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Institute for Capitalising on Creativity

Dundee and Edinburgh

The Role of Culture-led Regeneration in Urban Communities

Desperate Dan sculpture in Dundee, by Tony and Susie Morrow ‌Student researcher: Ciaran McDonald

Blog: ESRC Internship with Scottish Government

Since the 1960s, the community arts movement have argued over the economic and social benefits of culture to the individual and society. In recent times, there have been numerous studies conducted on the growth of culture and regeneration as a tool for countering urban decline. However, these studies are often centred on space and place rather than being inclusive of representing the people and places they are researching. Through a qualitative methodology, this PhD will develop a critical exploration of the social role of cultural activities in peripheral urban communities in Dundee and Edinburgh. Through the use of case studies, this PhD will create a social narrative, which will underline the engagement of cultural regeneration in relation to individuals and the wider community.

The overarching aim of this thesis covers three central objectives reflecting the themes of participation, engagement and inclusion in cultural activities. Through a focus on community-based cultural regeneration, this research will seek to answer the following questions.

  • How have people living in peripheral urban communities benefitted from cultural regeneration in their local areas?
  • In what ways do the cultural activities provided by the case study facilities engage and include local people?
  • What evidence is there to demonstrate that the cultural activities can encourage and support the wider local community?

Company partners: Dundee and Edinburgh city councils
Academic partner: Geography & Geosciences

Edinburgh City Council logo   Dundee city logo University of St Andrews 

Blog: ESRC Internship with Scottish Government, 2014

This is an incredibly exciting time for politics in Scotland and I recently had an opportunity to work at the centre of this thanks to a funded ESRC Student Internship with the Scottish Government.

Now, I must first admit, that I had some preconceptions about working in the Civil Service. Mostly these were ill-informed by my formative years watching Yes Minister and The Thick of It. If an education in political satire were to serve me well then I would get by fine so long as I remembered what every acronym was and knew when to avoid officials spouting coarse laconic insults. Fortunately, however, only the former assertion seemed to be true in my experience…

And so, in April I joined the Scottish Government’s Creativity Team on a three month placement. As part of this programme, I was tasked with conducting a qualitative study on how aspects of design thinking have been applied in different policy areas of the Scottish Government.

For those who have not come across this term before, design thinking is a complex term to define but it is generally recognised as the form of applying ‘design’ process to solve problems and provide solutions. As a method, it stems from “a human-centered [sic] design ethos” (Brown, 2008: webpage), which seeks to observe, understand and offer a solution to multifaceted issues. Over time, this concept has been developed and refined, for example, at Stanford University’s d:School, there is a process of five steps to utilising design thinking  –  Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test (Stanford University, 2014). These steps can act as a framework to formulate how design thinking can be applied in a number of situations and circumstances.

Until now, various departments in the Scottish Government have used design thinking in projects, such as adapting adult care services and developing opportunities for young people after they have left formal education. Despite design thinking being applied in these areas and more, there has not been a cohesive study bringing together the advantages, and indeed disadvantages, of applying this method within the organisation.

Like many other sectors and industries, there has been a recent galvanising interest in design thinking at the Scottish Government. In part this has been brought on through a growing influence from senior officials as well as the development of close links with external partners, such as the Glasgow School of Art’s Institute of Design Innovation and the design agency, Snook.

Overall my research consisted of interviewing staff at different levels of the government to consider what place design thinking has within the organisation and map out where this method could be improved for future projects that may consider this innovative approach. In addition to this, I had the opportunity to observe and participate in a number of design-led workshops. Although this subject diverges from my PhD research, this project has helped honed my qualitative research skills and connects with work conducted by colleagues at the ICC.

In short, this was a worthwhile experience. I learned a lot about design thinking, which is a new branch to add to my CV and I met a diverse range of interesting people. Above all, this was an insightful opportunity, provided by the ESRC, to learn about other non-academic career paths in applied social science research.


Brown, T, 2008, Design Thinking, Harvard Business Review, June 2008,   http://hbr.org/2008/06/design-thinking/, accessed 24 July 2014.

Stanford University, 2014, Welcome to the virtual crash course in design thinking, http://dschool.stanford.edu/dgift/, accessed 24 July 2014.

Posted 28-07-14



Institute for Capitalising on Creativity
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