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PRACTICE-LED RESEARCH AND THE INNOVATION AGENDA

:
BEYOND THE POSTGRADUATE DEGREE IN THE ARTS,
DESIGN AND MEDIA.

Dr Luke Jaaniste
Research Fellow,
Creative Industries Faculty, QUT

Prof Brad Haseman
Assistant Dean (Research),
Creative Industries Faculty, QUT

The rise of the ‘practice-led’ research approach has given us a new way of
understanding what creative practice in art, design and media can do in the academy
and the world— it can materialise new ideas and forms into being as a form of
experimental research. Yet, to date, attention around the world, and especially in
Australia, has been chiefly directed at the postgraduate research degrees, most
notably the PhD or doctoral equivalents. Recent mapping projects and surveys of
practice-led research in Australia reveal much about the institutional conditions of
higher degree researchers, supervisors, examiners and research training (Baker et al
2009; Evans et al 2003; Dally et al 2004; Paltridge et al 2009; Phillips et al 2009).
Given this focus, we might well ask: is the practice-led approach destined to be a
part of the higher degree ghetto only, or does it have an afterlife? What is the place
of ‘practice-led’ beyond the postgraduate degree? After all postgraduate researchers
do not remain postgraduates forever, and perhaps the practice-led approach to
research may have benefits in wider university, professional and communal contexts.

If we are to consider practice-led research in the wider world then the meta-language
of contemporary innovation is an important resource; the framework of innovation
and the innovation agenda emerged as a direct response to connecting research and
knowledge to economic, social and educational development. For sure, innovation
theory and policy has been historically locked up in science and technology, but it
does not have to be, and stripped of its disciplinary biases, the expanded
contemporary view of innovation is a powerful explanatory tool. But first, some back-
story will help set the scene of the innovation of practice-led research.

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the three-to-four years full-time stipend that a PhD candidate receives to carry out in-depth creative exploration and presentation is far greater and more constant than that which can be gained through such avenues as arts and cultural grants. design and media. design and media production is so different to the established traditions of research. design and media academics. Generally speaking. and relieves many from the strain of a day job. With these amalgamations.SWEEPING CHANGES IN EDUCATION. Research postgraduate degrees became a growth area. How easily this works in practice and fits in with already heavy workloads remains a going concern for many educators. Strand 1998). postgraduate research degrees are free for students whilst non-research postgraduate courses attract significant fees. DESIGN AND MEDIA Given that the practice-led approach in arts. design and media faculties within universities relates to advances in technologies for the documentation and distribution of creative rich-media works. how did it gain entry into the ranks of higher research at all? A number of reasons can be identified. non-print objects and events Page 2 of 15 . Besides giving students more years to hone their craft and ideas in stimulating and protected educational environments. In the 1990s. A second reason for the rise of practice-led research in arts. surely another reason was more pragmatic. For studio-based art. In Australia. diversification and accessibility of digital tools and the emergence of the internet with its ever-widening bandwidth meant that the rich-media. the further advancement. Firstly it is symptomatic of the profound changes in the tertiary education system in the late twentieth century. research pathways were opened up for both the academics and students who produce art. existing specialist art and design colleges were incorporated into university faculties as part of the ‘unified national systems’ of universities that formed part of the Dawkins reforms in the early 1990s (SERCAC 1995. research pathways have been driven as much by career pressures (competing with humanities and theory scholars who already had PhD-level qualifications and research acumen) as by the desire to have the time to spend on their creative practice validated (and remunerated) by the academy. and more and more seen as useful and even necessary addition to tertiary-level education. Access to postgraduate research scholarships is an even greater financial incentive. MEDIA AND KNOWLEDGE: THE RISE OF PRACTICE-LED RESEARCH IN THE ARTS.

The creative sector still has nothing like the citation indexes of scientific research community at its disposal. one way of understanding and enlivening the future for practice-led research lies in tying it to the national innovation agenda: namely to leverage it as a core element within the larger innovation ecosystem. There is a clear practice-imperative to be found in socially-engaged research methods such as action research. but so much more is now possible than before in the pre-digital. designs. and the increasing demand for universities to commercialise the outcomes of their research often through external partnerships. distributed. the establishment of practice-based research centres within professional workplaces such as hospitals and clinics. Coinciding with the questioning of traditional forms of knowledge has been the recognition of professional and everyday practices within the gamut of academic research. and the processes and practices involved as core research methods. Given this history. worthy types of knowledge in the university that has been fueled by increasing suspicions around the privileging of logo-centric knowledge. Creative production is the central research activity. Practice-led research in the creative sector inserts practice into research by offering creative works. pre-online past. content and events as core research outputs. compared and measured. and what becomes of the practice-led researchers trained in this methodology? Is it bound to exist forever as a niche higher degree? Surprisingly perhaps for some. Over the past fifty years challenges to the established order of epistemology have come increasingly from the social sciences. rather than something to be merely observed or assisted.of the creative sector could be far more effectively documented. This is an important point. since academic research involves the dissemination of research outcomes within a peer community and wider general public. the qualitative research community. Page 3 of 15 . what now for practice-led research? How and where will it travel. archived. the analysis and use of reflective practitioner dynamics. and the paradigm wars looking beyond the positivist tradition of analytical written knowledge. it is part of widening the scope of what is now accepted as useful. A third reason for the rise of practice-led research concerns its very difference from traditional academic research.

