Method is Impact is Outputs: Non-linear Approaches to Impact Generation in Practice Research

Some thoughts from applied ethnomusicology and research development offered by Dr Muriel Swijghuisen Reigersberg 

On the 20th May 2016 I had the great pleasure of presenting at the Coventry Impact Summit on practice research and impact. The summit aimed to:

(a) understand how to improve the impact of research;

(b) raise awareness of impact-generating practices and techniques

(c) consider how one might translate this learning into discipline-specific practice in order to deliver stronger impact;

(d) facilitate the sharing of experiences and expertise.

The event happily included a number of representatives working in the arts and humanities as well as interdisciplinary and STEM fields. The audience in attendance was a healthy mixture of academic and professional services staff from a variety of disciplines.

Using non-specialist language, I explored my own academic practice research methodologies in my presentation Method is Impact is Outputs: Non-linear Approaches to Impact Generation to Practice Research. I high-lighted some of the debates that are circulating in practice research spheres, whilst showing that ethnomusicologists can be practice researchers and some of us are especially capable of generating Impact.

Although being affiliated to a Psychology department, I am not a psychologist, but an applied, medical ethnomusicologist: for simplicity’s sake, an anthropologist of music who uses applied, culturally appropriate methods to promote wellbeing through the making of music. Colleagues of mine, particularly in the USA, work on projects related to HIV, Malaria and water sanitation.

I believe that some of our collaborative, performative, ethnographic approaches might be useful to other forms of practice research, as a way of evidencing impact and documenting the research process.

My own research question was: How does Christian choral singing impact on the construction of Australian Aboriginal identities? To answer my question, I facilitated an Indigenous Australian choir in Hopevale, Cape York in Australia, singing at prisons, Indigenous rehabilitation centres, for tourist audiences and for community events as well as regional artistic ventures, such as the Queensland Music Festival. We performed. We practiced together, and I researched with the help of my singers. I found that if done in culturally appropriate ways, choral singing has a positive impact on identity constructs. It showed the wider world that, in the words of one of my singers: ‘more than drunks come out of Hopevale’.

The choir and I appeared on radio and in the local news. We even made a little bit of income which was set aside in the bank for future choir initiatives.

My method: choral facilitation, led to outputs: performances, concerts and rehearsals, a radio appearance, mentions in the local news and invitations to perform at festivals.

The impact: wellbeing for the singers and their relatives in rehab or prison and a heightened awareness of Australian Aboriginal diversity amongst tourist audiences in Outback Australia.

About my impact: impact did not occur after my research. It occurred during my research and in turn led to new questions arising. The Impact was non-linear. This non-linear creation of impact is not well-understood by the sector at large currently. Practice researchers have a role to play in helping shape better policies and administrative procedures by sharing their views constructively on this subject.

To conclude, practice researchers should consider ethnography, auto-ethnography and philosophy as ways into investigating impact and co-creation. In ethnomusicology we have addressed the challenge of writing about music (i.e. the textual/ experiential debate) by using philosophy. Hermeneutics, phenomenology, existentialism and intersubjectivity in particular have allowed us to explore how the co-creative process of performance leads to the creation of new knowledge and how best to convey this new knowledge on paper. Philosophy has encouraged ethnomusicologists to question to what extent it is possible to comment accurately on other people’s experiences of creative practice (an exciting area of enquiry in neuropsychology too) and to think about what this means for studies of impact.

This philosophical background combined with musical practice is then supported by the ethnographic evidence: interviews with performers, audio visual examples of performances and the co-creative processes. Where possible ethnomusicologists then validate their interpretations of the co-creative experience by involving musicians in the academic analyses. If the researcher is the creator, then auto-ethnography is employed. We share with our co-creators what we have written about them and the processes of creation, ensuring that the presentation of this new knowledge avoids ethnocentric biases and acknowledges context-specific responses to creative processes. In some cases, ethnomusicologists have also been drawn to poetics and creative writing as a means of representing their intersubjective, embodied musical experiences on paper.

These approaches not only allow ethnomusicologists to problematize the concept of ‘impact’ as it pertains to practice research and its outputs, but within the written ethnography and ethnographic method there lies ample opportunity to discuss with artists and musicians how the creative process might be understood to be impactful beyond the academe and how this might be best evidenced, using appropriate techniques that are discipline-specific.

My belief is that the combination of approaches used in ethnomusicology is transferable to other areas of practice research and if this approach resonates with you then I would be interested to discuss this further so do contact me.


Dr Muriel E. Swijghuisen Reigersberg is Research Development and Policy Manager in the Research Office and a Visiting Research Fellow in the Music, Mind and Brain Centre, Department of Psychology, at Goldsmiths, University of London



Twitter: @MurielSR