Research Get Lost – Meeting 1

2015-06-25 20.26.40

One of the difficulties we didn’t foresee when planning the Design Research Get Lost (DRGL) project was in finding times for the young people to get together. The memories of my childhood are mainly of lying on the sofa watching TV, playing run-off and lazily boating my way down the Mississippi river… although that’s probably Huckleberry Finn. Young people today are busy. There were school trips to France, scouts, other projects, exams, hack camps… the list went on. Nevertheless, we got together with 3 coders and 3 Woodies to start the project last Thursday night.

The purpose of the meeting was to present the young people with the ‘challenge’ (see below) and to develop a list of supplementary ground rules (see below).

2015-06-25 20.29.34

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 12.25.03


Then after discussing the way things would be organised the coders and Woodies explained what they did, how it was organised and what they were interested in. This discussion was meant to foreground the identification of areas of commonality around which the group might come to develop the project. It was interesting how both groups tried to anticipate the interests of the other and suggested appropriate ideas. The coders didn’t know much about the Woodcraft Folk or what they did but thought it might have something to do with working with wood, so one coder suggested that they could make a wooden case for a computer. I think that would be awesome!

The group seems to have decided to make a ‘wide’ game and there’s going to be an app or some such thing to enable lots of people to play it at the same time. Along the way there was mention of using Oculus Rifts (although too expensive), to Google Cardboard (maybe too flimsy), to charging people to play (might put people off) to ad revenues…

Reflecting on the research, the idea behind the project was to see what happens when adults/ adult researchers present young people with a set of conditions (the ‘challenge’) that might facilitate some form of productive self-organising activity. In practice this didn’t happen as suddenly or perhaps as purely as envisioned. Gradually we researchers stopped talking and left the group to its devices. There were interesting dynamics around letting the young people get on with things or supporting them when it was apparent they might be about to ‘drop the ball’. At one point the young people were discussing who was going to do what but they weren’t writing down names against activities. One of the Woodcraft Folk adults pointed this out and they discussed the importance of minuting meetings. I found this interesting because I felt it was a point at which the group may have encountered some difficulties and not progressed as quickly with the task. As part of the project I would like to explore the basic forms of organisational technologies that might complement the ‘challenge’. It was significant that when they’d written down notes of who would do what one of the Woodies made a point of asking each member of the group what they had to do and if they understood what that meant. I’ve been in many a meeting when everyone seems to say ‘yes’ to everything to speed things out the door, so I thought this demonstrated a clear understanding and forethought of how things can go wrong.

We’ll see how things develop.

James Duggan

The Museum of Qualitative Data #Siqr

As part of the build up to the Summer Institute in Qualitative Research we are asking speakers and participants to blog about their talk on the Museum of Qualitative Data site. This enables us to spot links, do reading and make sure you get to all of the talks you want to listen to. Click on the image below to visit the site and read the posts.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 18.19.00

This far we’ve had submissions from the following:

Dr Geoff Bright (ESRI, MMU) Working with a Social Haunting

These photos and video were taken by me (with permission) at Hatfield, South Yorkshire, in March this year on the occasion of a local demonstration to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the end of the British Miners strike of 1984-85. Hatfield is the last working pit in the UK. Consider how these images and the piece of video work separately and when placed together in groups. The first shows a local woman holding a piece of paper. How does the image perform as data when we know that she is a former Women Against Pit Closures Activist who was arrested 17 times during the strike and, further, that the piece of paper written is a poem written by her daughter during the strike? At my SIQR session we’ll look at this photo alongside images of the daughter-writer and her daughters and consider how, taken together, new meaning and affective load is generated.

Richard Knight and Dr Stephanie Daza (ESRI, MMU)  Qu/al/ant/ify

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 09.54.09

Throughout the duration of the SIQR, data will be gathered from various sources in context with the proceedings, possibly including sound recordings, texts, video recordings, presentation materials, existing digital resources and other relevant but diverse manifestations of information. The ingress of information will be managed in a ‘big data’ approach, following digitisation if necessary, and subject to a range of processes and classifications to prepare and abstract the collection into an event-specific catalogue designed for further interpretation through the application of aesthetics and analysis. Rendering of musical and sonic interpretations will be central to the presentation of the gathered information and led by data artist Richard Knight. Occurring as sound or music, the interpretations will play periodically at points between events, and during a programmed event, with output files and recordings online. A collection of tools and access to the resources gathered may be made available to contributing artists, allowing for disparate insights and the presentation of data in various forms. Curated by ESRI researcher Stephanie Daza, the project explores digital affective technologies (DAT), such as electro-acoustic data analysis, in/for/as social science. While sound method/ology may create “sonic avatars,” the result is not simply a post/humanist-driven (subject-centred, or even subject-produced) representation. Data art provokes the transhuman; thus, links to parts are extremely abstract, and like ends of binaries, nonsensical. To listen and hear information as (organized) sound, silence, music, and noise–which is different than seeing and reading information through eye/I hegemony (i.e., authors/readers, words, languages, speech, texts, visuals, and discourse)–provokes a new analyst and analysis. (To visit the site, click here.)

