Using Lego for research purposes

Friday and Saturday (24 and 25th April 2015) I attended two workshops on using Lego to reflect on your research and as a research methodology in relation to data collection. These workshops were based on the concept of Lego Serious Play and run by David Gauntlett, Professor in the Faculty of Media, Art and Design at the University of Westminster.

Megan Beech, one of my colleagues have covered what took place on the Friday in her blog post Using Lego Serious Play to explore my PhD research journey so I will mainly be reflecting on the Saturday workshop in this post.

In this session David gave more background to using creative research methods and talked about how visual and hands on methods get the brain working in different way. He shared some of the research he has undertaken where getting people to create was part of the research process itself. This approach gives participants time to construct meaningful responses in a different way to for example interviews and focus groups. He shared 3 main findings from his own work:

  1. Creative and visual research methods give people the opportunity to communicate different kinds of information.
  2. Metaphors can be powerful in social research. It allows you to explore more intangible concepts like identity and metaphors can be fruitful for engendering additional meanings.
  3. Research participants need reflective time to construct knowledge. It allows things to surface, it allows participants to put together knowledge and it is a way to give form to abstract experience.
A photo of a Lego model

A model of me as researcher including thoughts on my values and priorities

Creative Commons Licence
A model of me as researcher by @kshjensen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Points to consider if you want to run a Lego workshop

  • Consider whether to consult the Lego Serious Play script for guidance
  • The importance of doing the initial building exercises that enable participants to switch from literal model explanations to metaphorical mode
  • The meaning of the Lego model is down to the individual creator and the researcher and fellow participants should not be interpreting or translating the model in any way
  • It is important when doing the Lego workshop that everyone gets to contribute and explain their Lego models. The fact that everyone does build a model ensures that all voices are heard.
  • When asking follow-up questions about the model, always ask about features in the model rather than questions of the participant. Ask open questions, like: what is this?
  • Be respectful of the models and appreciate everyone’s contribution.

Using Lego to capture experiences

David also covered how you might use Lego in different, less time-consuming ways (the workshop activities take about 5 hours) and mentioned how it was used at a conference called Research Through Design to get delegates to build something that represented an aspect of their conference experience. This example is available on his website.

Lego as part of the research design process

After the session I thought that using Lego in an early stage of the research design process (rather than as part of data collection) could be a really powerful way of exploring a research topic and ensuring that views and experiences of stakeholders and potential research participants could be part of setting the research questions. It was the complexities of the stories people told about their Lego models that was really impressive and that I imagine would be useful not only in gathering data but also in deciding how to frame the proposed research.

You can find more about the research using Lego carried out by David Gauntlett in his book Creative Explorations (2007).

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