Accessing audiences through radio and podcasts

Since I started work on the OPAL project way back in 2008, I’ve been a fairly regular guest on BBC Radio York. In the early days this was to talk about the projects that I was working on, but in the last few years my appearances have broadened to talk about stories in the news. I know that many of my colleagues feel a bit daunted by the prospect of speaking on live radio, but I just tend to imagine I’m speaking to my family and friends, explaining what I’m up to in my usual enthusiastic style.

I think researchers can often overlook local radio as a way of ‘getting the message out’ to audiences who might not read newspapers, attend talks or other outreach events, read social media etc, and I’d really recommend engaging with your local radio station (and there are many out there!) as a way of communicating en masse to ‘the public’. You will probably find that they are very keen to have your input on your area of expertise, and may well ask you to come back to speak on related topics. If this is the case, you need to know what you feel comfortable talking about. Are you only happy talking about your specific area of expertise? Would you mind talking about your subject area more broadly? Or, as has been the case with me, are you happy to get up at unearthly hours of the morning to review the newspapers and end up talking about topics as diverse as women in science, soap vs. shower gel and the Eurovision Song Contest?

Whichever you go for, it can be a rewarding experience, however daunting it might feel initially. And it may well lead onto other interesting experiences, for example, I’m now a regular guest (ok we’ve only made two) on the Talk on the Wild Side podcast which is much more in my area of interest, talking about UK wildlife Have a listen and see what you think. The latest is all about the Signs of Spring.

spring-316535_1280If you’ve been involved with local radio, I’d love to hear your tips for other researchers, please add them in the comments below.

3 ‘take aways’ from the Citizen Science Association conference

Last week I had the immense privilege of going to the Citizen Science Association conference in San Jose, where over 650 enthusiastic practitioners, researchers, evaluators and participants gathered to discuss the booming field of citizen science. I’m going to share a few key things I took away from the conference (others have done much more comprehensive blogs, storifys etc, which can be seen by searching #CitSci2015 on twitter).

1. There is a huge amount of enthusiasm around citizen science! The presentations I saw were, without exception, delivered with passion and confidence, and speakers were willing to share experiences and lessons learned from their projects. This is fantastic because this culture of sharing will hopefully lead to improvements in both individual projects and the field as a whole.

2. There is diversity in the topics of projects using citizen science, for example, Anne Land-Zandstra talked about the “Great Influenza study” which has taken place for the last decade or so in The Netherlands (see talk abstract), Eduardo Dopico discussed using old family photographs to observe environmental change over time (see talk abstract), and Amy Robinson delivered a fantastic keynote about Eyewire, a game to map neurons in the brain. There was less diversity in the project approaches, the vast majority that I saw were ‘contributory’ style, where scientists design the project and ask participants to collect or process data (with an exception being Heather Castleden and colleagues’ session on community-based participatory environment and health research, where Heather was asked by the Mi’kmaq of Pictou Landing First Nation to help them find out whether waste from a paper pulp mill was damaging their health). I suspect that there are many more collaborative and co-created projects out there, just not represented at the conference…

3. There is beginning to be some really interesting research being done alongside citizen science projects, in terms of what motivates people to take part in projects, how people move between different projects, what the barriers to participation are, what makes some projects more successful than others etc. As citizen science is a relatively new field of study, I think we need to make sure that we draw on well-established literature such as that around informal science education, volunteering, social psychology, participatory research, etc. etc., so that we are not ‘reinventing the wheel’ with regards to theory. I hope the new journal, Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, will be a space for bringing this rich literature to a new audience.

If you were at the conference, what were your ‘take aways’?

Using Prezi as an alternative form of report

Methods-of-EngagementIn the spirit of trying to engage with people in diverse ways, I have created my first ever Prezi, which highlights the findings from a really interesting piece of work we’ve been doing for SEI over the past year or so. For those who haven’t come across Prezi, it’s an online presentation tool, which some people as using as an alternative to powerpoint. The advantages of Prezi is that presentations don’t need to be linear, you can design them so that people can explore as they wish. I was inspired to report on our findings using Prezi by the fabulous Ned Potter who works at the University of York (for a great introduction to Prezi, see his “The how to make a great Prezi, Prezi”

It took me rather a long time to get my head around how to create a Prezi, because it’s different to any other software I’ve used before, but once you get the hang of creating frames and positioning them close to each other so that people don’t get sea-sick as Prezi moves from one frame to another, it’s actually quite straightforward.

So, see what you think of mine (SEI Methods of Engagement), and let me know what you think, feedback would be much appreciated! If you’ve got tips for using Prezi then please share them!

