Am I an expert?

No, not at all, but I’ve got a few things I can share. And thanks to this blog the amazing Tseen Kho asked me to share what I know about translating and communicating your research with a group of Early Career Researchers, in Australia anywhere from 1 – 5 years post PhD.

It was a one-hour session during a three day intensive to develop researchers at La Trobe, a great initiative.

Why, and how to translate your research for a non-academic audience. Aimed at post doc researchers at La Trobe University thinking about a public profile. References tools only available to La Trobe staff.

It was the graveyard shift, 3 – 4pm they had already had a tough day. I got some feedback afterwards, and the best insights came from my cousin Jack (Jackington Dietrich). He teaches kids outdoor skills. He said he tries to constantly remember ‘why are they here’. I did not do that.

It’s my first time doing this, I was trying a bit too hard to convince people I knew what I was talking about. ‘Story is your friend’ I would have advised myself If I had the benefit of a time machine. Here are some other things I would have told myself: ‘tell them how it’s going to be’, ‘connect using a story they can relate to’, ‘tell them about a time you did something wrong, and what you learnt’. ‘focus on one thing and get them to think it through’.

I enjoyed it, I think the slides are good. I want to do it again, better.

How was your 2018?

I’ve had the pleasure of gathering content for and laying out three annual reports this year. Here are some observations about the process. And why the most important thing is that they exist.

From the Left, The Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, La Trobe Sports and Excercise Medicine Research Centre and The Living with Disability Research Centre, all at La Trobe University, Melbourne Australia.

It’s the sum of a whole years work. It’s one in a series, its the product of a team, it’s a physical manifestation of sometimes pretty intangible collective activity.

It’s a physical signifier of intellectual reputation and achievement. So many things. And its a ton of work for the people who have done the work to remember, recap and remind the team what they did, how many people were there and where they put the photos they swore they took.

My opinion is it’s best to separate the layout and the content. The designer becomes blind to the content and vice versa, having one person check the other’s work is the best way to get a good report.

Figuring out the story you want to tell beforehand is a good dream, but that’s hard for a lot of research teams new to creating an annual report.

Photos are important as well, alcohol and disability are two very hard subjects to summarise easily in photos. For alcohol, we ended up looking for the things around alcohol, bars, glasses, bottles, rather than risk glamorising alcohol, which I fully realise now is a poison and should be treated as such.

Disability is hard too, treating it like any other modelling shoot was the best thing the photographer that was commissioned to do the shoot could have done, and did do, long before my time, the images are starting to look a bit stale now though.

It will take longer than you think, involve more people than you think and need a lot more editing that you think. Even if you just use the same format as last year. The message from the director has to agree with the project descriptions, the summary of income has to agree with the detailed list of income.

Two of these used infographics, both well I think and this is an area that can benefit from infographics.

The most common feedback I get is ‘looks really good’. They have many audiences, and many functions, being nice to look at, reassuring and interesting, coherent and consistent is the baseline, anything above that is showing off, not a very Australian thing to do. The hard work is doing what goes into them, they should be a celebration, but they are a summary, of a lot of work, and putting it all together in one place is an act of pride, and those that have anything to do with them should be proud.

Your story belongs to your audience.

Doug Lipman, in his excellent book, ‘Improve your storytelling’ talks about the storytelling triangle. You, the storyteller, ∇ the audience ∇ and the story ∇, the only relationship you don’t control is the relationship the audience has to the story.

We’re always talking about modifying our stories for the audience, here’s how I do it, and my take on why.

I’ll use a story from when I worked at a disability day centre in Scotland, Edinburgh but hopefully the principles apply to lots of other stories, and will hopefully allow me to demonstrate how Doug Limpan understands the rules, of course I don’t control your relationship to Doug Lipman, treasured oracle, or nemesis, or indifferant obliviousness.

The facts, the who, what, where and when remains the same. The angle you lead with changes. The result changes, the achievement changes and what the story gives to the audience changes.

So the facts. Of all the options available to young people who have learning or physical disabilities when they exit the Special School System the Upward Mobility day centre works well for a lot of them. We are positive about achievements, abilities and fun, we use the arts and wellbeing workshops to build meaningful opportunities, this works great for the students -not residents, or inmates, or customers – students, there to learn. We see young people blossom, become confident, achieve things and have lives, the absence of which is a very real possibility for those that do not make it into places like UPMO.

