Methods for Change – showcasing innovative social sciences methodologies

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26th August 2020

Methods for Change is a new project highlighting the value of social sciences methodologies to the wider world. It aims to showcase innovative research methods that facilitate social transformation and to demonstrate the benefits social sciences research can bring across a range of sectors.  

This article by the Methods for Change team – Amy Barron, Alison Browne, Ulrike Ehgartner, Sarah Marie Hall and Laura Pottinger – outlines the importance of social science methodologies and how the project will seek to draw out innovative methods for the benefit of non-academic sectors.

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Blog post and The University of Manchester

In April 2020, a new Aspect funded project, Methods for Change, was launched at the University of Manchester. Developed and led by Dr Alison Browne and Dr Sarah Marie Hall, and together with Dr Amy Barron, Dr Laura Pottinger and Dr Ulrike Ehgartner, it seeks to amplify methodologies developed by social scientists to research pressing societal issues, and to make a case for their wider application beyond academia. The project will collate innovative and transformative social science methods, and demonstrate how they could be used to create change in diverse, non-academic contexts.

Reflecting on cutting edge research within the social sciences and humanities at the University of Manchester and Aspect partner institutions, the project will translate these methods into written, audio-visual and creative guides which will be shared with industry, business, the charity sector and a range of academic and non-academic stakeholders. Each output will include examples of how the different methods can be used in different settings. 

The importance of social science methodologies

Social science methodologies are recognised by a range of sectors, including the UK government, as essential for understanding complexity and complex systems. Research is also increasingly showing that visual data such as videos, and processes of co-production found in visual and participatory methodologies, for example, are important in developing transdisciplinary ways of knowing and creating socio-ecological and political transformation.

Methods for Change arose out of a recognition that the robust methodologies developed within the social sciences – qualitative, interpretive or creative – are often under-utilised by non-academic sectors.  Society is facing major societal and environmental challenges, in the UK and globally, which are complicated further by Covid-19. Given these complex and interconnected problems, there has never been a more important moment to mobilise the potential of social science methodologies with non-academic stakeholders to invoke transformative socio-ecological and political change.

Drawing out innovative methods

Methods for Change will draw on methods developed within our dynamic research community at The University of Manchester and our Aspect partner institutions. The Methods for Change research team will work closely with academics who utilise innovative methods in their research with businesses, third sector organisations, and other non-academic groups and individuals. Together, we will experiment with non-jargoned written and audio-visual how-to guides in order to communicate the potential of social science methodologies to a range of non-academic audiences. To apply, represent and communicate their methods, our academic contributors will work with designers to develop creative materials such as videos, comics and exhibitions.

The creative outputs produced by Methods for Change will demonstrate and showcase the potential for social science methodology to lead to transformative change within non-academic sectors in a range of areas. These include, but are not limited to: household consumption practices, infrastructures, waste, health and wellbeing, food, cities and sustainable cities, gender, age, race and ethnicity.

Meet the team

Methods for Change is led by a team of social science researchers, supported by Alison and Sarah, who share an interest in complex issues associated with social inequality and environmental stress. They each also draw on different methodological approaches to explore these problems and will be mobilising this expertise within the project.

Ulrike Ehgartnerisa sociologist interested the wider field of sustainable consumption and production. Her ongoing research on sustainability discourses in the food industry and imagined futures of consumption is concerned with how language and other non-linguistic forms of communication (re)produce societal meaning. Ulrike draws from wide-ranging experience in studying language by taking a critical discourse-analytical lens.

Amy Barron is a cultural and social geographer interested in questions around cities, representation, difference and lived experience. Her research has involved foregrounding the lived experiences of older individuals in the move to creating Age-Friendly Cities. Methodologically, she uses arts-based methods which value the process of researching as much as the product of research.

Laura Pottinger is a human geographer with an interest in everyday forms of social and environmental activism. She draws on participatory, ethnographic and ‘gentle’ methods to explore practices of consumption and cultivation, sharing economies, and young people’s politics.

Looking ahead

The Methods for Change project has an ethos of collaboration at its heart: it is fundamentally about getting people together and sharing ideas, within and beyond our project team. We see this as an opportune moment to demonstrate the significant ways that social scientific methods can help us understand, and provide pathways towards more positive, social and environmental change. Over the coming months we will, together with our academic contributors, explore and document some of the varied social science research methods that are being developed at different universities in the UK. These conversations will help us to identify pathways for expanding and applying social science methodological expertise across different sectors beyond academia.


Photo credit: Felipe Furtado via Unsplash


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