NB: We’ve also written a more traditional report, which can be found here


The proof of the pudding is in the process

(or how you can integrate participatory processes into every corner of your life……)

Christmas is a time for traditions, but also for creating new traditions. My grandmother brought the traditions of her own family and my grandfather’s family together through Christmas pudding.  Granny wasn’t completely satisfied with either of the two family recipes, so she experimented until she had the ultimate combination: diplomatic pudding. My mother carried on the tradition, using the diplomatic pudding recipe.

When my partner and I came to build our own Christmas traditions, I asked to my partner’s mother to join me in some action research. We both made Christmas pudding according to our family recipes and we held a ‘pudding off’ (otherwise known as Christmas dinner). Together we created a new recipe: participatory pudding. The actual differences in ingredients are small, just a bit of grated apple (and quite a lot of brandy to set it on fire), but the impact is lasting, this is our new family recipe and I hope that my children will make this an iterative process and re-visit the pudding recipe with their own families.

Evaluation, or just data collection?

I’ve been thinking a lot about evaluation over the past few years, partly because I’m involved in the evaluation working group of one of the projects I’m involved in, OPAL, but mainly because it was the focus of my PhD research (see a light-hearted summary here). One of the big questions that kept coming up for me, is what is evaluation? And how does it differ from monitoring and data collection? Through my research I realised that practitioners, people ‘on the ground’ conducting evaluations for their projects, sometimes have very different perceptions of what evaluation is, compared to ‘professional’ or ‘expert’ evaluators (see my paper “Evaluation, or just data collection…” here (if you can’t get access, contact me via the comments section for a copy)). Sometimes it appears that data is collected but never actually used to help  improve projects, learn from experiences, or even monitor whether the project is achieving all the things practitioners want or intended it to achieve…..

Picture 5

Practitioners involved in my PhD research mentioned lots of barriers to effective evaluation, the main one being lack of time! What are your experiences? Please discuss below if you wish.

The power of storytelling: 25 years of research at SEI

This week saw the celebration of the 25th anniversary of SEI, at an event called “Stories from a World of Change” featuring short stories from researchers around the world. Live-streaming and twitter commentary allowed me to follow the event from my desk. The event highlighted two things for me, the diversity of our work and the power of storytelling as a way of engaging people. All presenters were encouraged to tell a story about their work, rather than the more typical powerpoint presentation. This resulted in a lively and diverse series of stories (see for a summary of the day).

Storytelling as a way of communicating about research is not something I’ve come across before, and I found myself listening more intently and getting more absorbed in the speakers than I might have otherwise. Stories also have the power to live longer in the memory than other forms of communication. Have you used storytelling in your work? I’d love to hear about your experiences. What stories were you telling? Were your audience engaged? Why not share your story below?!

Geographies of Co-Production… or what I did at the Royal Geographic Society Conference 2014!


I am just recovering from the 2014 Royal Geographic Society and International British Geographers annual conference held in Kensington, London last week. This year’s conference was themed around co-production of knowledge – whose knowledge counts, who should be identifying research directions, how can researchers support, adapt and respond to this emerging paradigm.

To say the conference was diverse would be an understatement (the wordcloud highlights the session titles variety). RGS Wordle

With over 400 sessions across three days trying to pick a session to go to was similar to my experience of the Edinburgh Fringe – do you go for a big ticket performer or take a punt on an emerging newcomer! I managed to get a mix of both going to talks on:

  • the use of sound in geography (presenting Radek Rudniki’s work on Sonification and upcoming conference on the topic)
  • older people and urbanisation (to get up to speed on thinking for the EPSRC Co-Motion project) where I learnt about the huge upcoming social care issues for China
  • co-producing knowledge on animal and plant health (which connected to SEI OPAL and Cultural Values of Tree’s projects)
  • issues of mobility and reducing carbon emissions
  • how to use visualisations to communicate research findings and engage participants from the Economic Geographers (which links to the AHRC ICE-SaV findings)
  • a ‘lucky-dip’ session on ‘Ad-hoc’ geography where Daryl Martin from the University of York Sociology department presented work on the architecture of Cedric Price
  • co-production of environmental knowledge (where I presented the AHRC Environmental-Values findings and made some new connections on scenarios with Kerry Waylen from the James Hutton Institute and caught up with Louise Bracken from Durham University)
  • interactions between people and flooding in the hydro-social landscapes session (where I presented mine and John Forrester’s participatory GIS work from the Managing Borderlands project)

It was a great few days and I would recommend the conference to anyone who wants to get up to speed on current and emerging ideas in geography – or just hear some really interesting and diverse viewpoints on our understanding of the changing world. The next conference is being organised by Sarah Whatmore and will be held in Exeter 2015 – if you can make it I would recommend the experience.