Those are the facts, people come to UPMO, they change, they move on or stay with us. That change takes years, or months, is slow, imperceptible except to the people who work with our students.

So, what do we lead with when we tell this story to different audiences? I feel like I could be exposing myself as the calculating mastermind but here goes.

When telling this story to;

Potential Parents (normally the payers):

The student is the hero, we talk about success stories, about other students who have transformed themselves and progressed towards their achievements. It’s a hero’s journey, and the person the parent cares about most is the hero, we are the mentors, the shadows.

Funders:

We talk about the student body as a population, we might zoom in to a story, but we zoom quickly out to talk about a poulation, who are whatever % of the poeple they see around them, we talk about the funding picture, we talk about outcomes, we talk about graduates, destinations. 
We are struggling against a tough system, inviting them to be the heros in the journey of the individuals we paint the picure of. 

Social Workers (refferers):

We talk about the activities, the support staff, how they are different, skilled, creative caring, how we go above and beyond for our students, how we work well with the stakeholders involved, funders, allied health, parents. How our world class information system focuses on students, and helps them do their jobs better and help people. something we have in common.

Same stories, different heros, different goals. Different endings. Different calls to action. 

Tell me your story – and did they!

Paralympians, musicians, writers, artists, performers. They have the best stories, and I had the great privilege to shepherd a few dozen of them into the wider world recently. I pitched a Story Telling booth the conference committee of the Australasian Society for Intellectual Disability. Their tagline is ‘research to practice’ and they involve people with lived experience of intellectual disability in research as much as is possible.

Ben behind a desk with a microphone on his hand, a banner on the table reads ' tell us your story'I focused on Self Advocates, but the amazing Sophia Tipping gathered vox pops, and talked to keynote speakers. It will all be going into the ASID podcast (subscribe anywhere you find good podcasts).

It was a lot of work, but very good fun, the ASID board were super supportive and I would do it again at the drop of a hat.

Who has stories that you are not listening to?

How to teach grant writing.

No to Venn diagrams, icebergs, or onions!

No to Venn diagrams, icebergs, or onions!

Someone gave me cause to think about how I would teach what I know about grant writing  today. I’ve sat on the other side of the desk plenty of times and been given lots to think about by some great teacher. I also think I have an approach that can help your application stand out. Make a case and leave a mark.

The people in the class have to be prompted to think through the problems from their own point of view. I’m not sure how you would do that just yet. It could be through some grant giver/grant seeker role play, a dragon’s den pitch session, all verbal probably. If you can say it, you can write it. And it would help get away from ten dollar words that are dull and boring to read.

Obviously, you need to do some work on the donor knowledge gap and opening your eyes to the assumptions we all make when we tell our own stories.

After that it’s just decoding inputs, outputs, outcomes and budgets.

Should be a blast!

the reason for it all…

“If you’re trying to persuade someone to make a decision – in this case, a donation – you depend on emotion. We make decisions with our feelings, then rationalize that choice.

That’s why logical arguments will fall flat when a moving story will work.”

– http://mcahalane.com/why-empathy-is-key-to-great-fundraising/

The vital century

My paternal Grandfather was a conscientious objector during the war, my maternal Grandfather a decorated war hero. Neither of them spoke about their experiences. To my mind either course of action takes courage.

My paternal Grandfather, John, was good with his hands, and wore brylcreem. He spent the war hiding in the hills of the Yorkshire dales, away from his wife and young family. He worked at a bakery making bread in the early hours to get by. He phoned my Grandmother through a friendly telephone exchange operator to keep in touch. After the war he worked in quarries, handling dynamite. He was a health and safety inspector in a paper factory. He never talked about having friends, or his time during the war. I learnt about it from my parents.

John also cycled a lot, with a group of Yorkshire dales riders. Weekend long trips among the hills, out to a B&B and back again on Sunday. Over a hundred miles sometimes. Wool trousers and leather boots to ride in, cagoules when they became cheap enough to buy.

I like to think my grandfather found refuge in a group of people who didn’t judge him for his actions during the war and found quiet peace in nature and the shared achievement of cycling a hundred miles in a day. I admire the resolve he had in staying where people knew him and working the jobs he did. It can’t have been easy, and makes every smile I saw him crack that much more precious.

When I’m out with my cycling friends that’s what I think about. Courage, sacrifice and doing just enough for yourself to make the rest of life bearable.

