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Posted on Fri 21 May 2021


Overview of Research at Watershed

Watershed's research strategy focuses on inclusive innovation, developing a creative sector climate sustainability framework & hybrid products & experiences. Here we outline our thinking & approaches to these research themes.

Layered Realities Weekend credit: Jack Offord

Layered Realities Weekend credit: Jack Offord

If you would like this article in an alternative format please email furaha.a@watershed.co.uk

At Watershed we believe that knowledge is produced and research is conducted  in all parts of our sector and society, and that by bringing together different skills, perspectives, and experiences, our understanding of the world will be richer. The Pervasive Media Studio is Watershed's community for those with a shared interest in creative technology, from various backgrounds. It houses our creative residents, talent development and research teams, and is itself an ongoing collaboration with both the Universities in Bristol. We value collaboration and partnership and have worked over the past 15 years within the studio to establish a space where we supportively hold communities of practice- including creative hubs, creative producers, artists, universities, and various other collaborators-  who create, theorise, research, and invest back into the community. 

Over the years the studio has developed a reputation for facilitating cross-disciplinary innovation at the intersection of culture, media and technology. Our community works across the cultural and commercial sectors and produces practice-based research, research and development projects, and more traditional research thinking in the creative economy. All our research and development programmes support participants to value their own knowledge and identity as researchers, and to shape research questions and share their learnings both internally and externally. Our research practice and strategy also bring the added benefit of pushing back against the narrative that ‘research’ is the remit solely of academic and/or research institutions. Our thinking about the nature of research in the sector has evolved hand in hand with our long term partners at UWE Bristol’s Creative Economies Lab.

Watershed is currently a partner on the AHRC funded Bristol+Bath Creative R+D and the recently-concluded Research England funded South West Creative Technology Network (SWCTN)- both led by UWE Bristol- which have a combined value of over £11m; producing Fellowship and Prototype development programmes around key themes as well as undertaking our own research. We are also a partner on the recently announced £46m Strength in Places project led by University of Bristol which will begin in 2021, and expect to be bidding for more funding in the future.

Our activities report gives a flavour of the overlapping achievements at Watershed, whilst the Pervasive Media Studio projects page gives more of an in-depth look at the range of projects undertaken over the years- by both the research team, and studio residents- including REACT, Playable City, and Creative Producers International. We build on our learning from previous and ongoing research projects, making use of some of our established models whilst still adapting as we go along. 

Aims and Approach

The Watershed brand is unique, trusted and respected and is driven by shared values and ethics which foreground our research strategy. We draw on a depth of local connection and international collaboration to support thinking about the future of art, technology and society. In doing so we hope to create space for innovative, playful, and replicable methodologies that inject energy into our creative ecology. We are deliberate about recognising this particular strand of work we do as ‘research’ because it is exploratory, emergent, produces and documents knowledge, methodologies, models, and frameworks within our creative communities of practice, and holds space for various forms of knowledge production.

Our mode of working allows us to invest in talent development and the creation of long-term city-based, regional, and international networks between creative producers, artists, universities, cultural hubs, industry partners, and audiences. We will always seek to embed co-production in all that we do, and as such each of our research projects has at least one aspect of recruiting paid freelancers, and/or recruiting fellows, and/or funding prototype production teams. 

Because we literally sit within a public venue with a real audience and have a pool of practice-based researchers amongst our residents and collaborators, we have the privilege of presenting and testing our work with users. Our ideas, various outputs, and prototypes - both past and ongoing- have formed the foundational themes for our research strategy.

Research Themes

Our research themes will keep evolving, but our current research questions focus on: 

  1. How to develop more inclusive and responsible forms of innovation. ‘Innovation’ is part of our creative ecology. To us, inclusive and responsible innovation means that while we create, research and produce, we are constantly evaluating our practices and products from the past, those in the present, and what we are hoping for in the future. Who has and is being left out of creative technology spaces, conversations, and opportunities and how can we contribute towards redressing this to ensure all our processes are as socially just as possible? We also want to be transparent about our practice, collaborations, and products, and are interested in research that challenges us in these areas.
  2. The impact of climate breakdown on the cultural industries- and conversely our responsibility within this sector towards climate justice. We’re investigating how creative SMEs, micro-businesses and freelancers in the South West can adopt inclusive and ambitious environmental action, asking what is the role of the creative sector in a just transition? How can we develop accessible tools and practices for bottom up change?
  3. Hybrid (digital and physical) products and experiences. We are interested in multimedia products and experiences that are accessible, engaging, fun, and contributing new perspectives to the sector. These could involve XR, amplified publishing, digital placemaking, expanded performance, and other forms of hybrid production. We also welcome the possibility of novel ideas within this theme.

