An Imagined ‘Critical Creativity Research Centre’

Critical Creativity Research Centre – Case for support

With the Experimental Pedagogies Research Group (EPRG)

Our Vision: The Critical Creativity Research Centre will problematise, contest, scrutinise and analyse what creativity is by broadening who defines it, through a diversity of thought (Runco, & Acar, 2012) and rigorous research methods. The Centre will research and nurture the complex skills of creativity which underpin learning and human progression (Glaveanu, & Kaufman, 2021). The CCRC will use collaborative methods of research (Given, 2012) and prioritise socio-economic equity and inclusion for restorative impacts in education, employment, and policy. It will champion the underrecognised (Nwangwu, 2023), by listening to multiple voices about what creativity can be and do. Critical Creativity critiques what creativity is and understands it as critical to a healthy and flourishing inclusive society (Akomolafe, 2017).

Introduction to the challenge: In their 2021 report, Creative Majority, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Creative Diversity (AAPG) identified that, ‘Change will only happen if equity, diversity and inclusion are not left to any one individual or team but are understood as the responsibility of everyone, at every level of every creative organisation…’ (Wreyford et al. 2021. p. 5). This echoes Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2007) thought’s that during the Renaissance era creativity could be a luxury for some, but in contemporary times it is a necessity for growth, survival, and success. We see Critical Creativity as a method to establish a framework for creativity that is economically inclusive, socially diverse and influences policy (Titchen & McCormack (2011).

 During our current research (EPRG, 2023), using a systematic literature review, we have found at least 14 definitions of creativity (Boden, 1994, 2001, 2004), (Batey, 2012), (Beghetto & Kaufman. 2007), (Conner, et al 2016), (Corazza, 2016), (Dietrich, 2019). For us this established that creativity can be multi-defined and vague, leading to often misinterpretation and misappropriation. Our research concluded that creativity operates in several modalities that are interconnected, intersectional, inequitable, complex, nuanced, dynamic and entangled (Barad. 2007), (Braidotti, 2018), (Csikszentmihalyi, 2007). This research confirmed to us that creativity needs a radical and rigorous rethinking.

The challenge is that as creativity is multi-defined it can be misused, and this can increase socio-economic exclusion. Globally, creativity is often marginalised and hence the global challenges of our time, do not have the diversity of thought that could impact innovation, research and design, industry, and policy. In an increasingly complex and interconnected world, problems faced by individuals, organisations, and communities demand creative scrutiny and solutions that are not only innovative but also sustainable and ethical (House of Lords. 2022). Critical creativity has been identified as a key skill necessary for navigating this complexity and for promoting well-being, collective resilience, and social change (OECD, 2019).

 By critically scrutinising creativity’s misuse and misunderstanding we will counter systemic bias in reproducing knowledge-power structures. This will create pathways of practice research that directly address aspects of bias (Williams, et al., 2019). Multilateral partnership with international creative organisations and universities will nurture the role of the underrecognised (Nwangwu, 2023), off-set mistrust, and galvanise a future-focussed equitable, diverse, and inclusive ethical goals. (Wreyford, et al. 2021).

 We agree with Marci Segal, founder of World Creativity and Innovation Week, that creativity is our responsibility: ‘We have a responsibility to create an environment where new thinking is welcome, where people feel confident putting their ideas forward, and where conversations can be held. We need to use our creativity to usher in the age of social responsibility’ (Segal. 2021). Taking up this call to action the CCRC will host the formulation of collective experimental methodologies to develop capabilities and capacities for democratic engagement and multilateral cooperation (Nussbaum, 2010), (Sen, 2017).

