Prototyping social design research

April 21, 2015

ProtoPublics Sprint Workshop, Lancaster, 16-17 April 2015.

workshop mindmapping (2)

‘Agile’, ‘creative’ and ‘participatory’ are not words usually associated with (what is sometimes perceived to be) the slow and exclusive world of academic research. But on 16-17 April, a group of 45 researchers from the arts and humanities got together in Lancaster to explore, test and push these boundaries at the AHRC ProtoPublics Sprint Workshop.

The principle aim behind this event first emerged from the Social Design Futures report, co-authored by researchers at the University of Brighton / V&A: Leah Armstrong, Jocelyn Bailey, Lucy Kimbell and Guy Julier. One of the central findings of this report pointed towards the need to develop more responsive, engaged and agile mechanisms through which to fund and support research collaborations in the emergent area of social design.

Workshop program 1IMG_0040

Under this premise, the structure and format of the workshop was designed by Guy Julier and Lucy Kimbell to problematize and prototype the concept of researching in ‘sprint’ mode (a method commonly adopted by SMEs and start-ups). There were provocations from Sue Ball, Celia Lury, Cat Macauley and Nicola Hughes, researchers whose work focuses on issues of engagement, participation and social change. The majority of the workshop however, was given over to collaboration and exploration oriented (but building out from) our central themes of mobilities, civic participation, health and well-being and public space.

civic participation mind mapIMG_0089

The workshop participants, whose work covered a range of disciplines including linguistics, design and design history, social sciences and transport, self-organised into eight groups to work on developing a research project to present in a final pitch on Friday afternoon. Having been judged by an assessment panel, made up of representatives from the AHRC and design research, all eight projects were given the ‘green light’ to proceed in making an application to the AHRC to conduct the research.


For all involved -organisers, facilitators and participants- it was an intense, but intensely productive two days. It brought into focus both the unique challenges and rewards of working in ‘agile’ research mode, particularly in forging new conversations across disciplines and practices. The strength of the final projects that emerged from these collaborations is evidence of the value that can be derived from putting pressure upon research methods and seeking out more inventive ways of forging research collaborations.

Dr. Leah Armstrong, University of Brighton / Victoria and Albert Museum.

You can read more about the ProtoPublics research here:

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