“When we are put on the spot, how can we be creative? It can be an intimidating task. Instead I think it can help to think about other aspects of our daily lives, away from our professional insights to do that.”
Clare Wilkinson is an Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Science Communication Unit, at UWE Bristol, as well as a member of the Communicate Committee. Clare has conducted a range of research on science, health and the media, and co-authored the book Creative Research Communication: Theory and Practice. Clare shared with us how to think outside the box and in communication and research
When we are put on the spot, how can we be creative? It can be an intimidating task. Instead I think it can help to think about other aspects of our daily lives, away from our professional insights to do that.
One of the things that can be most challenging as researchers or communicators is stepping back from our own surroundings and thinking about the needs and perspectives of others, including those we might be seeking to communicate with, influence or research.
In my evaluation work thinking about others is something I have come to do a lot. It might be about questioning what the audience or participant knows or what can they realistically provide for me in the time that they have available? Or it can be that I need to think about the challenges they are facing and how can I best engage with them when I simply need to know did something work?
Creativity can be one approach to reach people in different ways, to elicit new and insightful perspectives and make evaluation a more rewarding experience for both you the communicator and those you are seeking to influence. But when we are put on the spot, how can we be creative? It can be an intimidating task. Instead I think it can help to think about other aspects of our daily lives, away from our professional insights to do that.
First up is boredom. We’ve all been there, ten minutes to spare before our dentist appointment, an overly long train journey or the lazy days with our family members in the post-Christmas haze, what do we do? Perhaps we reach for social media, an app on our phones, a boxset, book, or a board game.
These are approaches that with a bit of thought can easily be adapted for evaluation. Could an Instagram hashtag capture people’s thoughts and reactions to your event? Can you develop a ‘Crystal Maze’ style task to get people (safely!) voting on their choices or opinions? Such approaches can make an evaluation far more intriguing and interesting for others, and also for you as the evaluator when it comes to looking at and analysing your data.
Second up on the creativity front is cost. Think about those last days in the month when you might be carefully watching your pennies, you’re hungry, tired, you visit the fridge to be faced by a random mixture of ingredients. Sometimes the same might happen for an evaluation budget, it can be one of the smallest parts of a grant, or the aspect which most easily shrinks as other costs stack up.
So, think about keeping it simple, how delicious can a bowl of cornflakes taste when you haven’t had them for a while? What exactly do you need to know from your evaluation and focus only on that. And what could you bring together? Beans on toast? Perhaps there is a local university with students looking to work on projects, volunteer or have placements, could they help to support your evaluation activities?
Of course, there are important things to keep in mind with any of the above. You should think about carrying out the evaluation ethically, how you will analyse the data and whether it is sufficient for you (and your funders) needs, as well as ensuring anyone you are working with (like student volunteers) are appropriately compensated and recognised for their inputs.
But we all need moments to stand back from our daily lives, and sometimes it’s only then that can we see their significance for our professional perspectives. As communicators or researchers, we’re also people, but sometimes in our busy occupations we don’t take the time to stand back and reflect on that.
Communicate is the UK’s conference for environmental communicators, bringing together over 150 delegates each year to develop their skills, share best practice and debate the latest issues in engaging people with the natural world.
Communicate 2017 is sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council www.esrc.ac.uk