ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Going 3D: The challenges and opportunities of three-dimensional model building as a participant-generated visual research methodology

Lauren Leigh Hinthorne

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 9 - Law Building, Room 102
Date: 2012-07-12 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Last modified: 2011-12-19


Although there is growing interest in – and acceptance of – visual research methodologies, a disproportionate amount of the existing literature concentrates on two-dimensional visual stimuli. The research presented in this paper contributes to the increasingly dynamic field of visual research methodology by raising questions about the opportunities and risks that accompany using three-dimensional participant-generated visual stimuli, with particular focus on 3D model building.

Evidence complied from research in a range of disciplines strongly indicates that participatory visual research methods closely correspond with the ways in which we naturally express ourselves as human beings. Taking time out to engage in the creative process of making something, whether an image or an object, increases participant engagement while simultaneously improving the ability of people to articulate complex thoughts and experiences. In contrast to 2D visual stimuli (e.g. photographs, sketches) that are at least semi-permanent, 3D models can be built-up and broken-down with relative ease, increasing the scope for reflection, experimentation and adaptation.

Over the past decade, the Lego Serious Play methodology has been implemented by businesses around the world to achieve innovative organisational management outcomes. It has also been used in an academic context to investigate how people understand their own identities. Initially developed by the Lego Group, Lego Serous Play encourages people to build metaphorical models of new ideas or strategies that can then be reflected on both individually and cooperatively with others. I am currently in the process of adapting elements of this methodology to develop a distinct technique specifically designed to facilitate communication and mutual understanding between diverse stakeholder groups engaged in international development initiatives.

This paper will reflect on a pilot of the adapted 3D model building method for needs assessment research that will be conducted in East Timor in early 2012. After discussing the theoretical framework that underpins 3D model building as a participant-generated visual research methodology, I will go on to critically examine the materials used as well as particular physical and capacity requirements. The paper will then raise ethical considerations that accompany implementation of this technique before concluding with some general guidelines for use.