The Changing Nature of Research

By way of an introduction, we thought it would be useful to provide an overview of current approaches to research and innovative practice, before exploring the potential of knowledge creation in our forthcoming work. The purpose of Create Innovation is to develop a cultural interface with new and existing research practices, whose contexts, objectives and methods, vary in accordance with their fields of expertise. The rise of personal computing has begun to change the relationship between the Big Research of professionals in industry and academic institutions, and the small research of the curious individual, who can now access unprecedented levels of information on the world wide web. The traditional domains of Big Research such as science, technology, social science, the arts and humanities are beginning to loosen their institutional constraints by making connections with the popular activities and interests of small researchers. It is therefore becoming more important to understand the social and economic value of this new cultural assemblage of Big-small research, and how it might affect the process of learning and knowledge production in future years.

In everyday life, most of us experience Big Research in terms of the media hype surrounding the latest scientific invention or discovery. In 2011 for example, physicists at CERN, Switzerland and Gran Sasso, Italy reported that neutrinos may have exceeded the speed of light, thus leading to renewed speculation on the possibility of time travel. The exclusive domain of quantum physics inhabits the realm of pure research, which may appear remote from the workaday world of wider society, despite the best efforts of popular science programmes. In contrast, the recent discovery of Graphene, the world’s thinnest material, has a number of potential applications in consumer electronics and aviation. The Big Research of science is increasingly geared towards a culture of innovation, as it tends to be expensive and requires an ongoing partnership between universities and commercial investors whose long-term aim is to make a profit in the marketplace.

We have all experienced the social technology of marketing research, which in practice employs the statistical methods of the physical sciences to collect information about our daily lives. Arthur Nielsen established the discipline in 1923 as a type of commercial sociology, which over time has developed a toolbox for gauging the attitudes, preferences and behaviour of individuals. The opinion poll and focus group are derivatives of marketing research, and have played a vital role in the development of party political strategy in the UK since the late 1980’s. The adjacent field of policy research has gradually entered into the public imagination via the ‘evidenced based’ think tank, whose advisory business is one of advocacy and influence on the shape and direction of governance. Social scientists, policy researchers and marketing machines are to some extent, enquiring after an elusive ‘individual’ who is becoming fragmented, dispersed and difficult to define, as the information ‘self’ of 21st Century societies.

The emergence of electronic media has changed our social and intellectual relationship to the organisation/institution of Big Research. Since the mid 1990’s we have witnessed a rapid growth in the cultures of small research, typified by the amateur researcher working at a grass roots level in collaboration; via networks, forums, wikis, and blogs, which in their contingency, are largely issue or event driven. The ‘shared drive’ of small research has enabled mass participation in the research process, as either a user generated or externally guided activity. What is significant in terms of research creation is the creative mix of research cultures, which combine the expertise of Big Research with the collective intelligence of Web 2.0 communities. A classic example cited in Wikinomics is the Goldcorp Mining Company’s, ‘Goldcorp Challenge’, which offered a total of $575,000 dollars in prize money to any group or individual who could accurately predict the location of gold deposits. Goldcorp devised an ‘open source’ exploration by web sharing their intellectual property of geological data going back to 1948. The outcome was a fascinating mix of amateur geologists, students and professionals from all walks of life whose predictive powers resulted in a significant rise in the company’s market value. On a contrasting issue of climate change, the Big Research of the scientific community has connected to popular concerns about global warming through climateprediction.net. The research project, primarily based at Oxford University, makes an appeal to ‘volunteer computing’, as a basis for investigating the uncertainties in climate modelling. The project runs ‘hundreds of thousands of different models by using the donated idle time of ordinary personal computers’. climateprediction.net is a great example of a public research platform for sharing, creating and re-distributing knowledge through the cultural convergence of local and global environmental issues.

In future work, Create Innovation will explore the changing nature of research as a cultural and creative process. In the art of research creation, we will follow ‘lines of enquiry’ which traverse a range of disciplines, as we make connections between philosophies, psychologies, histories, geographies, societies and economies. Our research programmes will emerge as critical and collaborative applications for understanding the positive value of tensions, problems and anomalies, which arise at the cultural interface between knowledge sharing, ‘open source’ learning, private enterprise, education, work and governance. Instead of reproducing what is already known about the subject, we will attempt the more difficult but rewarding task of realising the unknown and un-thought aspects of research practice in 21st Century societies.