and similarly mainstream innovation studies are often considered a sub-set of science-and-technology studies. embracing more types of human practices than those found Page 4 of 15 . organisations and dynamics of innovation – the European Union is contributing 50 billion Euros to innovation programs during 2007-2013 (Kern 2007). manufactured technologies and their commercial application. innovation is understood through the innovation policy development of national governments and multi-national institutions such as the European Union and the OECD. has been welcomed into the innovation agenda. More specifically. While techno-science and economic rationalism has dominated the scene. and under Prime Minister Howard. That’s the big vision of innovation. industry and economic policy (OECD 2005: 15). Those writing the official innovation story (the innovation theorists and policy-makers) are looking to add more chapters to the narrative. it has been concerned almost entirely with the STEM sector (science-technology-engineering-medicine) and in so doing it has excluded many disciplines. It leverages billions of dollars of public investment in the people. practices and alternative worldviews. And innovation policy is big business. And now there are clear signs that the innovation agenda is expanding. Not everyone. however. Australia saw over 6 billion dollars committed through the Backing Australia’s Ability strategy (Commonwealth of Australia 2001. In this narrow formulation. Innovation policy has emerged out of science. given the historical providence of innovation policy and theory that reaches back to the Post-War nation-building period when ‘big science’ was seen to be the key to improving the human condition (NESTA 2008: 1). 2004). we would argue that the innovation agenda has the potential to point to issues of deep importance to us all: how we all change and grow locally and globally. innovation policy and theory has focused on scientific knowledge. Innovation is what is needed to solve our current and future problems and capitalise on our opportunities. This is not that surprising. Whilst we will seek to show how the innovation agenda can embrace the creative sector. technology. the innovation agenda refers to the growing desire of governments and communities to change and improve our human existence through the creation and application of new ideas.THE INNOVATION AGENDA Most broadly. those responsible for building innovation systems have seldom bothered with creative artists and researchers.

in science and technology. and (3) knowledge diffusion – the spread of new knowledge and applications across the economy and society until it is absorbed into our evolving way of life. Thus. that has its heritage in the mid-twentieth-century economic theories of Schumpeter (OECD 2005: 29). Page 5 of 15 . or cycle. Prime Minister Rudd quoted in Cutler and Company 2008: 47. The framework outlines all the major key concepts and dynamics of innovation. it is important to realise that the innovation agenda is the coordinating force driving the institutional and regulatory changes around research across all discipline areas. which underwrite contemporary innovation policy and theory. which goes well beyond commercial applications (also taken up in Haseman & Jaaniste 2008 and Jaaniste 2009a). arts and design domains. HASS. 2006b. whether curiosity-driven (‘pure research’) or directed towards practical problems (‘applied research’ or ‘R&D’). Heads of government (Barroso 2006a. Even if some from the research sector in the humanities and arts have been put off by innovation talk. (2) knowledge application – applying new knowledge to practical situations for commercial profit (‘commercialisation’) and social development (‘utilisation’). It involves: (1) knowledge production – creating and producing knowledge. Carr 2008) have made pronouncements about the need to include the HASS sector (humanities-arts-social sciences). Innovation theorists have begun to look at inter-disciplinary innovation models and there is increasing advocacy and research by those from the creative industries. because research is taken to be a vitial component of innovation. most recently stimulated in Australia around the 2008 Review of the National Innovation System (RNIS) which led to the Venturous Australia report. most notably the recent Venturous Australia report (Cutler and Company 2008). This is drawn from basic concepts mapped out in major innovation reports in Australia. AN EXPANDED FRAMEWORK FOR UNDERSTANDING INNOVATION Before developing connections between practice-led research and innovation it is necessary to map a framework of innovation. At the heart of innovation is a three-stage trajectory. a discussion about the past. present and future agency of practice-led research can gain much from being grounded in the key concepts that underwrite the innovation agenda.

