Digital participatory methods Prof David McGillivray & Alison McCandlish, doctoral student

Welcome to the Digital Participatory Methods session of Spring into Methods, held on 25 April 2018 at the School of Media, Culture and Society at the University of the West of Scotland as part of the Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences and Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities interdisciplinary doctoral student training programme.

In this session, the focus will be on the digital (media) setting for participatory action research. We draw upon examples from four major practice-research projects (#citizenrelay, Digital Commonwealth, #TransplantStories and Paisley 2021 Digital Cultural Mapping) to assess the value of participatory digital methods in the field. In each project, researchers worked with community partners to (co) create digital (media) artefacts in non-traditional settings, working on the basis that, “such media will then have the potential to more closely reflect the everyday practices of decentralized, directly democratic, self-managed and reflexive networks” (Atton, 2014: 343).

These projects also sought to enshrine the notion that, “participation includes doing and making as well as consuming” (Hargreaves, 2016: 42). We will share insights into how the four projects were conceived as action-focused, practice-research, which drew on insights garnered from making (audio, video, blogs) and doing (delivering workshops) to embed digital (media) literacies in some of the most marginalised communities in Scotland.

In the session we will reflect on the complexities involved in making digital (media) artefacts with non-professionals. These complexities include dealing with participant fears over the implications of being ‘public’ and the paucity of ‘resources’ (economic, cultural and social) communities have in their possession when it comes to the digital (media) space. The researchers involved in each project were active participants rather than looking in from afar, in keeping with the practice of co-production. Each project was concerned with the “production of knowledge through the formation of equal partnerships between academic researchers, practitioners and communities” (Green, Sobers, Zamenopoulos, Chapain & Turner, 2016: 155). Moreover, we were engaged in “developing knowledge…based on experiential learning, reflective practice or participatory action research” (p.155). We will highlight how working with others to produce and upload digital (media) content enabled knowledge artefacts to be created, presented and networked – opening up to discussion, dialogue, re-mixing and re-mediation.

We will also talk about how the research outputs from participatory projects are usable for a range of individuals and organisations. While research dissemination is often considered a post-delivery imperative, we will demonstrate how action research approaches can enable outputs and outcomes to inform, and be informed by, partners. Finally, working in a practice context, employing co-production methodologies, ethical questions are always to the fore. The practice-researcher, working to create and communicate digital media artefacts with community partners faces difficult questions about which stories to tell, whom to profile and with what short or longer- term impacts. As Green et al (2016) suggest there is the added “difficulty in attaining equal partnerships between researchers and community partners when one party is being paid and the other not” (p.167). The immediacy of digital and social media platforms means that content can be shared widely, become visible to imagined audiences and lose intended meaning from the original text. These issues are even more important once you consider the practices associated with archiving. All projects experience time lapse and potential difficulties of participant withdrawal as they consider what happens with content produced at a particular time with a particular agenda in mind. Whilst co-production activities should not be viewed as solving the issues associated with the power differential between researcher and researched, we will argue that they do at least provide a way of more effectively involving people in the design and undertaking of research.

Discussion questions

  • How can digital participatory approaches be effective at addressing the gap between the researcher and the researched?
  • How can the ethical issues associated with being ‘public’ that digital platforms enable be addressed effectively in the design of projects?
  • How can researchers manage the temporal dimensions of digital participatory projects to adhere to their ethical commitments once projects come to an end?

Suggested Readings

Academic Articles

  • Atton, C. (2014). Alternative Media, the Mundane and “Everyday Citizenship”. In M. Ratto and M. Boler (eds.) DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media (343-358). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  • Bakardjieva, M., Svensson, J., and Skoric, M. (2012). Digital Citizenship and Activism: Questions of Power and Participation Online, JeDEM, 4 (1), i-v.
  • Green, C, Sobers, S, Zamenopoulos, T, Chapain, C and Turner, J. (2016). Conversations about co-production. In J. Hargreaves, and J. Hartley (eds). The Creative Citizen Unbound: how social media and DIY culture contribute to democracy, communities and the creative economy. Bristol: Policy Press (153-180)
  • Hargreaves, J. (2016) A problem of knowledge – solved. In J. Hargreaves and J. Hartley (eds). The Creative Citizen Unbound: how social media and DIY culture contribute to democracy, communities and the creative economy. Bristol: Policy Press (25-48).
  • Hargreaves, I & Hartley, J (2016) The Creative Citizen Unbound: how social media and DIY culture contribute to civics, democracy, economic wellbeing and creative communities, Policy Press
  • McGillivray, D. (2014). Digital cultures, acceleration and mega sporting event narratives, Leisure Studies, 33 (1), 96-109, DOI: 10.1080/02614367.2013.841747.
  • McGillivray, D., McPherson, G., Jones, J and McCandlish, A. (2015). Young people, digital media making and critical digital citizenship, Leisure Studies, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02614367.2015.1062041.
  • Pink, S., Horst, H., Postill, J., Hjorth, L, Lewis, T and Tacchi, J. (2015). Ethnography in a Digital World, Digital Ethnography: Principles and Practice, London: Sage.
  • Ratto, M. and Boler, M. (2014). Introduction. In M. Ratto and M. Boler (eds.) DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media (1-22). Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT Press

Web links:

Project archives and online spaces:

Resources and Presentation Recordings

Slides from the workshop presentation are available to view below, click on the first image to view as a slideshow.

Delivery team bios-Professor David McGillivray

Professor David McGillivray’s research interests focus on the affordances of digital culture, especially related to understandings of digital citizenship, participation and the role of everyday digital media platforms and practices in enabling (or restricting) voices within an increasingly saturated media landscape. He has published extensively on these themes and been involved in research and knowledge exchange activities that take as their focus the affordances of digital culture, including sub-themes of digital citizenship (see digital commonwealth.co.uk), digital participation, digital storytelling, alternative/community media and digital sport media. He is currently Deputy Editor of the Annals of Leisure Research.

Delivery team bios- Alison McCandlish

Alison McCandlish is a PhD student in the School of Media, Culture and Society at UWS, having an academic background in Creative Media Practice, European Urban Conservation, Education and Town Planning. Her PhD concentrated on cultural asset mapping and creative ways of engaging communities with the Paisley 2021 UK City of Culture bid. As Educational Coordinator for the UWS led Digital Commonwealth Project, Alison managed the educational engagement aspects of this Scotland wide project, resulting in the publication of digital storytelling toolkits and delivery of schools projects across 57 schools, 23 Local Authorities with 585 participants. Alison runs an award winning freelance consultancy specialising in community engagement for arts and heritage projects and is a recognised Historic Environment Service Provider and a Chartered Town Planner. She has published in Leisure Studies and the journal of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (Context) and has a research profile featured on Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities Scottish Practice Research Network blog.

Digital Commonwealth memory box- example of digital storytelling resources
Created By
Alison McCandlish


Photos by Alison McCandlish, as part of Digital Commonwealth and Paisley Digital Cultural Asset Mapping

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