Thursday, 8 September 2011

Visual narratives: helping participants see the research process?

I'm waiting for ethical approval of my PhD research. Geological time has passed, new continents have been formed. Trees have grown and died. You get the idea. In reality, I've submitted some (hopefully straightforward) revisions. In the meantime, my mind is focusing on the next stage; finding and working with participants in my research. The longer I wait, the more nervous I'm feeling, as contact with potential participants (ex postgrad students who are also 'early years' leaders) fades away. I'm hoping I can move forward soon. There are benefits to waiting, though, as it has given me time (amongst other things) to think about how my process of working with oral and visual narratives will work.

For those of you who've seen previous posts (firstly, well done, you get a sticker) you might remember that I am talking to people about their professional identity - how they think and talk about themselves - in complex, multi professional children's services environments. I want to know what people talk about, how they talk about it and importantly how they put together those accounts. I am interested in how participants use all sorts of 'reference points' around them in their narratives - which could be ideas, memories, rules, other people...any thing or person that is significant in helping them build their story of 'who they are' at work.

Now that sounds impressive (well, in my head the idea is exciting, anyway) but the challenge is in making that inquiry 'come to life'. That is where I hope many years of community / arts practice can help me. I know that connecting with participants will be important - and I hope that will be helped by a visual 'mapping' of the process. Now I've lived with this idea for a while, and can talk to you about visual narratives, the use of metaphor and so on until your teeth drop out, but it only matters if my participants 'get it' and feel comfortable to take ownership of the process themselves. It's all in the doing.

Part of my rehearsal has been provided by my fab second supervisor, Dr. Mel Gibson, who is an expert in visual literatures and lots more. This week, I rehearsed my approach to running a narrative session - using visual 'mapping' to support the telling of stories of identity, and reflections on how they have come about. This was invaluable, and following that session I have also tried to 'reinterpret' my information for participants because I realised the process was in my head, but needed to me made visible. In between manic preparation for lecturing students very soon and exam boards I have been playing (yes, playing!) at making visible the process. I'm not there yet, but the process is heading the right way. I'd love to hear your thoughts, so do comment and join the conversation.