The phenomenon of research partnerships between the academy and industry creates challenges and opportunities for all collaborators. In response to the need to produce quality outcomes which deliver industry benefits, rigorous qualitative research methodologies must adapt and evolve. This essay examines the interdisciplinary workshop or Microlab developed in the ARC funded Linkage Project, Agile Opera: Chamber Opera in a New Era, undertaken by RMIT University in partnership with Chamber Made Opera, the Australia Council for the Arts and Federation Square Management during 2013-2017. The Agile Opera Project brings together research associates, creative industry experts and the industry partner, Chamber Made Opera, to investigate sustainable new approaches to digital work practices. The focus is both to explore the creation and capturing of value for small-to-medium arts organisations, and to preserve of the situated experience of chamber performance. This multifaceted research project involves a series of Microlabs, the creation of digital iterations of works, the curation and presentation of performance-exhibitions, and the development of a digital platform. A ‘whole of company’ approach is adopted to ensure that both the research approach and outcomes align with Chamber Made Opera in terms of scale and resources.
The Agile Opera Project Microlabs described in this essay offer evidence of a rigorous research approach that enables participants to investigate questions, themes or issues located at the intersection of creative research, theory and art practice. Microlabs are revealed as open bridges between the arts industry and the creative-practice academy that enable multi-directional thinking and dialogue.
The value of the Microlab as an innovative approach to research partnerships between industry and the academy is discussed in the context of the project outcomes. These include evidence of Chamber Made Opera’s evolving and versatile relationship with digital technology which supports and expands the company’s artistic and operational practices. To conclude, we present three particular values necessary for effective collaboration enhanced by five Microlab guiding principles critical to the success of the Microlab as research method: i) harnessing of participants as knowledge agents; ii) prioritisation of process over closure, iii) privileging of space for speculation and reflection, iv) expanded repertoire of collaborative activities, and v) co-creation of knowledge.
Keywords: collaboration, digital technology, industry/academy research partnerships, chamber opera, research methodology, interdisciplinary workshops