There were nine of us sitting there around a big table, nervously shuffling papers and preparing to share our own stories of mental ill-health. Where were we? What were we doing? Why were we drawing on all our courage to tell others vulnerable details of our own experiences and journeys?
We were there because each one of us wanted to learn how to tell our story – to tell our story in a structured way that connected with others without emotionally swamping them. We had the reassuring presence of Sam & Tom, our workshop facilitators and Amy – our support person.
“Who’s ready to share next? You have 10 minutes and we’re all ready to listen.”
I took a deep breath in and out, then raised my hand. I looked at my notes, and started to speak…
From the Batyr workshop we learnt practical elements of storying telling around mental health. Things like,
Begin with you – what you’re like and what you enjoy.
Add a little background context – your family, your up-bringing.
What you experienced: how did it begin? What did you notice first? What did others notice (or not notice about you?). Was it an ongoing issue? Describe how it felt – moments in time. Be careful not to generalise, use “I” and “for me”. Everyone experiences everything differently. No one experience is more “real” or more “valid”. (Depending on who you’re talking to – leave out specific methods of any kind of harm and focus instead on the feelings.)
Turning points & support – there may have been one or there may have been many. How did you know you needed to reach out for support? What support did you seek out? What has worked and what hasn’t worked for you? (This is where you can go into detail).
Where are you now in your journey? What is the key message you want to share with others who may be struggling? What do you do today to manage your wellbeing? (For example, being in nature)
What about for those of us who think a friend or someone we know might being going through a tough time?
The first open-access article I, along with Dr James Ward and Dr Barbara Koth published in 2017 was called, “Aquaponics in Urban Agriculture: Social Acceptance and Urban Food Planning”. It’s about the perception and social acceptance of aquaponics by urban food growers and Local Government Area in Adelaide, South Australia. A considerable amount of research has been conducted on the technology itself, but little has been done on how people (other than those who actually have such systems) feel about aquaponics. Additionally, the level of awareness and acceptance of local councils (in South Australia known as local government areas or LGAs) can influence either the support or restriction of aquaponics in urban areas.
Collectively our participants not only considered the various strengths and weaknesses of aquaponics, but also used their own experiences to recommend ideas for the possible adoption and expansion of aquaponics. These recommendations culminated in the idea of a set of scaled guidelines, including financial, logistical, resource requirements, and expected productivity for each potential scale of operation – from single backyard to large-scale commercial.
When the discussion moved to urban planning and the influence of local government areas, every participant alluded to a lack of council support for urban food production. There was a strong desire for a shift in current urban planning and that of state level government to better acknowledge and support urban food production of all kinds.
It just so happens that 2017 was a good year for writing; I (along with my co-authors), had my first two scientific articles published. Both are open-access and are therefore available for anyone, anywhere in the world to read – no subscription necessary. Publishing articles as open-access may cost more and require a little more ‘hoop-jumping’, yet it is a valuable method of science communication (particularly suited to citizen science).
Hence myself, along with my supervisors Dr James Ward and Dr Philip Roetman wrote a paper called, “The Case for Citizen Science in Urban Agriculture Research”. It’s about the practical challenges of researching urban food production, how past studies have gone about researching urban food yields and inputs, and how effective a citizen science approach can be. We describe the design of the “Edible Gardens Project” as an example of how citizen science can be successfully applied to urban agriculture research.
I recently attended an Adelaide based forum on “Building Nutrition”, held by the Living Future Institute of Australia (LFIA). It was fascinating to say the least. Afterwards I was contacted and asked if I was interested in writing a guest blog on the forum experience – and of course said “Yes!”
Here’s how it starts…
“There are times when you hear about real people taking small steady steps toward achieving their goals and making changes. You listen with a sense of satisfaction, the changes might not be huge but at least they’re happening. This is how most change comes about, “green” or not.
Then there are times when this slowness of pace gets to you a little… You begin to hanker for some mountainous shift in the ways things work, some outrageous plan or project or people just getting on with things – regardless of apparent restrictions. For me, these are the moments that make all the small steps and the consistent effort worthwhile. And it doesn’t have to be something I’m personally involved in, I’ll accept inspiration from anywhere!