innovation systems thinking is concerned with stocks and flows.These processes of innovation are supported by a cultural and educational backdrop. products. What is of interest here is not just the components of the system but also the interactions and movements of knowledge. people and organisations that together make innovation possible (see OECD 1997 for a detailed overview of the National Innovation Systems approach). by encouraging risk-taking. experimentation and enterprise. Types of organisations in the innovation system include universities. processes. research institutes. fosters the skills and aptitudes of tomorrow’s innovators—educating for an innovative workforce and community. from creators through to consumers and citizens. Connected to both the innovation trajectory and supporting backdrop is the innovation system itself. businesses and commercial firms and third sector organizations. encapsulating the trajectory-like and cycle- based diagrams of Cutler (2008: 22-23): Page 6 of 15 . The systemic support provided by government in the form of regulations and resources is also an important consideration. it is hoped. This is the complex network of knowledge. The culture or ‘atmosphere’ of innovation provides and supports the impetus for all to engage in innovation. We represent the various elements of the innovation framework as an expanding trajectory with feedback loops (Figure 1). Innovation is also supported by the education system. skills and people throughout the systems. which.

practice-led research contributes to the knowledge production phase of the innovation trajectory. addressing practical problems and community needs. Strand 1998. methods and material outputs (an argument made in Australia at the national policy level since SERCAC 1995. Biggs & Büchler 2009. Practice-led research might be ‘pure/basic’. or it might be very ‘applied/strategic’. by creating Page 7 of 15 . Press 1995 and more recently Haseman 2006. Haseman & Mafe 2009. albeit with its own paradigmatic inflections (such as Gray et al 1995. Figure 1: the contemporary framework of innovation THE CURRENT PLACE OF PRACTICE-LED RESEARCH As a species of research. Creative practitioners are knowledge creators. Büchler et al 2009). focused on esoteric and experimental issues beyond any practice consideration. AAH 1998). design and media producers are already playing a part in the innovation cycle and system. arts. and because of its growth in the postgraduate domain. Thus. producing new concepts.

practice-led research already is. rather than merely being contained and captured within the accreditation system for higher degree research candidates. There is a simple reason for this: practice-led research is an acceptable model at the higher degree level. Firstly. In short. True. but as creators and researchers of innovative cultural products and processes. (The UK situation is a little different. But such pronouncements are usually not backed-up by any detailed examination of what such claims to research might mean in practice. high-tech and science-based engagements. contemporary visual arts. the latest incarnation of ERA seeks to rectify some of this imbalance. In Australia.new ideas then by documenting and disseminating them across professional and social networks. new media arts has been argued as producing R&D around digital. various advocates have sought to position their artform as an R&D engine for the wider arts sector (see Haseman & Jaaniste 2008: 23-24 for a summary of the Australian situation). Australia Council et al. Most notably. 2005: 10-12) whilst other artforms discussed in terms of R&D include the small-to- medium performing arts sector. Over the last decade. designers and media-makers can contribute to the innovation ecosystem – not just as users of science-and-technology innovation. with postgraduate scholarships flowing. because postdoctoral research funding for creative practitioners and the auditing of creative outputs as part of national research surveys are meditated by the AHRC—the Arts and Humanities Research Council established in 2005—rather than a single generic research council as is the case for Australia. yet practice-led research methods and outputs are not funded. or digital content creation. nor counted. and can Page 8 of 15 . whether linked to universities or not (Australia Council 1999.) BEYOND THE POSTGRADUATE DEGREE We argue that practice-led research can play a larger role in the innovation system. but this is only a beginning. most of the energy and conversation around the specificities of practice- led research concerns the postgraduate research higher degree—to the induction of creative practitioners into the research sector at the knowledge production phase of the innovation cycle. at the level of national research funding for academic research staff. practice-led research has been a frontier territory for reconsidering the ways that artists.

