Climate Stories

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Engineering Computer Science and Maths

Abstract

Storytelling is an innate human need. It is how we make sense of our lives and plan out our futures. Yet too often the public is expected to engage with environmental topics like climate change in a way that runs counter to that inner narrative drive. Facts and graphs act as barriers rather than enablers to understanding. The vitally important story of climate change becomes a closed book, giving those with an interest in denying the science and its implications a space to operate unchallenged. Citizens become disillusioned and disenfranchised, unable to grapple with a problem that affects all our futures.

To overcome these barriers to mutual understanding and positive engagement we propose a new model for public engagement that takes advantage of the story telling expertise of the arts, including theatre, fiction, poetry, music and visual media. Working collaboratively with communities and experts of many kinds we will unlock the creative potential within all of us to elaborate effective and empowering narratives of change and mutual understanding. To achieve such collaboration scientists will have to experience their own creative narrative of change. As outlined in the 2014 report from University College, London entitled "Time for Change" authored by project Co-I Prof. Chris Rapley, environmental scientists need to become proficient story tellers themselves if they are to become effective and powerful communicators.

Our consortium brings together a group of expert practitioners across disciplinary boundaries with a proven track record of creative public engagement and outreach capabilities. We also contain the necessary research and evaluation skills needed to gather the evidence and assess the capabilities of the new model of engagement that we will co-develop with community groups. While our activities are Devon based, our consortium is well placed through its project partners to develop a wider programme of activities at a national level, thereby enabling the development of a subsequent proposal for the second stage of the Engaging Environments Call. Since storytelling skills are universal our model can equally well serve other contemporary environmental issues as well as climate change such as marine degradation or air pollution.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title A book of creative writing, images and song lyrics 
Description Climate Stories produced a book providing a selection of the poems, short stories, images, song lyrics and theatrical responses created by participants in Climate Stories, both the cohort of 20 climate scientists involved and also school children and members of community groups engaged with during the project. 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact This book has been distributed to all participants who have used it to engage with their own communities. Extracts have been read at out workshops and conferences including the Climateeurope Festival on Climate Services in Belgrade in October 2018 and the European Meteorological Society conference in Budapest in September 2018. It is helping to change the way environmental scientists think about their communication practice. 
URL http://www.climatestories.org.uk
 
Title Videos and animations 
Description Videos and animations have been produced depicting the Climate Stories process and animating some of the prints produced. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact These videos and animations have provided inspiration to the climate science community to get involved more in outreach and engagement activities discussing the meaning of their research for a wide range of publics. 
URL http://www.climatestories.org.uk
 
Description Climate Stories aimed to break down current communication barriers between climate scientists and the wider public by engaging the professional communication skills of arts practitioners from a range of disciplines. This has enabled the public, artists and scientists to co-develop new creative approaches to dealing with environmental change, one based on an innovative method of engagement through shared projects. Climate Stories has produced an archive of materials including a book, online resources including films and a podcast, and conference presentations. Work is on-going to finalise the evaluation of participants' experiences and to publish the findings in peer-reviewed publications.
Storytelling is an innate human need. It is how we make sense of our lives and plan out our futures. Yet too often the public is expected to engage with environmental topics like climate change in a way that runs counter to that inner narrative drive. Facts and graphs act as barriers rather than enablers to understanding. The vitally important story of climate change becomes a closed book, giving those with an interest in denying the science and its implications a space to operate unchallenged. Citizens become disillusioned and disenfranchised, unable to grapple with a problem that affects all our futures.
To overcome these barriers to mutual understanding and positive engagement Climate Stories proposed a new model for public engagement that takes advantage of the story telling expertise of the arts, including theatre, fiction, poetry, music and visual media. Working collaboratively with communities and experts of many kinds the project unlocked the creative potential of scientists, artists and members of the public to elaborate effective and empowering narratives of change and mutual understanding.
To achieve such collaboration, a cohort of twenty climate scientists experienced their own creative narrative of change. Our consortium brought together a group of expert practitioners across disciplinary boundaries with a proven track record of creative public engagement and outreach capabilities. We also contained the necessary research and evaluation skills needed to gather the evidence and assess the capabilities of the new model of engagement that we will co-develop with community groups. While activities were Devon based and focused on climate change, the Climate Stories model can equally well work in other locations and serve other contemporary environmental issues such as marine degradation or air pollution.
The twenty climate scientist participants took part in a three-day workshop at Dartington Hall in Devon in May 2018. During this time, they took part in four half-day workshops in the different arts disciplines of creative writing, printmaking, song writing and theatre making. On the third day they developed their practice further in one chosen discipline. The experience concluded with a showcase presentation of some of the pieces produced.
During the following three months, climate stories participants took part in workshops with community groups from across Devon. These were: writing workshops with Colebrooke community group, with members of Kaleider, at the RAMM museum in central Exeter and with Farms for City Children at their farm at Nethercott House Iddesleigh; theatre making workshops at organicARTS Ide, Sidmouth Amateur Dramatic Society Youth section, Doortstep Arts Torbay, Exeter Pheonix Arts Centre; a weekend songwriting workshop at Heatree Activity Centre, Manaton; full-day printmaking workshops at YMCA Broadclyst and the Pheonix Arts Centre.
Throughout the process climate scientist participants were encouraged to keep logbooks recording their experiences. These were analysed alongside recordings from a series of structured interviews that were held at the beginning of the project, during the Dartington Hall workshop and after the end of the project when participants had had time to reflect on the long-term legacy of their time with Climate Stories.

