Starting fieldwork

I'm in the process of planning for the first fieldwork session with my first participant. I wanted to share some of the ideas I'm exploring when it comes to actually supporting the participants in documenting their lives.

On past projects, I've used things like disposable cameras to change the perspective of gathering and documenting from myself to the participants.  With this project, I wanted to add to that with a whole bunch of other tools and ideas. It would be all too easy for me to stick with what I know best, photography and sound, but, I want to go way beyond that.

At the moment, the plan is to invite each participant to take me on a walk around the significant places in their life. As we wander, I will capture our conversations and the stories about the places we visit. This will be my first considerable contact, and I hope will give both the participant and myself and chance to talk about where our collaborative research might lead us, and how we might do it.

Here are some of the things we are going to experiment with.

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Storytelling for Policy Change: promise and problems

One of the hopes of this project is that the work has an impact on individuals lives as well as the bigger picture, society and the policymakers. It's a lofty ambition I know, which is why this is an R&D project itself.

I found this post all about a workshop in which academics and scientists debate the power of storytelling to create more impact in their work.

I suggest you read the whole post, but here are some of Paul Cairney's key themes:

  • The balance between effective and ethical storytelling, accepting that if a story is a commodity it can be used by people less sympathetic to our aims, and exploring the ethics of using the lens of sympathetic characters (e.g. white grandparents) to make the case for marginalised groups.
  • This ethical dimension was reinforced continuously by stories of vulnerable storytellers and the balance between telling their story and protecting their safety.
  • The importance of context: the same story may have more or less impact depending on the nature of the audience; many examples conveyed the sense that a story with huge impact now would have failed 10 or 20 years ago and/ or in a different region.
  • The importance of tailoring stories to the biases of audiences and trying to reframe the implications of your audience’s beliefs (one particularly interesting example was of portraying equal marriage in Ireland as the Christian thing to do).
  • Many campaigns used humour and positive stories with heroes, based on the assumption that audiences would be put off by depressing stories of problems with no obvious solution but energised by a message of new possibilities.
  • Many warned against stories that were too personal, identifying the potential for an audience to want to criticise or fix an individual’s life rather than solve a systemic problem (and this individualistic interpretation was most pronounced among people identifying with right-wing parties).
  • Many described the need to experiment/ engage in trial-and-error to identify what works with each audience, including the length of written messages, choice of media, and choice of ‘thin’ stories with clear messages to generate quick attention or ‘thick’ stories which might be more memorable if we have the resources to tell them and people take the time to listen.

The start part 2 - an interview

I thought it would be a good idea to co-host an evening of talks about using artistic endeavours to effect change. The original idea was to invite a couple of people to speak about projects they had already started or completed. In the end, we had just one speaker, Les Monaghan and me being interviewed by Bryony Good, one of the Miniclick team.

I'm right at the start of this project, so this interview is a bit of a status report and some quite open and fluid thinking about what I'm doing. As I say in the interview, I'm interested in having conversations with people about this work, so if you want to get in touch I'd love to hear from you.

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