A journey in paintings by Niamh Kinsella

My name is Niamh Kinsella. I am an occupational therapist and a full-time PhD student at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. In this blog piece I want to share my story of a transformative learning journey and the power and potential of critical creativity through paintings that have been created since March 2016 …



Dancing with stones: Critical creativity as methodology for human flourishing

We have  just heard that our article, ‘Dancing with Stones’ was chosen by the Collaborative Action Research Network to be included in a FREE Virtual Special Issue of Educational Action Research on the use of creative expression in action research. We are really pleased, particularly with the reasons given for its inclusion.  Go on, have a look!

The Virtual Issue is for use by students, practitioners and academics interested in Action Research. It brings together a collection of previously published articles published in the Journal which clusters around a particular theme. The articles are indicative of the conversations that action researchers have developed around the theme in EARJ since its inception. Selected papers explore our practice in ways that transcend the constraints of formal language and explore tacit dimensions of our experience, ethics and values that are enabled through the rich variety of ‘methods’ offered here – theatre, dance, narrative story-telling, art installations and poetry.

The articles and Editorial can be found at this link: http://bit.ly/REAC-VSI-2016 and there is a hyperlink to the Virtual Issue produced last year exploring Methodological Issues in Action Research.

Dancing the mandala of mandalas: A group poem

At the 2016 Enhancing Practice Conference in Edinburgh, we, Angie Titchen and Brendan McCormack, facilitated a 25 minute creative design workshop in a classroom at Queen Margaret University. The purpose was to create an experience where people could feel the power of working with critical-creative companions (us!) who, over a number of years have developed the professional artistry of dancing the mandalas of critical creativity. We suggest, before reading the abstract below, that you sit back, relax and listen to the poem that was created effortlessly (in 15 minutes), by those 60+ who joined us at the workshop. It is presented exactly as it was called out by participants at the workshop and then followed by the slide show they watched, in silence, before moving into a visualisation and reflective walk through words. We suggest you watch it full screen.


After the poem was created, Angie read it out loud.  Participants were incredulous and in awe of its beauty and depth.  They wanted a copy of the poem and they wanted it recorded. So here it is … !



The abstract

Dancing the mandala of mandalas: Unearthing and earthing the patterns of critical creativity in practice


Creating the conditions for human flourishing as end and means of transformational practice development, research and learning is complex and skilled work. This is especially so because transformation often, not only takes place in turbulent contexts and situations, but also in the inner and outer turbulence within and between people.  Such work therefore requires a multi-layered practice pattern of patterns. Intentionally, over some 15 years, first within the International Practice Development Collaborative and then together, we have studied our own practice patterns as we learned how to meld and blend cognition with the body, imagination and creativity in our work as facilitators, practice developers and researchers. Thereby, we have unearthed the beginnings of a new worldview we call critical creativity.

The architecture of critical creativity is founded on philosophical, theoretical and methodological principles and elements of human flourishing. These are set out in three frameworks or mandalas (a mandala is an ancient symbol that shows the parts and the whole and the patterns between them). Slowly, these mandalas are being tried out nationally and internationally, but it is not clear whether they are being used individually in isolation or altogether as they are intended to be used. We have our doubts.

First, the mandalas were published piecemeal as they were unearthed and, as yet, we have not published them altogether with commentary on how to work seamlessly between them. We are about to put that right in 2017. Second, when we work alongside practice developers, critical companions, educators and doctoral students to help them translate the mandalas in their own practice and contexts, we have observed that there is a tendency for people to work with just one of the mandalas and often not to venture beyond it. We are not surprised by this tendency because we know that it is hard to remember the parts and their relationships with the whole, until they become embodied or earthed in practice. We also know that this takes time, practice and critical-creative reflection, preferably with a companion. The danger for critical creativity becoming earthed back in practice is that people miss the need to ‘dance’ the mandalas to be successful as a facilitator or critical-creative companion in creating the conditions for human flourishing to occur. This ‘dancing’ means developing the capacity to move seamlessly and fluently between the frameworks according to what is happening and any inner and outer turbulences that are occurring and support flourishing and resilience.

In this creative space, we will help participants to metaphorically, or even actually, dance and dialogue with the mandala of mandalas. How participants engage will be their choice, but we will invite people to take a risk and step out of their comfort zone – into a small degree of turbulence perhaps?



