As part of Phase 2 of the LITEbox/TDF project ‘The role of technologies when connecting students with external publics’, I found myself on a train to Telford with team leader Jess Francombe-Webb and Ed Stevens from the Public Engagement Unit. We were meeting with Cath Bonner, an external public engagement mapping expert, at the Ironbridge Gorge museum. Cath had previously worked with the museum to produce a mapping tool for their visitors, so it was the perfect location to inspire us to produce our own map of our project so far.
As mentioned in a previous blog post, Phase 1 of the project involved identifying and mapping examples of how academics across the University are using technology to connect their students to external publics. Not only was Cath going to help us map these findings, but she will also host a webinar as part of Phase 2; a series of workshops to showcase the best practices we have unearthed across the University.
On the train journey to Telford, we completed several tasks Cath had set us. The tasks inspired us to begin thinking about the project and the data we have collected so far in different ways, for example by creating a metaphor and a cultural web for our data. After going through the work we had produced, Cath asked us what we instinctually felt would be the best way to map our findings. It became apparent that the tasks had highlighted many different aspects of the project, and that mapping the depth and scope of the project on a single, simple-to-navigate map was going to be a challenge.
We were able to break down our findings into four stages: why, who, what, and how; each influenced by the process that came before. Once we had established these stages, we needed to produce a visual representation on which to map them. Thinking about Bath landmarks, and what in particular makes the University of Bath stand out, we decided to base our map around the town, the University, and the hill that connects the two. Starting at the bottom, we embedded our different motivations (the ‘whys’) in the River Avon, toying with the slogan ‘have you dipped your toes in the water?’ Travelling up the hill are questions relating to the ‘who’ and the ‘what’- providing users with some things to think about when generating a new public engagement project. At the top of the hill sits the University. Connecting the town to the University by way of the hill is a transformed version of the public engagement pyramid. The three points- transmit, receive, and collaborate- are instead presented on an infinity symbol. Transmit is located in town, representing academics visiting publics to transmit their knowledge. Receive is located at the University, representing inviting publics to the University to pass on their knowledge and experiences to the receiving students. Finally, collaborate is located at the midpoint on the hill- halfway between the town and the University- to represent collaborative working in which both publics and academics contribute their knowledge and expertise. At each point we plan to embed our case studies, representing good practice of each type of technology-facilitated public engagement in teaching here at the University of Bath.
Our time with Cath was extremely useful in getting us to think about the project in different ways. Although the initial purpose was to map our findings in a more creative way, we are so pleased with what we have produced that we are hoping to develop it further into an unexpected but additional output of the project. Funding dependent, we are hoping to develop the ‘map’ into a self-diagnostic tool to help staff and students identify where their previous experiences with public engagement place them, and to guide them through the thought process underlying the development of new ideas for engaging students with external publics using technologies.
Cath Bonner: Training Manager at Ax-Stream
UXD Consultants and Approved Axure Training & Support Partner