Thinking in Visuals – creative research communication

Last year I completed a research internship with CLAHRC Greater Manchester. I carried out a small investigation (looking at practice nurses doing dementia screening and referring to memory service), but for me the project was only a tiny part of my experience. Since the internship finished, I’ve struggled to write about what it has meant to me. Ask me and I will go on (and on, and on), waving my hands around and lighting up as things occur to me. None of this comes across when I try to write it down in a formal way.

One of the huge parts of my internship is that one experience has led to another which has led to another which sparks another interest and this goes on to something else. For example, I’ve been more engaged with research on social media, so…

  • following Trish Greenhalgh on Twitter led me to…
  • Petra Boynton’s brilliant book (The Research Companion) which led me to…
  • joining the book’s facebook group which led me to…
  • seeing this blog post about creativity in research which led me to…
  • mentioning it at my Trust’s R&D interest group (which I was only at because I am now familiar with our R&D department and the internship gave me the confidence to say “what about having an interest group?”) which led me to…
  • getting an email from our R&D department about R&D North West’s events with a note to say “there’s even one with wool in for you!”.

And all of this led me going to Thinking In Visuals – a one day workshop about using textiles to communicate creatively about research.

And what a day it was. There were five of us from various healthcare/research backgrounds (speech and language, OT and nursing) creating something that could be used to communicate about our research. As I heard about some brilliant projects from people who described themselves as “expert clinicians but novice researchers”, I felt a bit of a fraud. If anyone could claim the novice title it definitely was me. Normally this would send me into a tailspin of self-doubt and panic, but it dawned on me that this was an opportunity to reflect on my internship.

The course leader Jana was brilliant at teasing out what stories people wanted to tell, how these could be represented and how each participant might do it. There were suggestions from the whole group and the day was punctuated with “ooooohs” and “aaaaahs” of appreciation and moments of genius. Jana was also wonderful at unlocking a slightly freer approach to creativity from one participant who tends to over think things and whose primary school reports remarked that she needed to worry less about the finished product.

I was sent to work on the floor with the instruction to find four different ways of representing my story.


As you can see, this definitely made me more free than sitting down with a blank page of A4 would have done…


My finished piece was the most abstract piece of craft that I have ever made at any kind of workshop and I do think that it tells my story. The background represents the events and experiences of my internship, these are connected (sometimes coming full circle), and some of them are explosions of ideas and the lightbulb moments I had. The balls of wool are me. I start small (and a bit dull), but as I encounter things during my internship I become a little bit bigger, a little more interesting and a little bit more sparkly. It is this giant ball of enthusiasm that now bowls into work going “I’ve had an idea…” as my boss sighs, contemplates keeping her Do Not Disturb sign on her door permanently and then lets me run with whatever bee is in my bonnet.

So what have I learned from the workshop? Well, I don’t feel that I was taught on the course, I was coached into finding my own way to tell my story. This is testament to the skill of the course instructors – at times (as I was covering myself in PVA glue and wool fluff) I just listened to the magic of stories being told, heard and interpreted. I can’t see me knitting my next Powerpoint presentation (maybe the one after), but I will be tucking the course away in my research toolbox for sometime in the future. Best of all though, I have been properly (and freely) creative for the first time in a long while and I think that’s making me a little bit braver – fetch me more sequins!


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