Metropolis Website is Launched!

MMU has it’s very own ‘think tank’, MetroPolis! (Click on the image to visit the site.)Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 13.12.29

Education has it’s own space on the site. Where we will be suggested ‘Big Ideas’ for improving education. (Click on the image to visit the site.)

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 13.12.55

Any ESRI or Faculty of Education staff who would like to write a ‘Big Idea’ or policy briefing based on their research, please get in touch.

James Duggan

Museum of Qualitative Data is Open for the #SIQR

As part of the build up to the Summer Institute in Qualitative Research we are asking speakers and participants to blog about their talk on the Museum of Qualitative Data site. This enables us to spot links, do reading and make sure you get to all of the talks you want to listen to. Click on the image below to visit the site and read the posts.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 18.19.00

This far we’ve had submissions from the following:

Patti Lather (Ohio State University) HETERONATURE, THE GARDEN AS OTHER

‘In this paper I propose the term heteronature, after Foucault’s heterotopia, for representational garden architectures that pointedly reimagine nature. Heteronature represents heterotopian environments that re-place and re-figure materials, phenomena and ideals of the natural world. Heteronature markedly changes spaces and compositions of nature even as it copies them. I compare contemporary European and North American garden festival installations to inflatable architecture events, exhibits and prototypes of the 1960s and 70s. The expandable, malleable and replicable environments of these utopian and dystopian gardens embody strange, other worldly natures. The projects’ territorial and ecological imaginaries of nature reflect postcolonial cultures and countercultures of environmentalism.’ (To read more follow the link.)


Seven Primary School Spaces is a short experimental film I produced with film maker Ben Ewart-Dean. It explores the sights and sounds of a Scottish primary school. The film consists of comprises static video shots of seven empty spaces in the school. Each shot is accompanied by a sound recording of the space when it was occupied, during a typical school day. The images of the empty spaces enable close scrutiny of the physical, material aspects of the school, while the soundtrack evokes the school’s social space – a much more dynamic, noisy set of flows. (Read more by following the link.)

If you would like to post data on the Museum please get in touch! (J.Duggan [at]

James Duggan

Architecture and Education blog

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 15.26.24


Adam Wood is a PhD student at ESRI and with fellow PhD student Emma Dyer (University of Cambridge) they have created a new blog Architecture and Education. It’s already shaping up to be a great blog, with some great posts such as the following interview with Gert Biesta:


Gert Biesta’s work recalls our attention to the purpose of education – before asking whether something “works” educationally, he’s interested in what we mean by education, what is it for, who is it for? He’s a Professor at Brunel University in London and at the ArtEZ Institute of Arts in the Netherlands and a member of the Steering Committee for the Design Matters project. After giving a talk to research students in the Faculty of Education at Manchester Metropolitan University, he kindly agreed to answer a few questions on how we talk and think about school buildings.

The full transcript’s below or there’s an easier-to-print pdf here. In summary though, we discussed the changing vocabulary whereby classrooms become learning spaces and how this relates to what he wryly terms “learnification”. I’d first come across the word in this article where he proposes the “deliberately ugly term” to refer to “the translation of everything there is to say about education in terms of learning and learners” (2009:38). It’s well worth reading but if you don’t have access to the journal then the book, Good Education in an Age of Measurement, develops similar ground and there’s more about his work on his personal site,

Especially in the English language, we seem to be moving away from talking about “classrooms”, a noun based around a social unit of a class and moving towards what they often use in England is “learning spaces”. So we’ve moved from a social terming of that room if you like to a cleaner, more psychological idea of what a room in a school building should or could do and I just wondered if that struck any chords with your own educational research in terms of learning and what might be the gains and losses in moving from “classrooms” say to “learning spaces”?

Yes, that’s a nice question because a couple of years ago I presented a paper and I still would like to write it up but I liked the title which was “Creating Spaces for Learning or Making Room for Education?” So I played with the room but not room in terms of the classroom then but actually how within this whole turn towards creating spaces for learning whether there is still room for education or whether education risks being driven out if we transform schools into places for learning. That has been quite a big occupation or preoccupation of mine and this has to do with this phenomenon or development that I call “learnification” in my work. And learnification first of all happens at the level of language so it has to do with the fact that in the way in which people talk about education issues we see this notion of learning emerging in all kinds of ways. My concern there is that learning for me is a process language because learning can happen in all kinds of settings and for all kinds of reasons and in English it’s also an individualistic language because learning is something you do yourself. So even if you have communities of learning ultimately it comes back to individuals.