Evaluating where we have been and where we should go has been a critical part of the Climate Stories project. Evaluation to us is much more than quantifying our outputs or impacts; it is about understanding the journey for all of our participants - artistic leads as well as climate scientists. Stewart Barr and Ewan Woodley, both geographers based in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Exeter, have been leading the evaluative work, which is ongoing as we understand the longer term impacts of the project.
Our work has involved several key phases and methods:
• Pre-Dartington one-to-one interviews to understand the 'back story' for our climate science participants and their expectations / anxieties about engaging in the creative arts;
• In-workshop evaluations of activities using established techniques such as 'evaluation bingo' to obtain spontaneous responses about what works and what doesn't;
• In-workshop in-depth narrative interviews, to explore the lived experience of creating together and exploring one's own climate story;
• In-workshop in-depth interviews with creative arts leads;
• Observation of the Dartington process and its outcomes through audio and visual recording;
• Personal narrative reflections through the use of reflective notebooks from each participant at Dartington;
• A series of post-Dartington one-to-one interviews to enable climate scientists to share their experiences and future plans (ongoing)
What we've found so far:
Our work has revealed several key processes arising from the Dartington workshop experience:
• Creative life histories and familiarity matter. Participants intimately connected their previous, and frequently childhood, experience of creativity to help them bring their science to life through creative practice;
• Connections to nature through upbringing and research: participants often cited their upbringing and the way in which they learn about nature and the environment as being a motivator to help others appreciate and engage in the science of climate change. Having this 'nature legacy' in learning enabled participants to centre their approach to creative practice;
• Observational practices: participants were keen to link their own science, in a range of fields, to what they could observe and highlight to others in accessible and familiar ways. This was key to scientific participants being able to connect their research with publics;
• Vocational 'calling': participants expressed a deeply personal desire to bring 'wonder' to others and to help them engage in this emotion as a way of connecting them with climate science and the impact of climate change;
• An unproblematic 'researcher-artist' identity: participants were highly capable of negotiating their identity as both a natural scientist and a creative practitioner. The comfortable and inclusive setting of Dartington certainly supported this;
• A concern about the artistic 'echo chamber': alongside feeling confident as scientists and creators, participants did feel challenged by only being surrounded by those with similar backgrounds and experiences, leading them to question how others could be engaged in these processes in the future;
• An anxiety about 'being received': Dartington provided a very 'safe' and inclusive space, but participants did discuss how they would cope once their work was 'put' into different contexts, amongst various publics.
• An anxiety about 'having answers': participants were aware and somewhat anxious about their perceived role as 'experts' in community settings, where they would potentially be questioned about climate science and be expected to 'have answers'.

Crucially, the Dartington process revealed that in a safe, inclusive and conformable environment, creativity can be used to liberate personal and professional stories, to do so with confidence, and in ways that can be engaging and enlightening.
Exploitation Route Through Climate Stories we have shown the creative capacity of the arts to generate new and more positive narratives of change. We created a book of writing and images, a website with podcasts, writing, films and music, and are preparing collaboratively-written research papers for publication in academic journals. We have taken Climate Stories to international conferences, and our volunteer cohort of scientists now use Climate Stories-based approaches in presenting their research both in professional contexts and in their public outreach practice. The project has been included in the UK Government's National Adaptation Programme published in 2018 as an example of how to improve public engagement on climate science and impacts. Our own ongoing detailed evaluation of the project, through interviews, diaries and recordings, is showing the power of this approach in making environmental science meaningful and actionable for a wide range of publics.