This is where the latest Adelaide Forum from the Living Future Institute of Australia (LFIA) comes into the story…”
Every now and again I wonder about whether big data can still be personal. This generally occurs after I get a pop-up on my computer or an up-date on my phone which asks if they can track and use my background data.
But it does get me thinking – I hear a lot about us being in the era of “big data”, with mass data collection all around. Some of this is used to categorise us according to our likes and shopping desires. Some is used to actually better the systems and interfaces we work with.
But I know from my own data collection experiences how easy it is (once everyone’s answers are turned into numbers and categories), to lose sight of what those answers really mean in context to each person, and in turn what this means for your research.
But there are people out there making huge efforts to keep our interfaces, data collection and communications not just individual but personal too. I only recently watched a TED Talk by Aaron Koblin from 2011 called, “Visualizing ourselves… with crowd-sourced data”.Read More »
The fourth instalment of Dr Randy Olson‘s book explores the trait of “likability” and its place in scientific communication.
Part 4: Don’t be so unlikeable.
Even just the title of this chapter made me think – “What does he mean ‘unlikeable’? Is he talking about always agreeing with people? Or trying to look pretty and make friends?” It turns out there’s a bit more to it than that…
To begin with, Olson once again describes the value of scientists as society’s truth tellers, or as the “designated drivers” of reality. Scientists are those who resist getting swept up by fantasy and instead try to take a good hard look at the facts.
Scientists play an important role – there’s no denying it. However the question remains, can you be a scientist and still be liked?
Richard comes across as actually saddened by the way in which many scientists attempt to communicate with the public. He points out that most of the people who actively argue and disagree with science are just people. They’re people who want their concerns, fears and needs listened to and taken into account. And instead of doing this, we scientists have the tendency to fight the good fight and defend science at all costs.
This article certainly made me wonder – is the habit of defence so ingrained in all scientists that it’s actually eroding our ability to communicate?
Here we cover the third instalment of Dr. Randy Olson‘s book which gets a little deeper into the “arouse and fulfil” tactic of getting people interested in the point you’re trying to make. And although that simple two-step process can work just fine, one way to mix it up is via storytelling…
Part 3: Don’t be such a poor storyteller
By now you may have noticed… many scientists aren’t brilliant storytellers. They can be passionate and big picture oriented, but also long-winded, detail obsessed or even dull. In Hollywood, people study for years to learn how to tell a good story. Scientists study and train for the complete opposite – to always constructively review whatever they are told, and to keep an eye out for any inaccurate details. But to get your information across to a non-academic audience… you have to be able to tell a good story.
Here we cover the next part of Dr Randy Olson’s insightful book:
Part 2: Don’t be so literal minded
Olson builds on the first part of his book by describing some of the struggles scientists can have when trying to communicate to those outside of academia. Logical, literal and data based arguments (the head perspective) can be up against an unfair fight when emotional or instinctive arguments (the heart or gut perspectives) are used against them. And who else, besides the scientists themselves, pride themselves on using purely logical, literal and data-based arguments? No-one. Not governments or politicians. And not businesses or industries.
In this loud, information overloaded world – if you as a scientist are attempting to engage anyone outside of academia in the work you have done, it’s not always enough that your work is rigorous or has real-world implications. You will have to promote your work a little… or a lot, to be heard.
Introducing Dr. Randy Olson, a marine biologist who left the world of academia to find out what Hollywood could teach him. He became a writer/director and couldn’t help but see how all his new skills could be applied to science communication.
His book, “Don’t be such a scientist: Talking substance in the age of style” is one of my absolute favourites. It’s a curious combination of scientific convincing and acting class insights. This short book is split into five parts, each of which I will cover in a post.
Part 1: Don’t Be So Cerebral
The first thing Randy Olson introduces us to (besides some crazy snippets of his old acting teacher screaming at him!), is the idea of the four organs of mass communication… the head, the heart, the gut, and the lower organs.
Olson says that people tend to have different driving forces, different places that they’re coming from most of the time. The head thinkers are quite logical. They like thinking things through and getting things to make sense. Not surprisingly, most academics fit in here, but very few other people do. Attempting to communicate from this perspective to a global audience reaches the least amount of people.