When I found out my own father cycled 100 miles from Grimsby to Keighley during the courtship of my mother, I had to try and continue the legacy.  Took a while to get there, but I did it last year. Thanks go to Chris at Bike Craft Edinburgh for helping out.

Not super clear, but the digits at the bottom are that trip in miles, it reads 100!

WP_20141005_003

I had bought the t-shirt months earlier, I took it out of it’s packagin and I swear I had not worn it before I did the distance.

me, wearing a t-shirt that says "100 miles done" because I did.

me, wearing a t-shirt that says “100 miles done” because I did.

How simple should you make your story?

Tyler Cowen TED

I saw an interesting TED talk yesterday, Tyler Cowen of the blog Marginal Revolution among many other perhaps more important things. Cautioning against trusting simple stories, that complexity is our nature especially in this world. This made me think about some of the stories the non profits I’ve worked for have to tell. They are complex stories, and in making them simple you definitely have to leave things out, important things. But when it comes down to the problems we as a sector have they are nearly always problems with human faces and solutions of all kinds. Problems and solutions.

If you focus on the human face of the problem that whatever complex set of social, natural political has created you focus on the effect, neatly sidestepping the need for the complex circumstances that created that human problem.

The solution on the other hand can be complex, and will probably be hard. But the outcome, the change you want to see in the world, again will probably be simple. More of this, better that, less occurrence of something. If you can establish legitimacy and expertise in the solution, you can leave that ‘black box’ or point to a theme, or a risk area, or a pilot that worked well, and shortcut to the human face of the problem and the human face of the solution. Our stories need to be simple to be memorable, but stick to the problem and outcomes and we can avoid the need to confuse our audience with the complexities that take us most of our work.

Telling YOUR story better.

So you do something you are passionate about. Congrats. Getting there probably taught you that very little gets done on your own. So how do you get others onto your train? Telling your own story so others see your passion is a vital skill for every artist, maker and person who needs to work with others. Dictators, Cult leaders, Non profit CEO’s etc.

This was the draw for the artists, makers and creative professionals who work in the Edinburgh Palette building to come to a workshop I organised in December last year (2014). I work charities, one at a time, in jobs. I get in depth with all the aspects of an organisation; projects, services, people and above all the changes that group of people want to see in the world. But that’s one story per job, so helping more people with their story was my motivation.

In the end three professionals, David, Vittoria and Jan spent a day with me pinning down the specifics of their stories that they could use in their work. In the morning we went through the basics of story, why it’s so powerful, why, when told right, it sticks with people through their whole lives and some of the secrets to powerful stories.

Then all three workshop participants talked about themselves at length, what torture. Together we came up with the short version of what they do and an arresting reason why. Three images stick with me:

  1. David playing in his fathers glass shop, hiding in the inverted V between the stacks of blue green glass, looking into the infinite reflections.
  2. Vittoria and her collections of objects, 3 dozen brass candlesticks and hundreds of other multiples stacked in piles around her seaside home.
  3. Jan talking about felt, has to be seen to be remembered.

I made them practice telling their story to me, repeatedly. I asked them to tell it like they meant it, so it sounded natural. It wasn’t easy and it will take practice, but they will be better able to convincingly portray their vision and where it came from. The next step is finding the right people to tell those convincing stories to. I wish I could help with that.

Three participants and Ben Pawson sitting in a circle chatting.

Just four people getting to the bottom of the puzzling mysteries of story!

 

Why don’t charities tell more stories?

I know why we don’t tell more stories.

Because we have lost the understanding of how powerful stories are. And we’re afraid of being vulnerable, and afraid of sharing the connectedness that telling stories exposes us to.

Let me explain, with a story.

What did your father do in the war has, for my generation, been replaced with what did your Grandfather do in the war. Like most people I’ve got two, both now deceased. They both had two very different war stories, one hated publicly one not given the heroes welcome he was expecting. Much to my disappointment I never heard their stories from them, I gleaned little pieces of history from other family members.

Stories from our family give us meaning, help figure out who we are and where we come from. Maybe we don’t share them often, and especially publicly, because they are precious and important to us, how long do you have know someone before you tell them about the patent fraud criminal in the family (I’ve still not told many people that one).

her’s hoping I can help people reassess the value of their stories, for themselves and for others. When you share something like that you create a bond that is not easily broken.