[ Personal and societal transformation] are intertwined and
thatpersonal transformation is a necessary component of research that is designed to support change at the societal level […] if we design our research so that it explicitly addresses issues of discrimination and oppression thatthe probability of personal and social transformation increases. (Mertens, 2017)
This is an undeniable fact. One that I was neither aware of, nor prepared for, when I began conceptualizing the Remote Resilience Project as an exploratory qualitative study on the contributions of design methods and tools as mechanisms to facilitate and foster creative expression as means to encourage innovation for enhancing socio-economic resilience among women supplying fresh vegetables to Nairobi’s informal settlements.
Today I want to use my blog to ponder these changes without the constraints and confinements of academic style of writing. Though I can already see that I have changed by the way the words emerge in writing. Whether that change was due to the research planning process, per se, as per Merten’s conceptualization (Mertens, 2017) or whether that can be said to be the deliberate and necessary changes I had to force upon my thinking and writing in order to make the shift from practitioner to academic, as part of my doctoral dissertation journey, is something I cannot distinguish although on the other hand, what is the actual difference between these two nuances of personal transformation?
From the research lens perspective (Mertens, 2017), I can map my personal transformation journey against Dreyfus and Dreyfus (1980) skills acquisition journey from novice to expert. I prefer Wilkesmann & Wilkesmann’s (2011) table below, which clusters the 5 stages identified by Dreyfus and Dreyfus into 2 phases – ‘know that’ and ‘know how’ – arriving at the end points of “Competent” and “Expert” respectively. Screenshot below from Wilkesmann, M., & Wilkesmann, U. (2011). Knowledge transfer as interaction between experts and novices supported by technology. Vine.
Mertens (2017) cites Walton (2014) on their ” recommendation to collect data from diverse sources in diverse ways that honor the intuitive and integral knowledge needed for transformation. ”
“Intuitive perception can help achieve richer forms of understanding when used to complement processes such as analytic reasoning and information gained from the conventional five senses (p. 37).” (Walton, 2014)
Intuitive perception, or, in the words of Wilkesmann & Wilkesmann (2011) tabulation of the experiential journey from novice to expert (Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 1980), an “intuitive grasp of situations based on deep tacit understanding” literally defines the way experts approach their work, when compared to novices who rely on the application of “context free rules” (Mohedas et al., 2016 in the context of design ethnography skills acquisition). That is, it was my expertise as a practitioner of design ethnography and exploratory user research within the informal economy in Kenya that was able to inform and guide my dissertation research plan, even though I was still a novice in terms of thinking and writing as an academic researcher in my 2nd semester of doctoral study. As Wilkesmann & Wilkesmann (2011) say:
The crucial point is that there are information asymmetries between novices and experts. […] we have to take into account the fact that every person can be simultaneously a novice and an expert with regard to different topics. In one context someone might be very experienced but in another context, e.g. if the work task changes, the same person can be a novice. (Wilkesmann & Wilkesmann, 2011)
In my struggles with changing my perspective and writing style as I underwent the journey from experienced practitioner to novice doctoral student, I had spent most of the past year feeling like a novice, learning the rules of how to write academese and craft just one acceptable manuscript (there have been a few rejected ones, some even after revise and resubmit). Others say that the first acceptance is the hardest, and then the rest just flow. I sure hope so. However, until today when I sit down to read and write, and reflect on what the Wilkesmann brothers are pointing out, I recognize that my transformative journey has neither been linear nor as clear cut as the Dreyfus brothers’ model.
I was an expert in one context who became a novice in the other, and even now, can only be said to hovering just out of reach of “Competent” (see table screencap above). My intuitive grasp as expert permitted me to explore the boundaries of design and innovation facilitation by handing it over to the team in Nairobi, over zoom; and this experience, per Mertens’ vision (2017) was transformative as I let go of the expert mindset that characterizes human-centered design and user research (see Sanders, 2008). Yet, it should be noted that the opposite side of the mindset continuum of expert, when it comes to design and innovation work with people, is not the beginner’s mindset, but that which recognizes and respects the expertise and lived experience of the participants as the knowledge co-generation drivers. I’ll pause this thought here for a different post as it speaks directly to the manuscript I’m working on right now, and this blogpost right now is for me to sing my songs and listen to the rhythm of the magic of my keyboard.
50 years+ of self-awareness inform me that I’m entering a period of great creative transformation. All the signs and portents are there. Where I sought to narrow my focus to the structured and processual applications of creativity, such as in design practice, the last time I found myself writing to explore a world outside the box from which I’d emerged (2005-2007); this time, I’m not yet ready to put such a narrow focus for my capacity to express my creativity. I want to go back to its core and re-discover its source and engine, in a thoughtful measured way that I have not done since leaving high school. Exploring crayons and watercolours is as much a part of this as writing has been in the past.
I knew when I entered university in my early 50s that a) I was looking to change how I effect my world (conventionally called the word we do to generate revenue and occupy ourselves), and that b) I did not know where and how and what I could do – within the constraints and limitations of my age and the world’s market assessment of it, but that at some point over the 4 (now 5 due to the pandemic caused delays) years I would learn the answer to my unspoken question of whom do I want to become when I leave school. This moment is happening to me now.
The call is not weak and faint so much as it cuts in and out and needs conscious and deliberate explorations to revive the creative sparks and embody one’s capacity to express oneself in wholly new ways. For this, my friends made in school have been inspirational guides as I shamelessly tap into their youthful creativity and their wholehearted explorations of their artistic natures. For far too many decades, this has been too rare in my corporate economic world of professional practice.
Students play in the summer. So shall I.