examiners and research training (Baker et al 2009. design and media professions. Secondly. within and beyond universities. and the spread of the practice-led methodology itself. The research practice-led discourse can help to highlight and give agency to these innovative developments in culture. In light of this. and in what ways? • Flows of people and skills: What do postgraduate researchers do beyond their practice-led research degree? Do they end up continuing to use practice-led research if they take up employment within universities (as teacher or researchers) or is this left behind? Are the skills and approaches developed by undertaking a formal practice-led research of any benefit to a Page 9 of 15 . the diffusion of practice-led research also needs to be considered. supervisors. We now know a good deal about the institutional conditions of higher degree researchers. Evans et al 2003. applied arts and design. user-centric. the practice- led approach has a strong potential for social and commercial application. force within the arts. A certain proportion of makers.become a far greater. and media activism can fuel social innovation. Dally et al 2004. arts therapies. Thirdly. presentation formats and distribution platforms. products and processes developed through practice-led research. as has been championed by those who have mapped and advocated for the creative industries over the last decade. Paltridge et al 2009. in relation to the spread of the innovative people. forms. and how are these different research traditions inflecting one another? Is the practice-led approach developed by the creative sector being taken up in other disciplines and domains. Such applications can occur through those working in the ‘creative sector’ as well as those ‘embedded’ within other sectors and professions (cf Cunningham & Higgs 2009). commercially engaged work can fuel economic development. User-led design. further scoping studies and sector research projects need to move beyond issues of higher degree research. producers and citizens have long been interested in exploratory and experimental approaches to techniques. but what happens to researchers and their research once that have completed their degrees? Further sector-wide research needs to collect and analysise evidence around: • Flows of methodologies: What ways is practice-led research being used alongside other research traditions and paradigms. across both the STEM and HASS sectors. Phillips et al 2009). Likewise. market-driven. community cultural development.

giving practice-led researchers access to: 1. both within and beyond universities. we need to build some innovation systems for practice-led researchers at the postdoctoral. senior academic and expert practitioner level. such questions could also be asked of innovative activities and practitioners within professional and underground contexts of arts. like the AHRC in the UK. and are such skills and capacities of any benefit to non-academic collaborators. colleagues and the profession as a whole? • Flows of knowledge and new ideas: What happens to the specific knowledge contributions. national research funding body. media and all their hybrids. postdoctoral opportunities and distinctive competitive research grants and fellowships available for practice-led researchers and studio-based academics. A number of components in the innovation system need to be targeted. we cannot just think about and track the wider innovation system. that will get creative production its proper. 4. To achieve all this. rather than marginal. design. university faculties. which specialize in practice-led research. dedicated and fully-funded research centres and institutions based around practice-led research. a HASS-specific. insights and outputs generated through the completion of hundreds of practice-led research degrees around Australia each year? Are there any flow ons. place. spin offs and applications for other practitioners. commerce and communities. professions and communities – or do practice-led research outputs remain locked up in the vaults of library and digital theses archives? Clearly. research candidate’s professional practices after their degree. 2. design and media to be measured and harnessed alongside other research traditions and paradigms. We need to find ways for practice-led research in arts. functioning as hubs that support innovative people and practices and their connection into professions. Page 10 of 15 . across both the STEM and HASS sectors and within both university and industry settings. 3.

but all these are only beginnings. shared vocabularies that connect across the different research traditions and approaches. workable definitions and measures of creative sector R&D and a pragmatic theory of creative sector innovation that includes all forms of creation. media and communications fields. Run by Deakin University. application and diffusion across and between the arts. 5. in both university-based and extra-university projects” including “the broader. We have already raised such points in previous papers (Haseman & Jaaniste 2008. at least matching if not bettering the resources and energies poured into arts and cultural heritage and archives. Of course. there would be other sources that share an expansionary vision. CONCLUDING REMARKS Many questions and directions for future research and action have been outlined in this paper. then discussions around this form of research will continue to be dominated by compliance issues—attempting the ‘best fit’ between practice-led research and traditional. and this should be of no surprise given the expansive series of activities and components that fall within the innovation cycle and system. because of the depth of professional (non-university) contexts it covers within its half-a-dozen case studies. Where will the practice-led research debate and projects take us into the next decade? If practice- led research remains primarily a postgraduate concern. Paul Carter’s book. cultural policies that support R&D in a systemic comprehensive way. This was evidenced in the sorts of debates at the ACUADS conference 2009. Material Inventions: Applying Creative Research aims to “explor[e] the collaborative potential of creative research. 6. Jaaniste 2009a. 2009b) and there are signs that others are engaging in a much wider conversation beyond the postgraduate degree. much more needs to be done. academic Page 11 of 15 . It is also part of the specific ambition of at least one conference late this year. Material Thinking: the theory and practice of creative research (2004) is also important in this regard. slow-moving. design. and 7. interdisciplinary and industry applications of creative research” (Deakin Creative 2009).

research protocols. use of theory. we can use it to unlock our horizons and impact. diffusion. education and culture. At the very least. and the articulation of knowledge claims are framed around appeasing institutional requirements. linking research to application. Page 12 of 15 . documentation and archiving. But the practice-led community needs to sets its sights higher and wider. research methodology. In this view. might just be the key. The innovation framework and agenda.

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