McCormack B. & Titchen A. (2014) No beginning, no end: An ecology of human flourishing. International Practice Development Journal, 4(2), [2] (http://www.fons.org/library/journal/volume4-issue2/article2

Titchen A. & McCormack B. (2010) Dancing with Stones: Critical creativity as methodology for human flourishing, Educational Action Research: An International Journal, 18(4), 531-554.

Opening doors on creativity: Resources to awaken creative working by Emma Coats

This publication was created for the Royal College of Nursing by the late Emma Coats with Jan Dewing and Angie Titchen.  We offer it here as a resource for preparing yourself for creative working within the critical creativity worldview. There are five sections below that you can download separately:
1. Contents
2. Introduction
3. Section A – Developing your creativity
4. Section B – Facilitating others
5. Palette of resources

Practical experiences of using critical creativity in research, practice development and personal life!

On this page, you can hear about how individuals in different countries are using critical creativity and its frameworks (https://criticalcreativity.org/2014/07/27/critical-creativity-melding-exploding-blending/; https://criticalcreativity.org/2014/07/27/dancing-with-stones-critical-creativity-as-methodology-for-human-flourishing/; https://criticalcreativity.org/2014/08/19/no-beginning-no-end-an-ecology-of-human-flourishing-extended-version-2/.

First, meet Dr Famke van Lieshout …

Famke is a nurse with a background in Health Promotion.  She is a lecturer in bachelor and master programmes and a member of the Knowledge Centre ‘Implementation and Evaluation of Evidence Based and Person-Centred Practice’, in the Department of Health and Nursing, Fontys University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands.  As a member of the Knowledge Centre, Famke together with stakeholders, takes on the challenge of working in innovative and systematic ways on the development of an evidence-based, person-centred culture in health care and education, through using creative and critical processes and, at the same time, using, testing and generating knowledge. For more information see http://www.fontys.nl/ebp/.

Famke completed her PhD journey successfully in 2013 at the Institute of Nursing Research at the University of Ulster in Belfast (UK). Her PhD is a study about the interplay between contextual and facilitator characteristics in facilitating participatory action research in a Dutch clinical setting. This study was innovative as it integrated a mix of creative, cognitive and reflective methods and adds a greater clarity to the existing body of knowledge about how facilitators of PAR can be helped to engage with the complexity of culture in different contexts.

Famke's Haiku

Here is what she thinks about critical creativity.

Now we introduce you to Donna Frost …

Donna is a New Zealand Registered Nurse experienced in both acute and long term care. After five years working in practice development in the Netherlands, she became a Nurse Lecturer at the Fontys University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands, in 2008.  She is also registered for her PhD at Queen Margaret University in Scotland and is exploring professional artistry and its development in clinical practice.  With a group of advanced nurse practitioners in the Netherlands, as co-inquirers, they are using a co-operative inquiry approach located in the critical creativity worldview.  In this video, Donna speaks of what critical creativity means to her and how it has, and is, shaping the study and enabling genuine participation of practitioners as co-inquirers.

Next up is Margaret Kelly …

I have over 25 years’ experience as a paediatric nurse in the UK and Australia, with a clinical background in paediatric intensive care. Since being introduced in practice development over 10 years ago, I have been continually enhancing my skills as a facilitator.  My current role is Senior Manager of Paediatric Healthcare in an organization called NSW Kids and Families. The team has responsibility for strategic leadership, policy and direction of services for babies, children and young people in hospitals across NSW.  I am enrolled in a PhD at the University of Technology, Sydney and my doctoral work is concerned with facilitation and facilitators. The context I am interested in is practice development within healthcare, in particular creating effective workplace cultures. I am exploring the nature of skilled transformational facilitation and how people become skilled. 

In the video, Margaret explains how she particularly relates to two principles for facilitating the conditions for human flourishing – ‘movement in stillness’ and ‘spiralling through turbulence’ (https://criticalcreativity.org/2014/07/27/dancing-with-stones-critical-creativity-as-methodology-for-human-flourishing/). These principles are part of the methodological framework of critical creativity. She says that re-reading and re-visiting this framework, over time, is helping her to understand how to use the principles as a transformational practice developer.

