This short blog post reflects on how a range of creative approaches used as part of research processes has successfully motivated multi-disciplinary research team members, as well as engaged ‘harder to reach’ individuals and their support workers to participate in the research itself. Consideration is given to how the utility of such creative approaches can be used to support academic impact and public engagement.
The use of short film (impact)
Let’s start with impact – please watch this short ‘media impact piece’ – ‘Cooking beat the demons in my head’ – that I co-produced with community partners Fotonow CIC to showcase findings from phase one of my Food as a Lifestyle Motivator (FLM) project .
The short film comprises four ‘case studies’ of homeless males in Plymouth.The ‘Voice Centred Relational Method’ (VCRM, Mauthner and Doucet 1998) has given authenticity to the voices of these participants. Four ‘I-Poems’ are narrated, that draw on statements incorporating “I/we/you” made in response to images during a photo elicitation approach.
This film was shown at the Totnes Transition Town Film Festival in the vintage mobile cinema on Friday 10th March 2017 and has since been used to promote impact for the project. It consolidates the importance of strong innovative collaborative partnerships, involving experts with lived experiences of poverty to tackle issues of social justice.
Participatory food events for public engagement
The FLM project has successfully engaged ‘marginalized’ communities in creative wellbeing dialogues (see Pettinger et al, 2017) through a range of interactive food activities across Plymouth. Part of the project involved three ESRC Festival of Social Science participatory food events (Nov 2015, 2016 and 2017) run in a local Plymouth based day rehabilitation centre. The aim of these events was to bring key stakeholders (service users and providers) together to exchange food knowledge, using creative participatory approaches. Data collection consisted of audio interviews (service providers and service users), oral surveys (service users), social cooking and eating, and creative visual art (photography, collage, food games).
These participatory food events are exemplars of powerful Public Engagement practices, as they have a strong sense of purpose, a clearly defined ‘public’, use an appropriate method and are evaluated for impact.
According to the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (2016) key aspects of successful public engagement include:
- Informing: Inspiring and educating the public, and making science and research more accessible
- Consulting: Actively listening to the public’s views, concerns and insights
- Collaborating: Working in partnership with the public to solve problems together, drawing on each other’s expertise
The FLM participatory food events embed all of these facets. They inform the public through interactive knowledge exchange around food & food activities – research team members enthusiastically engaged in translating the complex (social and health) science into simple messages (e.g. the practice of dietetics). They consult by tailoring to public’s needs, effectively putting the ‘participatory’ into Participatory Action Research, by listening to the voices of the participants and giving them a ‘seat at the table’ to co-design content and delivery. Collaboration between research team, partners and service users themselves has successfully resulted in shared problem solving and solutions-focussed action.
“…It [food] has the potential, if managed well, to be a great leveller and open up conversations…”
Food activities and food events can be used as collaborative public engagement tools to enhance research team engagement and the wellbeing of ‘harder to reach’ individuals. Thus amplifying the notion of co-creation to empower and improve agency as well as informing wellbeing and social justice discourse.
Mauthner, N, Doucet, A. 1998. Reflections on a Voice Centred Relational Method. In: J Ribbens, R Edwards (eds.) Feminist Dilemmas in Qualitative Research. London: Sage.
Pettinger, C., Parsons, J.M., Withers, L., Daprano G., Cunningham, M, Whiteford, A., Ayers, R., Sutton, C., and Letherby, G. (2017), Engaging homeless individuals in dscussions about their food experiences to optimise wellbeing: a pilot study, Health Education Journal, Vol 76, Issue 5, pp 557-568. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0017896917705159