On Friday 5th Feb 2021, we launched #UofGEngage with an amazing group of speakers from across all four colleges:
- Katrina Igglesden (College of Arts) – using social media & online workshops to engage Pacific Island communities with barkcloth research.
- Megan MacLeod (College of MVLS) – re-imagining schools engagement to combine online and in-person activities, and exploring new platforms to answer questions about vaccines.
- Helen Mullen (College of Social Sciences) – developing civic engagement throughout the pandemic: mentoring with MCR Pathways.
- With a pre-recorded contribution from Julien Reboud (College of Science & Engineering) – connecting online to promote digital health in the diagnosis of infectious disease in East Africa.
We were joined by over 100 participants including students, a diverse range of staff as well as external partners.
Our theme was digital engagement, and we asked our speakers to tell us about how they’ve stayed connected with communities online throughout the pandemic. We asked what worked and what didn’t, and most importantly, what they’ve learned in the process.
We’ve gathered a few of their great nuggets of wisdom and experience and hope this collection will inspire and support others in their own engagement work.
How did your engagement work at the UofG begin?
It started as a real personal interest [volunteering as a Mentor with MCR Pathways], a personal drive and has developed into something that I’ve been delighted to see can fit within the University and have a space there. I have felt very supported in bringing that to bear.
I felt it was a very interesting activity to engage with communities to try and figure out what actually would work and what we would need to do to make that work. That entails talking to them, making sure that they understand what we’re doing, but also getting their feedback, and basically co-creating or co-developing this type of device and logistics associated with it.
And what happened when the pandemic hit? What worked and what didn’t?
Everything [we’d planned] was face-to-face. In remote settings like this, the best way [is] to talk to people directly […] We were going to go there, at least three or four times. That is Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, and there were some activities planned for Ghana and Rwanda.
We had to completely reshuffle this online. I can say now that we’ve run six workshops together […] this has evolved amazingly, because people are so receptive. It’s very much about the people on the ground saying I really want to contribute to this and making the time and effort, especially the technology side, to enable this. We were very scared, but eventually actually it all turned out really well. And it begs the question, you know now looking back, do we really believe that it would have been better to go and talk to people there, than what we have done? That’s quite an interesting concept.
Turning online was, I guess, the next best thing […] Instead of having these in-person workshops, for museum people and the general public separately, we ended up planning for online sessions.We ended up calling them [sessions] because, as everybody knows, Zoom fatigue is a very real thing, and drains you. So, these workshop days turned into one and a half hour zoom sessions.
We were struggling to get in person participation because a whole day dedicated to something is quite difficult [….], but had just an avalanche of registrations, and we had to add in another session. So, where we were struggling to get about 25, you know into five sessions, we had over 100 registrations with waiting lists.
My favourite part of all of this […] was that we were able to join these two groups together, which can learn so well from each other about, you know, what happens in the museum, what the general public know or want to learn about, and also including people in the Pacific and people of Pacific ancestry, or origin. I think was the was the greatest thing. We had people from the UK, Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Taiwan, Japan, the States, Canada from across Europe.
When the lockdown went in, we had been planning to be back in the school to help the kids come up with their own activities or resources. I don’t think it was possible to expect the school or the parents to manage that on top of everything else.
With the school’s context and the type of work that we’re doing with MCR, there’s obviously child protection issues, and so it wasn’t straightforward to just be able to go straight online… Initially MCR made it possible for some mentoring to be done virtually, if that mechanism was accessible – because not even necessarily all the Mentors, but not all the Mentees have access to that.
What made it possible to continue your engagement?
Our good friend social media. Twitter and Instagram were the social media platforms of choice. It was really, really interesting to see the difference in audience’s interest […] between the two different platforms: Our Twitter base was very much a UK academic museum professional cohort. Whereas Instagram and Facebook (which we didn’t use) in the Pacific are staples. On Twitter we had a lot of interest in what is barkcloth? How’s it made? Who makes it? What are the materials? What people from the Pacific really wanted to see […] were actual museum collection pieces that originate from the Pacific, or 19th century pieces that aren’t widely available in the Pacific.
There was this absolutely incredible reaction to these pieces and the discussion and the comments that came out of it were wonderful. Working between three different things, Twitter, Instagram and Zoom, we ended up having really rich conversations.
We adapted one of the activities […] and made a little video and put that out so at least we were able to contribute to the Science Festival.
We’ve been developing an app with the Glasgow School of Art team too. That’s been really easy because we’ve just been talking on Zoom with the Glasgow School of Art. Fortunately, we’ve now created this resource that will be really easy to provide to the school in the next month or so, because even if the kids still are home, they’ll be able to make use of the app.
We had a fantastic session where we used Teams to link into the school when they were still in class before Christmas and talk to them about what the app was and got their feedback. They’ve drawn most of the designs. The ones that will be in the app have come from just 45 minutes of us showing up and getting them to do some activities online. This worked much better than I had anticipated.
My young person […] didn’t have access to that technology so [we] emailed…or we texted. I didn’t always get a response… I think it was more about making sure that that connection continued. I think I just had to dig in and keep going even if you weren’t getting the response.
We were very humble in our capabilities with Zoom at the beginning […] we started [simply] with a main session where we would present and get other people to present […] then activities in breakout rooms where we would use the whiteboard […] The engagement with that was tremendous […] Then we started thinking a bit outside the box, well outside the whiteboard, because it was really about co-developing
We were supported by @JimenezMelanie_ who provided artistic drawings of scenarios we used for people to draw. They created almost like movie scenarios and that enabled us to say, okay, the constraints of the design need to be this, it needs to be able to work in this area [for people with] no prior training on the situation. We then started thinking […] what if we could do something a bit more involving? The final workshop will actually have 3d printed situations. And so we co-designed the holder and some of the platform. And this will be trialled over zoom in four different countries. At the same time, with everyone working together.
