A brief summary of the second event: the Critical Reflection Workshop

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On Tuesday 9th July we welcomed 18 attendees (including ourselves) to the Arts University Bournemouth for our second network event, the Critical Reflection Workshop. The weather was hot and the beach was close by, but an intense day with a full programme of workshop sessions kept us occupied!

Our aim for the day was to tackle some of the thorny issues raised from the first workshop around vulnerabilities and expectations (of participants, facilitators, the research and organisations), power structures and hierarchies (navigating through them and/or subverting them), threats and advantages of these ways of working (to people and to the project), and forms of knowledge. Our goal was to consider what these mean for the key areas of ethics, impact and innovation.

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After our introductions, we began the day exploring the question what is good participation, and what does it enable? Discussions were led by our ‘critical friends’ Professor Ele Belfiore, Dr Jonathan Price and Dr Nicola Thomas, whose knowledge and expertise from the wider fields of participatory arts and craft communities enabled us to consider the question from our textile perspective in relation to the bigger picture. This provoked us to shake up some absolutely fundamental assumptions around the idea of ‘good participation’: is there such a thing as ‘good participation’, and ‘good’ for who?

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Some of us had been involved in the first event: myself and Amy, Dr Stephanie Bunn, Professor Janet van der Linden and Katie Hill. This provided a sense of continuity and enabled us to build on our previous work. However, new insights from different experiences of participatory textile making activities are important as we build a more detailed and nuanced map of this approach to research and creative practice. This included perspectives from artists working at the interface with cultural institutions and groups of participants, as well as representatives from organisations commissioning these kinds of projects. We welcomed Eilish Clohessy from Derby Museums and the Museum of Making, our project partner; Sarah Redmond-Fareham, children’s education coordinator at the local Walford Mill Crafts in Wimborne; and Deirdre Figueiredo, Director of Craftspace, who drew from her extensive experience of developing and commissioning work with makers from various disciplines and with many diverse communities. Socially engaged artist Katie Smith, from Smith-Genever, shared her experiences of undertaking their extraordinarily powerful work with groups of marginalised young people, and we learnt from the hugely inspiring Rachael Matthews, known for her Cast Off Knitting Club (amongst all sorts of other interesting projects).

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We mention in our film that these ways of working enable researchers to get into the corners of their subject of study in ways that the more conventional questionnaires and interviews just can’t reach, and the amazing work of some of the attendees really highlight this: Dr Katie Gaudion brought her experience of developing collaborative design tools with autistic adults, their support staff and family members; Rhian Solomon shared her perspective on using pattern cutting tools and methods in workshops to enhance communication between breast reconstruction surgeons and their patients; Emilie Giles contributed with her knowledge of combining the technology in e-textiles with the tactility (and fun!) of an incredible variety of craft workshops; Dr Katherine Townsend drew from her recent project ‘Emotional Fit’, implementing co-design workshops with a group of mature women keen to re-invest fashion choices with a sense of their own aesthetic preferences. Professor Becky Earley, a pioneer in the use of creative textile making workshops within her research, generously shared her extensive experience with us, encouraging us to think strategically about the legacy of this work.

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With the wealth and diversity of all these experiences of participatory making, we could easily have continued to explore the question all day. Ele, Nicola and Jonathan did a sterling job in drawing our discussions to a close in order for us to continue our task. To this end, in the afternoon we divided ourselves into three groups, each group exploring one of these questions:

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Our final task of the day was to channel all this experience into our draft good practice guidance notes. Across the network we are generating a lot of material to improve our critical understanding of these practices and support research and the writing of journal articles, but along with the website, we also want to consider other formats and routes for the dissemination of the network’s work/outcomes. We hope the development of material in the form of good practice guidance for creative practitioners and project commissioners, as well as for researchers, will help the work reach a wider audience. More on this at a later date – watch this space….

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