These themes, in which inclusion will always be embedded, outline our current research priorities. Our approach to delivery of this research strategy includes nurturing our shared responsibilities and ideas, being critical and reflexive, creative, curious, and inclusive; we celebrate knowledge exchange, future thinking, and challenging established hierarchies of how knowledge is generated, and for whom. Part of our responsibility includes ensuring that thinking is captured and shared across the organisation and with the wider community. We aim to do this by producing fun and engaging output, from written documentation and multimedia content to showcases, that is accessible and can be widely shared. 

Research Team

We are a small team that brings expertise from various research and production backgrounds, and you will find us working in different projects across Watershed and with our various collaborators. At any given moment in our working day we could be producing creative labs with collaborators, conducting literature reviews, surveys, listening campaigns or meetings to create priorities for current and future research and worklife, writing and creating content across our projects, providing support through different means across Watershed’s departments, and staying plugged into Watershed’s collegial working life in Bristol, the South West, and internationally.

Some of our recent highlights include co-producing the 2021 Lagos Producers Lab with Made Culture, the SWCTN Data Showcase, Creative Futures: place and presence from Bristol+Bath Creative R+D, establishing a working relationship with Kininso Koncepts creative hub in Lagos, our blog on reimagining recruitment processes, commissioning Creative Tech multimedia content for Container Magazine, and Lunchtime talks on vaccines in pop culture and on the climate emergency and need to take urgent action

We are always happy to hear from individuals, groups, SMEs, creative and research hubs about potential collaborations that fall within our remit- as outlined in our research themes above. We are unlikely to take on projects outside of these themes. We will however always try to signpost to other creative hubs in instances where discussions about projects don’t lead to collaboration. As we are a small team, we may take a while to respond to queries  but will do our best to send a response as soon as we can.

Team members are:

Furaha Asani (she/her): Research Lead

Furaha Asani is a public academic, mental health advocate, award-winning teacher and speaker, mental health advocate, and writer, with experience in community engagement and creative producing.  Furaha has a PhD in Infection and Immunity, and a keen interest and passion for global health equity and science in pop culture. She is also committed to anti-hostile environment advocacy and highlighting the racialized injustices caused by borders. Furaha joined Watershed in December 2020.

furaha.a@watershed.co.uk 

Rachael Burton (she/her): Producer

Rachael is a Producer on Bristol+Bath Creative R+D. Her role is to support a collaborative programme of research and business development to improve the performance of the creative industries in the region and in particular Bristol, ensuring they continue to flourish. Rachael previously coordinated the Network for Creative Enterprise, working with partners across the West of England to deliver business support for artists and creative businesses to make their practice economically sustainable. She is a qualified Action Learning facilitator. Before joining the Watershed team, she was a freelance theatre producer and project manager.

rachael.b@watershed.co.uk

Tony Bhajam (he/him): Inclusion Producer

Tony is an Inclusion Producer on the Bristol+Bath Creative R+D programme. Tony has worked in community engagement for almost ten years, particularly advocating for young people through arts and technology. He has also worked with organisations as disparate as local councils through to arts organisations to explore what resources they offer, and to who, and whether they are fit for purpose. Through this work he has built projects which ask big questions about the purpose of our civic institutions. In the past that has meant developing projects exploring heritage organisations and the narratives they share, as well as how they are governed, or rather, who they are governed by. 

tony.b@watershed.co.uk 

Zoe Rasbash (she/her): Environmental Emergencies Action Researcher

As part of Bristol and Bath Creative R+D, Zoe will be working with creative institutions, SMEs, businesses and freelancers to explore and co-develop a framework for climate action.  With a background in climate justice youth organising and policy advocacy, Zoe has campaigned at the local, national and international level for just responses to the climate crisis. She is also a writer on visual arts and the climate emergency. She previously coordinated the UK Youth Climate Coalition international team, leading the UK youth delegation to the UN Climate Conferences pushing for climate reparations and support for climate migrants. At Amnesty International and Climate Strategies, Zoe worked to ensure international climate activism and research co-produced impactful results with those on the ground. She also previously sat as youth representative on the UN Taskforce for Climate Displacement.

zoe.r@watershed.co.uk 

Past team members, whom we are always grateful to for their input into our work and thinking, include:

Fern Dunn

Gill Wildman

Hannah Brady

Hilary O’Shaughnessy

Jazlyn Pinckney

Melissa Blackburn