My main problem with the language of learning is that I would say the point of education is not that students learn. That doesn’t mean that learning has no role in education but education needs to say something more specific, it needs to engage with the question of the content of the learning, so the what of the learning you can say. But most importantly with the purposes of the learning and I see in a lot of the language of learning that this question of purpose is either not asked or it’s already answered in a particular way. If you say “We redesigned the school as a place for learning”, then it looks like anything is possible but quite often there are very strict definitions of the kind of learning that should actually happen. And those definitions are often much stricter than what I think education should do so a lot of it ends up in producing results that can be measured in terms of academic achievements.

So it kind of becomes self-propagating in that sense?

If people don’t reflect on the question of purpose then in a sense, particular definitions of purpose come in and occupy that space. So if you don’t think about it or never ask the question then before you know it the question has already been answered. That’s why I think it’s so important to at least ask the question, “What is the purpose of what we’re doing? Why are we here together in this building or in this space or in this room?” And for me this learning spaces or places of learning is therefore also very unhelpful as a way to talk about what the school for example is because in articulating it in that way again we do not say anything about the what and the why of the learning. And learning can mean different things so I often give a couple of examples where the word learning is used like learning to ride a bike or learning that 2 and 2 equals 4 but also learning to be patient or learning that you’re not good at something. Those all are instances of learning and when we say the school is a place for learning well we simply don’t say what kind of learning we’re after which means…which doesn’t mean that nothing happens. A lot of things happen without reason or without thinking about it. And I think a lot of children actually learn that they are not good at a lot of things in high school.

We used to say or would think of learning as a transitive verb, so you have to learn something just as you walk somewhere and run somewhere but more and more it seems to be coming an intransitive verb so it’s just about learning. And the object, what it is, and I think this is what you’re talking about, the purpose of it is disappearing almost. It’s a purely psychological activity and we’ve lost the social, political or whatever it is. You have to learn something, what’s the nature of that something? And that seems to be…

So it’s partly you can say the poverty of the language of learning that simply these questions of purpose and content and relationships do not immediately come with talking in terms of learning. So there is that danger in the language of learning. In part of my work I go even further because I think that learning in itself is also a very particular way in which we engage with the world for example. So learning is very much an act of understanding, making sense and I’ve tried to say that if that’s the only way in which we understand what it means to be a human being, that’s actually quite limited. Because I think there is more to our life than just that we see the world as an object we have to make sense of. And I see quite a lot of learning theory for example also just coming with this assumption and never asking what kind of underlying, normative ideas about human beings are at stake there. For me that’s not a problem with learning actually, it’s mostly seen as a kind of adaptive process that’s issued from the self. Now I don’t know whether you want to go in this direction but the thing that is not on the radar when you think of learning as sense-making and understanding and adjusting to changes in the environment, is the thing that goes in the opposite direction – where you are being spoken to or you are being addressed or you are being questioned. So learning in that sense comes very much with a kind of individualistic, almost neoliberal, agenda that says the self is the centre of the world and the world is just an object that we either make sense of or that we use for our own pleasure or our own needs. And I’m interested in this other direction because I think what it means to be a human being is not just driven by yourself but it has a lot to do with how other people speak to you and what you do in response to that speech. And for me the dynamics of education have also a lot to do with that. So education partly is about learning, sense-making, understanding but I think education also is about opening up children and young people to things that come from the outside that put them into question, for example. If we say the school is just a space for learning, then this other direction is also not on the radar and before you know it the space for learning becomes a very neo-liberal, self-expression, space.

Again and again, there’s the importance of independent learning, autonomous learning emphasised. And the words do change but the idea is there and I think it’s hard to separate from forms of assessment because perhaps forms of assessment can manage it (the education process) if it’s reduced to independent learning, more easily. But in terms of architecture and independent learning, there seems to be a connection there too. Part of the aim of this blog is to I suppose try and get educationalists and architects speaking perhaps not the same language because that might not be a good thing even but at least to have some kind of common vocabulary. How… this is a difficult question! But how might you move towards getting two such different camps a little bit closer?