Last, but not least, Catherine Schofield  …

My name is Catherine Schofield and I work in Tasmania as the Nursing Director for Mental Health Services and Practice Development. The most satisfying part of my work is organising and developing workshops and educational sessions and then getting to facilitate them and engage with nurses, other health professionals and consumers to explore ways we could do things differently. I work in with practice development tools and in a critically creative way.

In my spare time I explore my own creativity by working with clay and making ceramic mandalas. I like the meditative space that working with clay enables me to enter and also the grounding quality of the medium, the cool soft malleable clay that transforms itself almost before my eyes. Working with clay has been very beneficial for my mental health and enables me to completely switch off from the pressures of work and also to express deeply painful emotional states. Exploring my own creativity has given me a greater understanding of the individual nature of creative expression and the importance of enabling others to create their own pathways for healing and recovery to optimal states of health and wellbeing.


In this video, Catherine shares how she got into creativity through allowing herself to trust her intuition.  She explains how she brings creativity into her work with others around problem-solving and how she help people to overcome their reticence about using creative materials.

Celina Carter on Transitions, Reflexivity and Research

This short, modern dance film by Celina Carter (click on link below) is “an expression of arts-based knowledge translation of personal insights and findings from the literature”. Celina showed this film at the recent International Practice Development Collaborative, Enhancing Practice Conference 2014, in Toronto.  We were impressed by her form of expression; a form that resonates with the sharing of knowledge, learning, insights and understanding within a critical creativity worldview.

About her film, Celina says:

“Reflexive thinking during my role transition from registered nurse to advanced practice nurse researcher illuminated my emotional journey and the external contextual factors influencing my role transition. From combing the results from a cursory search of the literature and my personal experience and reflection, I was able to conceptualize the five stages of role transitions; pre-transition, exploring the new role, joining the new culture, acquiring new skills, and adaptation. This modern dance communicates the embodied emotion of each transition stage which are applicable within various external contexts.”


Have a look and please give us your responses at the bottom of this post!

Critical creativity resources – references, practical ideas and tips for working creatively


This first resource contains affirmations and practical tips on being creative. It was prepared by Mary Mulcahy, Lorna Peelo-Kilroe and Angie Titchen for their contribution to the  Enhancing Practice Conference 2014 in Toronto.

Some people find it helpful to meditate briefly before working with their creative imagination and expression.  Mary Mulcahy uses this meditation in her practice development work at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney.

Increasingly, practice developers and researchers are working with mandalas for their personal and professional development, as well as helping others to use them in practice development work.  If you are interested, here are some ideas and reflective cues to help you get started on creating a mandala. Mary has written about this work and presented the mandala image in a short article in the International Practice Development Journal (http://www.fons.org/library/journal/volume3-issue2/article11) (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/legalcode ).



This quote by Henri Nouwen is about hospitality but it speaks to Mary, Lorna and Angie about the way a transformational practice developer and researcher works within a critical creativity worldview


“Hospitality is not to change people but to offer a space where change can take place. It is not to lead our neighbour into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment.  The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness… not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations.  Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his or her own”(Henri Nouwen)

Nouwen, Henri J.M., 1975 ‘Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life’, Image Books, Doubleday, New York.


Critical creativity and using creative arts methods in practice development and research


Coats E., Dewing J. & Titchen A. (2006) Opening Doors On Creativity: Resources To Awaken Creative Working. A learning resource, Royal College of Nursing, London. Retrieved from http://www.rcn.org.uk (Last accessed 10/9/13)

Dewing J., McCormack B. and Titchen A. (2014) Practice Development Workbook for Health and Social Care Teams. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Horsfall D. & Titchen A. (2009) Disrupting edges – opening spaces: pursuing democracy and human flourishing through creative methodologies. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 12 (2), 147–160.

Jackson, C. and Webster A. (2011) Swimming against the tide – developing a flourishing partnership for organisational transformation. International Practice Development Journal, Vol.1. No. 2. [7]. Retrieved from: http://www.fons.org/library/journal.aspx (Last accessed 10/9/2013).

Lieshout van, F., Cardiff, S. (2011) Dancing outside the ballroom: Innovative Ways of Analysing Data with Practitioners as Co-Researchers. In: Higgs,J., Titchen, A., Horsfall, D., Bridges. Creative Spaces for Qualitative Researching: Living Research. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, pp223-234.