 Aims of the proposed centre: The CCRC will conduct and apply quantitative and qualitative research methods into how we can critically rethink creativity to reduce socio-economic exclusion and develop practices to enhance social justice (Smith, 2021), (Murphy, 2020). It will build theories of critical creativity and conduct innovative methods of inquiry and research (Given, 2012). By responding to challenges arising from research projects within the Centre we aim to maximise impact on theory, policies and practices in the UK and worldwide, through research processes of mapping, pathway identifying, locating and transitioning (Byrne, et al. 2013), (Collins, et al. 2018)

 The AAPG on creative diversity points out: ‘Change at this scale will require bold and visionary leadership across government, at sector level and within organisations and businesses: leadership that is willing to step up to meet the challenge [….]. It won’t be easy’ (Wreyford, et al. 2021. p. 5). A public good ethic, will extend our mission on the quality and equity of individual and organisational creative outcomes (Hoenig, et al. 2023).  The CCRC’s wider networks will attract a diversity of thought from across the globe to work collaboratively on research projects that address the marginalisation of creativity that emphasises Euro/Western-centric paradigms (Smith, 2021). Our research will integrate local, national, and global perspectives on creativity to benefit a wider variety of disciplines and partner organisations than may not traditionally collaborate with universities.

The CCRC will work with research themes including, creative exclusion and socio-economic strategies, bridging and belonging in organisations, narrative and climate care, slowness and consideration enmeshed in our overall social justice agenda. Its multivocal, transdisciplinary critical creative research approaches will involve residences, knowledge exchange projects, incubators, outreach activities and creative scholarship. These approaches will be supported by a transdisciplinary, transnational network of partners to maximise the impact of the reach, value, and sustainability of the CCRC. Generating accessible material for wider discussion and ongoing critique is a vital aspect of this approach. 

CCRC programme of research responding to the challenge: In the first six months we will set up a programme of yearly Transnational Critical Creativity Collaborative Research Residencies (Work Package 1). These will be open to practitioners and theorists investigating what creativity is. Drawn from outside of a Euro/Western-centric paradigm, from the Global Majority, those emergent change-makers in other parts of the world including those with embodied expertise from non-academic perspectives. These divergent voices will allow for creativity to be investigated using multifaceted listening approaches. This will allow creativity to be examined, explored, and cultivated without making presumptions about what it is and can do, through a diversity of thought (Washington. 2022), (Smith, 2021).

Ten Critical Creativity Fellowships will be set up with projects briefed by the CCRC (Work Package 2). These residences will be for UK based under-recognised practitioners and theorists. These fellowships would be based in the multiple organisations / universities who are partners in this application. We would want these to be in all regions of the UK. This will produce a field of intervention across national and transnational networks of cooperation, a ‘pluriversity’ for the mutual benefit of all participants accounting for inequitable positionality (de Sousa Santos, p. 2018).

The work from these fellowships and residences will be showcased at a yearly transnational (un)co-conference/exhibition (Work Package 3), which will draw together the research carried out during that year. This will be hosted at different venues throughout the 5 years of the centre starting at UAL in September 2025. This will lead to a publication of these findings from the (un)co-conference and then become a biennial with the mid-year edition being for emerging works in progress (Work Package 4).

The centre will fund 5 full time and 5 part time doctoral scholarships for 3 and 5 years respectively. The scholarships would be to investigate and critique the marginalisation of creativity in the creative arts disciplines and beyond and would be for the under-recognised in doctoral research (Work Package 5). We have found that there is a growing interest from researchers who want to look critically at creativity and its outcomes. These scholarships will bring the diversity of thought to the centre we are looking for and create career pipelines for researchers who are under-represented in academia.

 Throughout the life cycle of the centre, we will map and design critical creativity interventions that aim to reduce socio-economic exclusion (Work Package 6). Co-creating innovative practices for enhancing social justice in the fields of intervention of all partners (Work Package 7). We will then look to structure equitable funding partnerships and equitable financial generation mechanisms for facilitating creativity in global inter-dependent contexts (Salmon 2020) (Work Package 8)