This narrative-based approach can in future be embedded in the professional practice of scientists across NERC's research areas nationwide. The relatively small-scale pilot study of Climate Stories can now be developed into a sustainable, ground-breaking, scalable model for turning environmental scientists into autonomous, innovative and enthusiastic outreach practitioners and science communicators. This could be done through a three-year training model that would enable environmental scientists to develop diverse and leading-edge communication skills through the development of arts-based narratives. This model would open up long term public engagement opportunities by equipping environmental scientists to foster their own science communication practice.

There is a convincing body of humanities research that shows that existing modes of storytelling work poorly for dealing with environmental issues. This includes models of engagement that rely on artists interpreting scientific results in collaboration with scientists. The model that Climate Stories pioneered, is to explore and develop new modes of storytelling through the personal engagement in arts disciplines of environmental scientists. Arts-based narratives are thus no longer used to interpret scientific findings at one remove. They become an integral part of the scientific process through their integration into the professional practice of scientists across both research and science communication activities.
Sectors Environment

URL http://www.climatestories.org.uk
 
Description Inclusion of Climate Stories in the UK's Second National Adaptation Programme for climate for 2018-2023
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/climate-change-second-national-adaptation-programme-2018-...
 
Description Participation of Met Office scientists and IoP in Climate Stories 
Organisation Institute of Physics (IOP)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution The whole of Climate Stories was a collaborative endeavour, which although led from the University of Exeter intimately involved collaborators from the Met Office and the IoP.
Collaborator Contribution Met Office scientists contributed to Climate Stories through their participation in the workshops, preparation for public engagements and in compiling log books and attending interviews. There were 13 participating scientist who each contributed several weeks worth of time to the project. In return, Climate Stories provided a training programme that was very enriching to the scientists involved. The IoP contributed through the contributions of Miranda Addey, the IoP South West region coordinator to the project planning and to the project workshop.
Impact Materials produced include a book, a short film, animations, poetry and a website.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Participation of Met Office scientists and IoP in Climate Stories 
Organisation Meteorological Office UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The whole of Climate Stories was a collaborative endeavour, which although led from the University of Exeter intimately involved collaborators from the Met Office and the IoP.
Collaborator Contribution Met Office scientists contributed to Climate Stories through their participation in the workshops, preparation for public engagements and in compiling log books and attending interviews. There were 13 participating scientist who each contributed several weeks worth of time to the project. In return, Climate Stories provided a training programme that was very enriching to the scientists involved. The IoP contributed through the contributions of Miranda Addey, the IoP South West region coordinator to the project planning and to the project workshop.
Impact Materials produced include a book, a short film, animations, poetry and a website.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Climate Stories showcase event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We ran a showcase event at RAMM in Exeter for the participants of Climate Stories to showcase their art works on a theme of environmental change to invited guests from the local community including members of the general public who had participated in Climate Stories workshops. Audience members reported that the creative and hopeful responses to climate change had shown them that it was possible to talk about the difficult but serious issue of climate change in different and more engaging ways.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.climatestories.org.uk
 
Description Festival of Physics, IoP 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Climate Stories contributed to an event at the Festival of Physics organised by the IoP at the University of Exeter on 8th March, 2018. Four Climate Stories participants presented an interactive presentation involving visuals, poetry, and question and answers to a public audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.climatestories.org.uk
 
Description Interview with Physics World 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Climate Stories project was featured in the Physics World publication, and also the Physics World podcast of November, 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://physicsworld.com/a/getting-engaged-what-encourages-the-public-to-marry-up-with-environmental...
 
Description Workshop with Farms for City Children 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact We ran a workshop led by Writer Sally Flint, involving climate scientists and 30 children from inner city Plymouth at the Farms for City Children farm at Nethercott House Iddesleigh. The charity offers urban children from all over the country a unique opportunity to live and work together on a real farm in the heart of the countryside. It is an intense, 'learning through doing' experience of a different life - for children who may not know where their food comes from and have limited opportunities to explore the outside world.

Georgina Brunning, teacher at Marine Academy Primary' Plymouth, wrote to Climate Stories to say:
" It has been a pleasure to work alongside the brilliant team members that came together to create Climate Stories. Every single child was able to immerse themselves into creative writing of some sort, showcasing their individual talents and flair. The results speak for themselves here, but as far as the children are concerned, their personal sense of achievement is far greater than what can only be read. Thank you for allowing us to be part of such a brilliant project!' 
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.climatestories.org.uk