Lieshout, van, F. (2013) Taking Action for Action. A Study of the Interplay Between Contextual and Facilitator Characteristics in Developing an Effective Workplace Culture in a Dutch Hospital Setting, through Action Research. Eindhoven, The Netherlands: Fontys University of Applied Sciences.

McCormack B, McGowen B., McGonigle M., Goode D., Black P. & Sinclair M. (2014) Exploring ‘self’ as a person-centred academic through critical creativity: a case study of educators in a school of nursing.  International Practice Development Journal, 4(2) [3] (http://www.fons.org/Resources/Documents/Journal/Vol4No2/IPDJ_0402_03.pdf).

McCormack B., Titchen A. & Manley K. (2013) The contextual web of practice development. In B.McCormack, K. Manley & A.Titchen (Eds), Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, pp275-294.

McCormack B, Dewing J, Breslin L, Tobin C, Manning M, Coyne-Nevin A, Kennedy K and Peelo-Kilroe L (2010) The Implementation of a Model of Person-Centred Practice in Older Person Settings, Dublin: Office of the Nursing Services Director, Health Services Executive (www.ulster.ac.uk).

McCormack B. and Titchen A. (2006) Critical creativity: melding, exploding, blending, Educational Action Research: an International Journal, 14(2), 239-266 (https://criticalcreativity.org/2014/07/27/dancing-with-stones-critical-creativity-as-methodology-for-human-flourishing/).

McIntosh P. (2008) Poetics and space: developing a reflective landscape through imagery and human geography. Reflective Practice. Vol. 9. No. 1. pp 69-78.

Mulcahy M. (2013) Mandalas as a tool for transformation to enable human flourishing: the influence of Carl Jung: International Practice Development Journal 3 (2) (11). http://www.fons.org/library/journal/volume3-issue2/article11

Sanders K., Odell J. and Webster J. (2013) Learning to be a practice developer. Chp 2 in McCormack, B., Manley, K. and Titchen, A. (Eds). Practice Development in Nursing and Healthcare. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, pp 18-44.

Titchen A. (2013) Writing with flow: publish and flourish through whole-self writing. International Practice Development Journal, Volume 3, Issue 1, Article 10 (http://www.fons.org/Resources/Documents/Journal/Vol3No1/IDPJ_0301_10.pdf).

Titchen A. & McMahon A. (2013) Practice development as radical gardening: Enabling creativity and innovation. In B.McCormack, K. Manley & A. Titchen (Eds.), Practice development in nursing and healthcare. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 212-232.

Titchen A., & Horsfall D. (2011). Embodying Creative Imagination and Expression in Qualitative Research. In J. Higgs, A. Titchen, D. Horsfall & D. Bridges (Eds.), Creative spaces for qualitative researching: Living research (pp. 179-190). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.

Titchen A., McCormack B., Wilson V. & Solman, A. (2011) Human flourishing through body, creative imagination and reflection. International Practice Development Journal, 1(1), Article 1 (http://www.fons.org/Resources/Documents/Journal/Vol1No1/IPDJ_0101_01.pdf ).

Titchen A., & Neissen T. (2011). Living Research Practices: Being in Creative Spaces. In J. Higgs, A. Titchen, D. Horsfall & D. Bridges (Eds.), Creative spaces for qualitative researching: Living research (pp. 147-158). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.

Titchen A., & Horsfall H. (2011). Creative Research Landscapes and Gardens: Reviewing Options and Opportunities. In J. Higgs, A. Titchen, D. Horsfall & D. Bridges (Eds.), Creative spaces for qualitative researching: Living research (pp. 35-44). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.

Titchen A. & McCormack B. (2010) Dancing with Stones: Critical creativity as methodology for human flourishing, Educational Action Research: An International Journal, 18(4), 531-554 (https://criticalcreativity.org/2014/07/27/critical-creativity-melding-exploding-blending/).

Titchen A. & McCormack B. (2008) A methodological walk in the forest: critical creativity and human flourishing. In K. Manley, B.McCormack & V. Wilson (eds), International Practice Development in Nursing and Healthcare. Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 59-83.

Titchen A. and Manley K. (2006) Spiralling towards transformational action research: philosophical and practical journeys, Educational Action Research: an International Journal, 14(3), 333-356.