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Cultural Animation

Cultural Animation is a participatory and creative methodology of community engagement and knowledge co-production that draws on the everyday experiences of individuals from all walks of life and on their creative abilities to achieve individual and collective goals. The methodology was developed by Prof Mihaela Kelemen and Theatre Director Sue Moffat (read more about our team) in 2012.   

Main objectives 

The methodology aims to:  

  • build trusting relationships between participants by inviting them to work together in a series of activities which start with a picture of the present and proceed with imagining a shared and desirable future 
  • ‘give life’ to the dynamics of everyday life by encouraging participants to reflect on the potential for change within themselves and their own communities  
  • dissolve the hierarchies between experts and non-experts by valuing in equal measure academic expertise, practical skills and commonsense knowledge  
  • promote multiple ways of knowing and different types of knowledge: experiential, practical, propositional and performative knowledge   
  • use the power of play, creativity and boundary objects to generate bottom up stories and understandings of sensitive topics   

How does it work? 

A typical CA workshop includes a mixture of creative tasks, embodied activities and small group discussions to explore key themes and envision the future. The workshops begin with a series of name games designed to put people at ease with each other, building on the idea that when people move about, different ways of approaching and solving problems are possible. More specialised games follow: these games account for the local context in which the research is being done and for the research topics that are being studied. Following the game, creative activities that rely on the use of day to day objects (boundary objects: see visual evidence) such as frames, buttons, ribbons, cardboard are used to stimulate discussion about sensitive issues or issues of concern in the community. We provide some of these objects but we also ask participants to bring objects that have significance in their own lives. The objects are used to create art installations and small performances that may include songs, puppetry and dance, leading to the co-creation of experiential and performative knowledge. CA workshops are facilitated by practitioners working in close collaboration with the academics. This way of working ensures the creation of safe spaces in which traditional barriers and power structures are temporarily dissolved, and new dialogues and relationships based on inclusivity, respect and equality are the norm. 

Theoretical underpinnings 

The methodology is underpinned by American Pragmatism, in particular the work of John Dewey. American Pragmatism sees thinking and acting as intertwined: the starting point of research is a problematic situation that cannot be solved by using habitual thinking and existing ways of inquiry. Doubt and indeterminancy are seen as generative mechanisms that lead to discovery (i.e., new theory). Theories are not judged in abstract terms but in terms of their consequences on practice. A theory is valid only if it is useful, i.e., if it provides tools to think and orient ourselves better in the world. Inquiry is also a collective and democratic process and as such it underpins the ethos of co-production present in the Cultural Animation methodology. 

Past experiences 

Do you want to know more? Contact us at


Kelemen, M., Surman, E., Dikomitis, L. 2018. "Cultural animation in health research: An innovative methodology for patient and public involvement and engagement", Health Expectations, Vol. 21, 805-813 

Kelemen, M. & Hamilton, L. 2018. “Creative processes of impact making: advancing an American Pragmatist Methodology”. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 241-259 

Kelemen, M., Phillips, M., Moffat, S. & James, D. 2017. “Performing the legacy of animative and iterative approaches to co-producing knowledge”. Valuing interdisciplinary collaborative research: Beyond impact, 107-130 

Surnam, E., Kelemen, M., Millward, H. & Moffat, S. 2018. “Food, Ethics and Community: Using Cultural Animation to Develop a Food Vision for North Staffordshire”. Journal of Consumer Ethics, 2 

Photos by Bobby Timonera,

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