Bridging the Gap is a research project that explored the relationship between academic research, practice and communities and the power of storytelling and creative activities for developing shared learning.

Project date: 2013/14

The Story

Bridging the gap between academic rigour and community relevance: lessons in American Pragmatism was a collaborative action research project exploring the relationship between academic researchers and the communities in which they work. In particular it explored how an interdisciplinary team of researchers and charitable support organisations can develop shared learning through storytelling and creative activities in and with communities.

Getting to know each other in the round at the New Vic Theatre: a new community compose their national anthem.

The project had two key activities. The first was a two-day conference on American Pragmatism. At the conference, a range of academic and community members shared their different perspectives on obtaining knowledge through experience and the role research can play in bridging partnerships between academia, practice and communities.  Day two of the conference was an interactive workshop, co-designed by project partners, then hosted and led by New Vic Borderlines, an award-winning initiative that uses theatre to help overcome social issues. The day tested and celebrated the power of collaborative making and storytelling as key components of community-building and placemaking.

The second element of the project was a trip to Japan, hosted by the people of Minamisanriku (a coastal town devastated by the 2011 tsunami) and organised by our Japanese colleague from Seinan Gakuin University. While in Minamisanriku, we met with a number of local people who shared their stories of life before, during and after the tsunami. Using cultural animation techniques, we worked with local people to capture local stories through creative workshops and to create artistic installations that could travel back to the UK to share their stories.

Preparing the land for redevelopment in Minamisanriku


The visit to Japan inspired a series of Glass-House blog posts capturing the stories and lessons from Minamisanriku, with a particular focus on placemaking and the vital role that communities play in it. These blog posts blogs extracted learning points from Minamisanriku to inspire members of communities working together to rebuild their places, whether affected by a natural disaster or by a shifting socio-economic landscape. The blogs have since been compiled as a publication.

The stories were shared with our project partners in Japan, who greeted them not only as a welcome international celebration of the resilience of the people of Minamisanriku, but also as a valuable teaching resource for their programme at Seinan Gakuin University in Japan.

The stories in turn inspired an interactive workshop for community activists and design students designed and delivered by project partners the Glass-House and Brunel University. The interactive workshop brought together students and community activists to learn from and be inspired by the stories from Minamisanriku and to co-design place-centred solutions for communities facing crisis.


Bridging the Gap between Academic Theory and Community Relevance: Fresh Insights from American Pragmatism’ (AH/K006185/1) led by Professor Mihaela Kelemen from Keele University was a collaborative research project involving partners Brunel University, the Open University, University of Edinburgh and Seinan Gakuin University (Japan), and community partners New Vic Borderlines and The Glass-House Community Led Design. The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, through their Connected Communities programme.


About the project:
How can American Pragmatism support community led design?
Building community through theatre making at the New Vic Theatre

A series of posts written by Sophia on lessons learned from Minamisanriku:
Lessons from Minamisanriku: Introduction
Lessons from Minamisanriku: What does place mean to us?
Lessons from Minamisanriku: Houses or shops?
Lessons from Minamisanriku: The sea as a resource
Lessons from Minamisanriku: Koala Library
Lessons from Minamisanriku: Community Gardening
Lessons from Minamisanriku: Octopus-Kun – a place to craft
Lessons from Minamisanriku: Iryado

On our workshop with Brunel University to use the lessons from Minamisanriku to inspire and develop tools for placemaking:
Extracting Placemaking Tools from Minamisanriku

The above blogs have been compiled in the publication:
Lessons from Minamisanriku: stories of resilience and rebuilding

For more on Minamisanriku:
View a slideshow and videos of Minamisanriku to get a better sense of the scale of the devastation caused by the 2011 Tsunami.
View a video done by a J-Pop group on YouTube that promotes tourism in Miyagi Prefecture (which includes Minamisanriku).