Methodologies to be used: Critical Creativity is a complex and multifaceted concept that involves challenging and transforming existing systems and structures through creative means (Vear, 2022), (Kara, 2020). Post-qualitative research approaches prioritise exploration of the relationships and entanglements between researcher, participants, and environment (Braidotti, 2019). This methodology emphasises the importance of embodied experiences, affective intensities, and materiality in the production of knowledge (Blaikie, et al. 2020). It enables understandings of Critical Creativity by expanding traditional qualitative research methods (action research, ethnography, case studies, content analysis, participatory design) and incorporating non-traditional, non-representational, and non-linear approaches to knowledge production, such as A/r/tography (Springgay, et al. 2005). We will use multilingual, ecological listening approaches, evolving from diversity of thought, allowing creativity to be examined, explored, appreciated, and cultivated. 

 Researching Critical Creativity requires approaches to problem-solving and innovation that involve questioning assumptions, challenging established norms, and generating new ideas leading to transformative change. Each CCRC aim has a discrete methodological implication for development: 

1. Mapping and designing the field of intervention, as well as types of intervention appropriate in each case. Through systematic literature reviews, data mapping, practice-based research methods.

2. Horizontal, process-oriented, and discursive, critically creative methods for rethinking and defining creativity. Through critical discourse analysis, collaborative participatory methods. (Georgiou et al 2022).

3. Network building that validates partner contributions and builds the network for maximum participation capacity; including a technical-digital component for research sharing.

4. Generative methodology, involving gradual handing-over of funded roles and responsibilities to under-recognised individuals and groups identified in mapping, pathways, and network processes. The CCRC will be a renewable resource with a changeover of staff and personnel wherever possible that maintains the core functions of the centre, whilst encouraging regeneration. Taking our queue from UKRI’s strategy 2022 to 2027 this will create, ‘…new ways of working […] supporting unique collaborations, nationally and globally, that spark creativity and inspire breakthroughs…’

The timeliness and novelty of the CCRC: In a post-pandemic, post-digital, post-human world, we run the risk of repeating the mistakes that have got us here. We posit that critical creativity will be a timely intervention in creative and other socio-economic contexts. The novelty of the centre will be to emphasise the importance of slowing down, stopping, doing less, or reversing social processes as vital to research and society coupled with integrating artistic and scientific approaches to research into what creativity is (Soulé, et al. 2015).

The UNESCO (2021), Futures of Education initiative echoes many previous calls on HEI’s to attend to ‘a social contract’ in which ‘creativity and care’ are central to ‘innovation’ and ‘problem solving’ (p.65). Rethinking creativity practices can off-set predicted socio-economic exclusion for specific stakeholder groups experiencing disproportionate effects of contemporary crises. The CCRC will amplify these findings both in terms of scale and involvement of participants using transdisciplinary and participative methods that are currently under-utilised on research into collective creativity with recent graduates (Smith 2021).

There is a growing recognition of the importance of criticality in creativity and its value to people’s everyday lives (Hoon, et al. 2021). By bringing together experts in creativity and criticality, from multiple fields of inquiry, the proposed research centre will make a significant contribution to our understanding of how to foster creativity in a way that is both imaginative and practical. The CCRC will take a neo/transdisciplinary approach, exploring how creativity and criticality operates across different disciplines, social domains, and policy contexts.

UN Ambassador Rhonda King, working on the 2030 Global Goals for Sustainable Development, saw.  ‘…that more creativity and more innovation is needed to achieve these ambitious and vital goals that impact life on planet earth for all of us’ (Segal. 2021). We understand the challenge as not letting what creativity is thought to be, to be used with vague assumptions as to what it can do. We posit that traditional thinking about creativity ‘…will not help us out of the mess that we are in now’ (King, cited in Segal, 2021). 

How the project will be managed: Our management structure will be an enactment of our values and ethics, in a supportive, inclusive, flexible and decentred structure. It will be open, transparent and collaborative crossing national, cultural disciplinary boundaries. Taking advantage of the collective intelligence of our 30 + CIs from multiple UK and global universities, the diverse skills and knowledge of our partners and emergent behaviours of our collaborators we will manage the centre collectively and democratically.