What I’ve seen in my own experience is that the architects I’ve met are, want to do a good job for other people so they really have a kind of service intuition where they say, “We really want to build a building that works for you”, for example. That puts quite an onus on educators in such a relationship because then the educators need to be able to really say what kind of building they actually need. The danger I see here is that then the architects do not contribute their own thinking to this dialogue so there is at least one issue in relation to how we should think of this relationship and how these parties can get into better conversation. I would want architects also to show their whole expertise and put that on the table as well. And I’m saying that because what I’m personally concerned about is that there are a lot of fashions in education like these learning spaces and then architects can say “Of course we can design this for you if you want to.” Whereas I see a lot of good architecture that actually raises very fundamental questions about what space is, what public space is, what democratic space is and they also manage to show in actual buildings the issues there. And I think these are really important questions that people in education should also think about. If you say the school is a space where children can learn, before you know it you begin to individualise this learning. Whereas if you say the school is basically an institution that in some way has to be in connection with the public sphere and the question of democracy then that not only raises important questions for education but also for the buildings you design, then. If you say the optimal education is personalised learning then you should just create cubicles where children can be doing their personalised learning. So I think that the real challenge is to get a good educational discussion going between these two parties and I think that architects have something to offer there both in terms of their theory and their practice but then they need to think about democratic architecture and questions of public space and not just functional space for learning.

Yes, and presumably educationalists need to come out of… certainly teachers working in school I mean everybody’s busy, architects are really busy but to try and find the space to come out of their established patterns of doing things which is difficult but… something to aim for?

Yes and maybe to finish with an image. I once did a workshop with school leaders about democratic schools and I gave them a task to design a democratic school building which was really interesting because they came up with fantastic buildings with all kinds of…they had all the flexibility and individuality and whatever. And they presented all that and it was beautiful, interesting and then I said, “Are you interested in my view of what a democratic school building looks like?” and they said, “Yeah, of course!” – they were polite! And then I just drew a rectangle and I said, “For me the essence of democracy is that you are together in this space and have no choice of or with whom you are together.” And for me just to mark out a space, the challenge is to be together in that space, that’s for me where the essence of a democratic school building lies. So if you think that a democratic school is precisely a neo-liberal space where everyone can do their own thing then you have not understood what the real challenge of what democracy is.

Well thank you very much – that’s great! And it goes back not just to the purpose of education but the purpose of architecture – why are we building these buildings? To allow people the “freedom” to not be together? Or to learn some lessons about the difficulty of being together…

And I think Hertzberger* understands that at the level of his theory and sometimes he also gets pretty close in the actual buildings so that’s why I find him interesting precisely in engaging with the question of public space – and build that into a school.

* = before the interview began we were discussing the architect Herman Hertzberger’s obvious interest in space for people and the way in which he seems to give people the spatial resources to go on and create their own spaces.

This interview between Gert Biesta and Adam Wood took place in Manchester on 25th April 2015.

Design Research Get Lost

I’ve received a small seed-fund from the AHRC ProtoPublics call! *party poppers pop*

This project aims to overcome the contrived participation of young people in design and research projects creating research spaces that support young person’s asset-based, self-organisation.

The project is a small-scale design experiment, from the perspectives of the adult-researchers in constituting a space for youth self-organisation, and the young people as they interpret and respond to the ‘challenge’:

Prior to attending the first workshop, we will ask the young participants to consider the following questions:

  1. What do you do as Coder DoJo makers/ Woodcraft Folk?
  2. How is this organised?
  3. What are you interested in?

Then, at the first project meeting they will be asked to make a presentation to the other group and given the ‘challenge’:

  1. You have £3000 to make and do/ organise anything you want,
  2. You have between 20th June and 10th August 2015 to do this,
  3. You have to involve other young people,
  4. You have to include your skills and assets,
  5. Your parents have to agree that you can do this,
  6. It cannot involve illegal activity, and
  7. We would like you to record and communicate what you do and how you did it.

I’d appreciate any comments and advice on whether this will work and what the trapdoors might be.

James Duggan

#CommUp Storify – Communities self-organising around schools and young people

The basic rationale for the event was that despite the continual focus on narrow forms of school improvement, school effects are only 8-15% of educational attainment . Previously area based initiatives were used to reduce community and structural causes of inequality, engage with the other 85% of factors, but in an austerity context there is not the will nor the money for such projects, which have mixed results anyway. What then is to be done?

We are interested in ‘community up’ approaches and the relationship with education. An example, is re:dish ( that has developed a food bank, credit union, time bank, befriending scheme andgardening etc through good old fashioned community organising. What happens when such an approach is wrapped around a school or cluster of schools? Is thi the sort of practicable approach approach that can impact on the other 85% of non-school effects? Can such an argument attract engagement fromschools and communities?