Connecting research with creativity

Materials World magazine
3 Sep 2010
adult planting "tree" in child's hand (creative thinking)

A concept designed to help academics integrate creative thinking into their research more easily has been introduced by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

This follows pilot trials of the Creativity@home idea with six research groups, whereby professional facilitators, funded by the EPSRC, were brought into research meetings.

It was conceived through another EPSRC initiative, Think Free, which involved taking up to 15 senior academics away on a retreat to gain their strategic input on major issues affecting research. Consultation revealed the need for more creative freedom to participate in discussions with the research team without also having to chair the meetings.

Dr Susan Morrell, Head of Peer Review at EPSRC, explains, ‘Research in itself is innately creative, but we often hear from academics that other things get in the way, like administration’.

The pilot involved research groups from different disciplines, with each team liaising with its allocated facilitator to make best use of the three days’ worth of contact time. The facilitators then customised sessions to meet the groups’ individual objectives.

Discussions could involve members of the research consortium at all levels, from the industry partner to the PhD student.

Morrell says, ‘They learnt techniques about how to design meetings and events, and how better to interact with industry collaborators. There were also other outputs such as new research ideas and ideas on how to set up collaborationwith companies. Two of the groups forged a collaboration because of their shared facilitator’.

She adds that one of the groups identified communication within the team itself as a major issue. ‘They used the scheme to identify how to better run the project. The feedback was that the less senior academics had frustrations and it allowed them to come up with solutions.’

Furthermore, one of the facilitators introduced some of the scientists to a digital collaboration software called Teleplace, enabling researchers in multiple locations to communicate in real time.

The aim is now for these case studies to be made available to other academics to help them apply the techniques and to consider getting professional support in this way.

‘It’s not compulsory and it won’t be for everybody,’ notes Morrell. Initially, the EPSRC is opening it up to those applying to its programme grants, allowing researchers to incorporate the concept in their application, along with requests for funding for other resources.

One of the universities involved has already recruited in-house facilitators to train project managers.

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