Through the work with the EPRG’s 100+ members, we have shown that a decentred organisation can be more attuned to be creatively productive than a traditional hierarchical approach. The centre will be headed by a leadership team, PI Director and Deputy Director, with clear reporting protocols. The centre lead and regional lead for steering the work packages, managing budgets and resources Individuals and groups will work together to create new knowledge in real-time dealing with rapid change and complexity.      

The centre will have a governance structure outlining roles and responsibilities which includes guidelines for decision making, communications and reporting.  The leadership team will be responsible for negotiating partnerships with stakeholders, institutions, organisations identified by members of the centre to leverage expertise resources and networks. They will also be responsible for developing proposals, steering and setting direction of the CCRC each year, monitoring and reporting the outputs against agreed objectives and milestones and budget and risk management. 

This fluid, dynamic and flat structure will also allow for underrepresented groups to fully participate, have voice and participation into the project. Over the Centre’s 5 year existence it will draw in PhDs, Research fellows, CIs and collaborative research residencies from diverse groups.

Plans for developing capability: Careers and skills development are woven into the fabric of how the CCRC will be managed and run and is fully costed in our bid. We have the widest possible group of co-investigators from the UK and worldwide providing a diversity of thought at all levels to drive the aims of the Centre. Roles such as Centre Lead, Region Lead and Education Leads will shadow the Centre Director and Deputy Director, to knowledge exchange, build capabilities and develop careers. Transnational Critical Creativity Collaborative Research Residencies will work with Critical Creativity Fellows based in the UK. Hybrid monthly critical creativity workshops, exhibitions and marketing will be facilitated by Co-Investigators with the help of fully funded PhD students and Student Researchers. Each year of the Centre, the roles will rotate, to give junior roles the opportunity to build capabilities. 

Evidence of user engagement: The Critical Creativity Research Centre will demonstrate a clear commitment to engaging with core audiences for public good, producing a track record of effective collaboration and communication. The Centre’s engagement activities will be evidence-based, responsive to the needs and interests of its audiences, aligned with the Centre’s research goals and priorities.

 We will establish formal and informal partnerships and collaborations with key stakeholders, such as policymakers, industry representatives, community organisations and other relevant groups. These agreements will include joint projects, co-designed research initiatives and knowledge exchange activities to ensure equitable participation for emerging participants and groups is acknowledged alongside established and larger scale partners. 

 The Centre will engage with core audiences through consultations, surveys, focus groups, and other methods to gather feedback on research topics, findings and outputs. Response will be used to shape the Centre’s research agenda, communication strategy and engagement activities. It will develop a variety of communication materials and channels to disseminate research findings and engage with core audiences. These will include policy briefings, public lectures, podcasts, blogs, social media campaigns, or interactive websites: the provision of adequate hosting platforms, technical support with formats and metadata, and aggregation tools’ (Bulley & Sahin, 2021, p.36).

The Centre will systematically document and evaluate the impact of its research on core audiences, such as changes in policy, practices, or attitudes. The Centre will assess the outcomes of its engagement activities, such as increased awareness, understanding, or participation among stakeholders. It will outline its plans for enhancing engagement and interaction, including specific targets, strategies, and activities. These plans will be included in the Centre’s research proposals, funding applications, or strategic plans. To guarantee engagement with critical creativity is effective, we will work in ways that question and challenge power dynamics between our different practitioners. Our polyvocal listening approaches will result in distinct strategies that will bring about changes in policy and practice of creativity.

