An international collaboration for the development of a research training course in an emergent academic discipline
In professional areas such as the creative and performing arts and design, the academic model of research has not been clearly articulated. This means that often the values held in advanced professional practice run counter to the traditional models of knowledge and research that are adopted in academia. As a result, there is a problem in accounting for research in these areas in ways that will be recognised and valued by both communities. There is an ongoing debate about the best way of dealing with and reflecting these professional values in academic research. This debate has substantiated an emergent type of research that is called ‘Practice-based Research’ (PbR). PbR introduces the claim that creative practice has an instrumental role in academic research in areas such as design and urban planning. This role is different from the one of experimentation in traditional empirical research, and different from the one of practice in professional creative practice. This paper describes the development and delivery of a research methods training course in the department of spatial planning and design (Stedenbouw) at the Technical University Delft (TU Delft, Netherlands) that engages directly with these fundamental problems. The course, Research and Design Methods, has served as a testing ground for many ideas stemming from the cooperation between TU Delft and the University of Hertfordshire (UH, UK). As part of the international knowledge transfer initiative, a member of staff from TU Delft has been working at the UH for a year. One of the outcomes of this collaboration is the design and delivery of a new course at TU Delft, which tackles the relationship between academic research and planning and design, through a dialogue between different views on the activities of the urban planner and the designer. There are challenges that arise when structuring a course within an area for which the epistemological, ontological and methodological questions are still under discussion by the community. The broad aim was to offer insight into non-traditional academic research tools and methods for different areas of urban design and planning within a broader academic context. This included the analysis of different academic traditions that were relevant for urban planning and design. We define research as a systematic investigation of a subject that leads to the production of explicit knowledge, and adds to the existing body of knowledge about the subject. In the paper, we analyse the way in which research and practice are problematized in the TU Delft course and claim that PbR manifests the differences between the worldviews of academic research and professional practice, with their different aims and values. As a result, training and expertise in the professional values of creative practice is insufficient for academic research. There is therefore a need for specific research training that addresses these differences. This need for discipline specific research training has been recognized in the Bologna Process and the TU Delft course represents one such training programme.