research » Tools

As a methodological support the students find here a collection of especially for Cultural Library developed tools. The first two tools are part of the online knowledge base and accessible via the intranet of this platform. In the following graphic you see an overview about the tools and the structure of the online knowledge base with its terminology. Every participant gets his own intranet-account in order to use the tools, to upload the research and project results and furthermore (as an essential part of the research process) in order to interpret and to question the items: to »de-code« the snapshots.

CL Methodology / Online Knowledge Base Terminology

Topic Sheets / Process

Students work in teams on one of several topics, a micro-event that relates to the workshop theme. The 5-day-workshop set-up and structure of the topic sheets support the teams during the process of research and analysis and help to structure the work on-site. From the very beginning they use the online platform in order to document and structure the different steps – every entry can be edited in a later moment of the workshop, or even afterwards.

Initial Position: After the first day of exploring broad, the students write down their initial position, an abstract of the topic that includes the questions that guide their research process.

Desk Reserach: They depict the findings of their desk research.

Field Research: They establish their research design: Which methods and tools do they use in which order and how do the different methods interlock?

Item Overview: The work with the item sheets is the main part of the workshop. All the items belonging to the respective topic are edited in the intranet and then displayed in a synopsis in the frontend of the topic side.

Transformation: They desribe and illustrate the transformation of the findings of their research: Transformations make insights more accessible and might lead to new ideas or improve rough concepts for future (design) projects.

Bibliography: All the sources of the research and important references to the topic are listed here.


Item Sheets / Snapshots

Item sheets support the methodological approach to reflecting, storing and sharing the research work. They contain the results and an analysis of the photographic observations (Photo Items), the Interviews (Interview Item) and the Cultural Probes (Probe Item). An item is a snapshot in time and space (referring to the topic or the ›micro-events‹ ) that is subject to further interpretation by the workshop team. All items can be commented on by other parties, not only during the workshop, but also later, on the Cultural Library website. These comments (interpretations, questions and responses) are of great value: they are a permanent enrichment of the snapshots. All items are directly captured in the online platform’s intranet and allow instant editing and commenting during the field work.

Using the photos as a research tool means that the photo items depict either a situative analysis of a specific situation (1) or a specific observation of typologies and variations (2). The specific observation contains (2) several photos, taken at different places, capturing the same type of product. The situative analysis (1) can be captured by a number of photos taken at one place during the observation or by a single snapshot allowing a precise image analysis based on Panofsky’s three Levels (Panofsky, German art historian, 1892 -1968):

-  pre-iconographical 

-  iconographical 

-  iconological

The starting point for the analysis of a micro-event, captured by an observation item is the photo: In the item sheet Panofsky´s dimension of the pre-iconographical description (»natural« subject matter / denotative message) is retained in the description of the photo (0).

The description of the context of the observation (1) (interview / probe) helps to understand the situation where the photo has been taken. In this discription Panofsky´s second level is incorporated: The iconographical analysis (conventional subject matter /connotative message) can be carried out together by all members of a team, regardless of the cultural background – the whole team agrees on a precise description of the context. To capture the spatial context, the location (2) is shown on a Google-based map (including the respective address). 

The iconological interpretation is dealing with the intrinsic meaning. The interpretation of content is an open and ongoing process in Cultural Library and takes place in the comment level of the items:  interpretations, questions and responses. In opposition to the context description, each of the three types of comments is done by individual authors. The interpretation (3) urges the author to investigate the meaning of the situation and thus leads to a more detailed understanding of the situation by subjective interpretation. Interpretations of other project members or even participants of previous projects might be added and help to enrich the understanding of the situation and to unveil new facets of cultural perception and understanding. The questions (4) help to identify possible (design) problems and then maybe lead to approaches or even solutions. We are aiming at open questions for investigating issues and at understanding why something is as it is. We want to find out what might be interesting for further observation and reflection. We want to see how people act and interact and we want to learn about, and from, the behaviour of people. We want to uncover cultural practices in everyday situations. Those types of questions support and show the openness of the authors and their cognitive interest in the situation and the meaning behind the surface. Formulating additional questions with different cultural backgrounds (from a different cultural perspective) enriches this understanding. Responses (5) to the questions are possible, but not necessary. In this case, finding a good, precise and intelligent question is more important than coming up with proper answers, and responses are not meant to be answers resolving the questions: they are meant to make us re-examine the questions from different perspectives’. A response might lead to a reformulation of a question; the work on the items is an iterative process. The comment level aims at this type of interpretation during the workshops, but interpretations can still be added later or even during a differennt project. Insights from discussions or feedback and interpretations by exhibition visitors might be iconological interpretations as well and can be stored as questions and responses. This notion also helps to structure the feedback of the people related to the photos and situations.


Transformation Options

The ethnographer needs to write an ethnographic report after analysing the ethnographic data. Design is very strong at envisioning insights. Research through design also urges the › reflective practitioners ‹ (DonaldSchoen, American philosopher, thinker, consultant and professor at MIT, 1930 – 1997) to externalise their current status of insight and thus make it accessible to other people (in a discourse/viscourse) and to find new approachesin their own process). As the time for the one-week project workshops is extremely limited, there is correspondingly limited time to transform core questions or insights for the presentation at the end of the on-site project. Transforming the research findings into writing during the groupwork to define core issues and hypotheses of the team members is helpful in the process.The analysis and clustering / categorisation of quantitative data and its transformation into graphs aims to gain new insights and to reveal new meanings in the data. Structural transformations (by changing the quasiinherentstructure) are an important option as well. The location of observations, photos and interviews are shown on maps: a spatial type of clustering aims to look for meaning in spatial relations.Critical design (Anthnony Dunne and Fiona Raby) uses designed artefacts, both to reflect use and cultural context and to reflect the process of designing. As a first step, even rough sketches for critical design approachesmight be admissible. All transformations aim to make insights more accessible in the discourse (and thus changing it to a viscourse) and to create new ideas or improve rough concepts for future (design) projects. This also makes Cultural Library a library of relevant intercultural design projects.


Cultural Library Diary

An old-style paper diary was used by every team member for taking down the most important notes during the whole research work : observations, reflections, ideas, fragments of discussions, etc. The diary is an essential tool for fieldwork and the exchange between team members and teams. The diary works without any categories or infrastructure: it is our companion in the project work from the very beginning to the end.


Fieldwork Travel Case

Two huge metal travel cases include a laptop, scanner and printers, a tripod, digital photo and video cameras, dictaphones, hard disks, mobile phones, disposable cameras, diaries and other material. These are all used for Cultural Library projects in the fieldwork research phase and in the open studio work by the team members and the local representatives.