Plans for maximising use of existing data: UAL has the largest data set of art and arts-related student outcomes in the UK, which includes data on such themes as awarding gaps, retention, progression.  Awarding gaps are our baseline indicators of institutional disparities that have long been evident in UK HEI’s. Our extensive University Planning Software (Active Dashboards) allow us to analyse data on recruitment and enrolments as well as academic quality performance indicators such as Retention, Attainment and Student Satisfaction. The data set enables UAL’s CCRC to identify and monitor inequities in student access, experiences, outcomes and progression at all levels of study and by different student characteristics. Providing insight into our courses and student experiences by looking at data through multiple lenses such as by subject, college, school, course, and level. The CCRC will employ self-critical and reflexive methods for the research aligned with UAL’s ability to critique its own performance KPI’s using internal Dashboard data to extrapolate this data to investigate how this is reproduced in the arts employment sectors as a form of socio-economic exclusion.

Management plan: The CCRC will embed a clear management structure to ensure the administrative, financial and project management and overall day-to-day management, developing support structure for partnership across all facets of the Centre and delivering against set objectives and work packages. Initially comprising a Director, Deputy Director, Centre Lead, Region Lead, Education Lead, and 3 Research Assistants. Our interdisciplinary team of 20 Co Investigators will involve academic and research staff from multiple departments across all six colleges and central services.  The CCRC intends to be a permanent part of participating universities and their strategic plans to ensure environmental sustainability. Strong relationships between the CCRC and UAL professional services will ensure establishment of support structures at partner institutions. 

     An advisory steering group will review the process and progress of the Research Centre, responding to issues and challenges to nurture the life cycle of the Centre. Whilst a Social Racial & Climate Justice advisory board will develop a strategic plan and set goals across all the partner institutions. Diversity in the leadership team will be seeded from the start. 

CCRC – Logic Model – Developed collaboratively with members of the  EPRG.

Situations  InputsActivitiesOutputsOutcomesImpacts
Assumptions made about what creativity is and what it can do.Funding of the CCRC form 80% ESRC 20% UAL – Other funding will be soughtSystematic Literature Reviews (SLRs) + Data collection and analysisMappings of how Critical Creativity Interventions address socio-economic exclusionDiversified range of thinking and research produced about creativity, creating new methods of research.Short Term: Creativity is reframed critically through multiple research methods and outputs.  A framework is developed for measuring creativity’s criticality.  
Creativity is seen as a panacea for the urgent issues facing our society without fully understanding what it is.30 CIs from multiple HEIs UK and globally will give a diversity of thought on Critical Creativity5 x yearly Transnational Critical Creativity Research Residences (25 in Total)  New trans and neo disciplinary partnerships & transnational collaborations will be sought.New models for inclusive creativity that distribute EDI labour more equitably will be modelled and put into practice.
Creativity being marginalised & diminished, leading to social and economic exclusionFrom our networks already existing national & transnational creative project partners  A continuous development of our already strong social media presence + other comms avenues.Engagement with policy makers to help create and agenda for creativity to be more of a public good.Increased inclusion for transdisciplinary non-academic transnational partners to participate in creativity R&DMedium Term: Critical Creativity methods developed and applied in the UK and globally. Quantify, evidence how creativity creates value and impact.
Creative practices are under-recognised in many disciplines and underfunded.Centre managed by director and deputy director + research assistants + centre leads.10 x Critical Creativity Fellowships (50 in total) 5 x Yearly (un) ConferencesBiannual publications. 1 conference proceedings + 1 working in progress + 50 working papersRigorous researched evidence of importance of critical creativity across multiple disciplines
Difficulty in evidencing how creativity creates social value and justice.UAL Support: Management, Finance, Legal, research, educational ethics, HRM. 12 x 24 hr monthly meetings as a form of evaluation of the centre’s activities.Critical Creativity Global Directory of Practitioners set up.An inclusive network of diverse creative researchers & practitioners dedicated to social changeLong Term: Critical Creative practice is used in reducing socio-economic exclusion with a better understanding of creativity.  
Professional and academic environments do not support critical creativityUAL’s extensive data set and other HEI data of creativity, awarding gaps & employment.5 x FT PhD + 5 x PT PhD Scholarships over 5 yearsExhibitions and visualisations of the research and data gatheredA clearer understanding of what creativity is and how is can best be put to use in multiple domains.