You could argue that without this pandemic we would never have thought of doing that, we would have gone to each country, yes, maybe, and done that intuitively but the idea of being able to bring all of this together at one go. I mean, that’s something that I would not have thought about, and that has been unlocked by Zoom.
What challenges did you encounter? What helped you overcome them?
I think while technology can help, it can also be a barrier for some people. Even if you have access to a device or a phone, you may not be able to have that length of contact with your Mentor. Once the school came back and virtual connection was possible, we met via Google Meet. [It was great] to realize that even though he hadn’t had that face-to-face contact, he still felt engaged.
Another challenge was conveying the tangibility and importance of barkcloth […] Instagram and social media came in handy because we had the time to show multiple different images in multiple different ways.
Also, audience participation […] moving from a context of having in-person workshops where we knew in advance who the people would be because of the museum community in the UK, having a very big audience of people who we don’t really know […] and therefore not being able to anticipate what they would want, or what they would need made that quite difficult in such a short time frame.
Another thing we didn’t consider when we thought yes let’s go online and it’s going to be wonderful, […] was time zones.
Coming back to social media and actually asking our community and our audience what they wanted out of an online experience was really helpful […] I had to learn how to use Instagram Stories and Live very quickly. Having the ability to ask questions or do polls, or have the community ask questions about what you’re doing, was a nice way to figure out how to do things best.
Using the Jisc online surveys was fantastic. It really helped us both before the sessions and after kind of round up and realize what was needed and what was appreciated.
What have you learned from the experience and where will you go from here?
I think the compromise will be on what we deliver rather than who we deliver it to, because I think keeping the teacher on board and taking their considerations is going to be one of the most important parts because we’re working with her for the next few years.
I think we’ll keep our school engagement as much in person as possible. Being in school seeing how the pupils reacted to thinking about things and light bulb moments going off in their heads. I think that’s much easier to do in person than it is online. I think we will have a more online component that will run alongside our in-person activities that we will do in the future.
Ties within a network are really important at times like this. Particularly when it is all Zoom and technology. That person […] telling you you’re doing a good job, I think that’s just really important.
We had a great engagement event where we brought MCR and potential UofG Mentors together. And while that’s not directly impacting on the young people, I think just to bring that cohesion around the network and to give all of us support was really important. I think MCR really appreciated that too.
Our engagement work can inform our research and I think that’s really, really important and sometimes overlooked. Spurred on by my young Mentee and talking to colleagues and an organisation who’s supportive of young people enterprises, we’re looking at creating a Talent Taster focusing on business, management, entrepreneurship and enterprise for that cohort. That really works for us as an organisation and for MCR and it also works for Young Enterprise Scotland and what we could achieve together. There are so many opportunities there for research and evaluation we are building something that we can monitor and evaluate to make better. This can help these organisations scale up to a Scotland wide initiative so that enterprise can be taken into those communities more widely.
We’ll do face to face interventions when we can, but we will also use a lot of online tools. The other thing that has changed is the perception of loss of control in big Zoom meetings like this. Very often if you want people to contribute, you’ve got to let go of control. You can’t actually get their contributions to be exactly what you want, and you’ve got to say this is okay, we’ll get something that will be very valuable, which is not what we’re used to doing. You have to acknowledge that […] some people will find some strange things that are not very useful, but you’ll also find the gem in there that enables you to go leaps and bounds beyond what you planned.
It’s very hard to convince other people to want to [relinquish control]. I’ve found especially when […] you know what you need out of the engagement already, so you really want it to fit into this into this little box […] We do have to think about […] REF and all sorts of other things. But it really is quite nice being able to relinquish some of the control as well, because then it allows for […] this partnership to be able to be established in this reciprocal relationship that can continue beyond what you’re actually doing.
We’ve had people come back to us and say, I know that you’re not doing these anymore but can you do this for our community? So, I’ve done a few sessions separately for different Pacific communities […] I think having the flexibility to be approachable […] All of the resources that were created […] are all now on the website and other museums around the world and projects are now looking towards those and using them as templates […] for how to engage further with their community. Having this online engagement really brought such a richer and a much more diverse conversation and audience and means of actually sharing our research findings.
I think we’re moving on to more of a multi-partner approach in engagement and away from my personal drive. Bringing together different organizations, […] we’ve had to give up control quite early on […] If we’re creating something for young people, we have to have them as part of the co-creation process [which will] make it a better outcome. It may take longer, and it might not be what we expected […] but what will emerge will be something that’s actually good for that community. They often know the area in a different way and that interface is really, really important. The young people have already come up with ideas that we would not have thought about, no matter how smart we all think we are. That co-created end product will gives them ownership and buy in.
They’re the people we’re delivering to, so they know what’s good for them. It’s about listening and trusting them.
How can you get involved in #UofGEngage?
If you are involved in engagement (from volunteering to collaborative research) and would like to share your experiences, please get in touch! You could write a blog, record a podcast, or attend #UofGEngage Forum events. Email Monique.email@example.com (CoSS) or firstname.lastname@example.org (UofG-wide).
I know from my own work, there’s a lot of people doing a lot of engagement work in the University so just to have a forum and the focal point for that is fantastic [Helen Mullen].