A team of researchers, led by Lancaster University, has been developing accessible and creative means of communicating sustainability research from the social sciences for policymakers and the wider public.
Using fairy tale characters -- mermaids, vampires, and witches -- as metaphors, the team, including researchers from the Universities of Strathclyde and Manchester, have sought to communicate typically complicated arguments in evocative and engaging terms.
Their paper, 'Telling Tales': Communicating UK energy research through fairy tale characters, has been published in the journal, Energy Research & Social Science.
Responding to some of the challenges of climate change (electricity generation, low-carbon transport, plastic pollution), the research team present three 'telling tales'. These 'translate' existing academic research, taking inspiration from well-known fairy tale characters, to cast this research in an accessible and powerful light:
Having developed these tales, the team worked with illustrator Véronique Heijnsbroek to create a range of inspiring images.
This work responds to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) call for 'transformational adaptation'. This paper offers serious messages and alternative policy approaches with the aim to accessibly communicate the types of shifts that this will involve:
"It would be easy to interpret this work as a trivialisation of research or, even, a patronisation of potential readers," says lead author Dr Carolynne Lord, from Lancaster University.
"This is not our intention. The point is that communicating through specialist language is not adequately conveying the message to the communities that it needs to reach. We need to start communicating our work in more accessible ways."
Dr Torik Holmes, from the University of Manchester, adds: "Storytelling has been gaining traction in the field of energy research in the social sciences. We've built on this through the use of fairy tale characters to argue how UK policy reflects a fixation with renewables, over cautionary responses to car ownership and use, and too narrow understandings of, and reactions to, plastics."
And Dr Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs, from the University of Strathclyde, comments: "Communicating in new and intelligible ways that combine the complexity of research with inspiring stories is important. There is now a real urgency in which transformative responses to climate change are required. Though much social science work offers potential solutions, it can do so in a way that is hard to understand by those who have the power to make change a reality."
The authors hope their concept will inspire the scientific community to recommunicate energy-based social science research in more digestible forms.
They plan to hold an online workshop starting the 28th of August with other researchers and illustrators to develop and extend this cast of characters. More information can be found here:
Their hope is that by moving research findings beyond academic circles, and to policymakers and popular audiences, this type of work can help bring about the changes required.
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