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Monday, 7 December 2015

De-coding Gender in the Media - schools workshop

Natalie Jester reflects on her experiences of designing and delivering the Gender Research Centre's workshop for local A Level students

What we did
When the call for proposals for the ESRC-sponsored Thinking Futures Festival went out in 2014, the request for events targeted at ‘new audiences’ using ‘different engagement methods’ caught my eye. I liked the idea of running an academic workshop with local school pupils, so I suggested it to fellow members of the SPAIS Gender Research Centre, and it was adopted as one of our centre’s proposals. I co-wrote the successful application with Professor Jutta Weldes, and we held our first Decoding Gender in the Media workshop in November 2014 with Thinking Futures and the Schools University Partnership Initiative, supported by Chloe Anderson. We felt that it went well, so we applied to run the same workshop again in 2015, and it took place in early November.

A Level students involved in the De-coding Gender workshop
Why we did it
When I first had the idea for this workshop in 2014, one of the main things in my mind was this idea of ‘new audiences.’ I really enjoy engaging with young people, although I didn’t have much experience of it before our first workshop in 2014. It is a horrible cliché, but young people really are the future. They are the ones who will be producing our culture, running our government and our schools, so the way in which they make sense of the world really does matter.

Teenagers are also in that difficult space between childhood and adulthood, where they are trying to figure out who they are. I remember being that age myself and having terrible body image problems, so part of the motivation for running this workshop was to give young people the tools with which they could deconstruct the media and say precisely why it was rubbish. With tablets and mobile phones making the media accessible 24/7, this is even more important than ever.

We also have a selfish motivation for running this workshop: both Jutta and I really enjoy doing it. As much work (and if I’m honest, stress) as it has been, seeing all the groups pulling apart the media resources and then presenting their interesting findings made it all worth it. The students genuinely seemed to enjoy the workshop, too, which was also important for us as organisers.        

Students present their findings to the rest of the group
Lessons learned
Running this workshop two years in a row has taught me many lessons, chiefly that nothing ever goes entirely to plan, and you just have to be prepared to deal with that on the day. If you expect traffic problems, illness, and to forget something you needed, you won’t feel so worried when one of those things inevitably happens; just improvise. Forgotten your name labels? Use post-it notes with sticky tape. Forgotten your camera? Find someone with a good camera phone and use that. Secondly, I cannot stress enough the importance of working with other people, specifically a team of people you know you can rely on. Working on your own is more work, less fun and more of a risk because if you are ill on the day there is no one else to step in; a team is always better. Thirdly, everything requires more work than you think it will, even the second time around, so start preparing early. This is even more important because it mitigates the problems if something more serious goes wrong. Finally, schools are not the easiest organisations to work with, because they are so large and under pressure to hit targets, so you should expect not to receive replies to all emails, and for some people to drop out near/on the day. This is not something to be taken personally, but simply one of the few down sides of working with complex organisations.

Creating the visuals for the presentations - what would we have done without Post-It notes?!

Thinking beyond the day itself
There are many benefits to running an event that happens more than once. Organising this year’s workshop was a slightly different experience than last year’s, largely because we already knew what to expect. In 2014, for example, bad traffic delayed our participants by 20 minutes, so this year we opted for a later start to minimise the impact of rush-hour traffic (although they arrived half an hour early this time!). Running the same workshop two years in a row also enabled us to take advantage of sunk costs; we spent a lot of time on handouts detailing the key concepts of a gender/media analysis, so we tweaked our 2014 version rather than needing to make something new.

Running a recurring event allows you to build relationships, whether that’s with schools, organisations, (e.g. SUPI) or festivals (e.g. Thinking Futures). I personally have really enjoyed working with the same people over time, and opportunities can arise through these contacts if you think beyond the one day your event takes place. After creating this material in 2014, and gaining confidence delivering it, I have used it to: deliver a talk to Red Maids’ school conference (they sent students to our 2014 workshop), run a seminar for Access to Bristol and write an article for a young people’s magazine. I am already (!) in touch with one of the participating schools about doing a seminar for students unable to attend the workshop. All of these opportunities stemmed from the first event we did, which goes to show that thinking beyond the day itself only makes these events more rewarding. 

Nat Jester is a PhD student at the SPAIS Gender Research Centre. Her PhD examines how UK state identity is constructed in online British media representations of the conflict in Libya. Drawing on David Campbell's work Writing Security, she examines the way identities are sculpted around external threats, paying special attention to gendered-Orientalist tropes. 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Being the bad guy: My experience as a Shell delegate at a mock climate change negotiation

On the 12th November, the delegates gathered for UNFCCC COP 15 "Climate Change Negotiations: What would you do?" An event that formed part of the Thinking Futures Festival this year. 

Royal Dutch Shell took their seats in the centre of the room. As a global powerhouse for the private energy sector not afraid to wield their lobbying muscle, many eyes were trained on them below eyebrows of cynicism that made clear how the company’s position at the high table of one equal vote was seen.
Players in the Climate Change Negotiations event
As the facilitator of this group, it was my job to guide a group of A-Level students from across Bristol through a set of mock negotiations on a range of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. To make matters even worse, we had to do this as a multinational oil company that specialises in attracting suspicion and doubt. This blog is a reflection on my day – I cannot comment on the other groups and their negotiations. I do know that Greenpeace stormed out of negotiations after 10 minutes (to later return – when told to) and Brazil, Sweden and Russia all seized the microphone from the chairs of the session. Under other group’s distrustful gaze, preparations began tentatively as the three Shell negotiators brought in from Nailsea School Sixth Form began to set out their positions on the five resolutions and plan their strategies for the three rounds of bilateral negotiations, thinking carefully about the other parties’ positions and how they could be pulled away from them.
Groups set out their position on the five resolutions 
Our first negotiation was with the International Work Group of Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) representing indigenous peoples across the world. Perhaps needless to say, there was not a great deal of common ground. The IWGIA have little control of land or resources and therefore not a lot to bargain with. With negotiation being at first hesitant as everyone settled into their roles, and also relying on appeals to morality or promises with no way of holding anyone to account, neither side was prepared to firmly shake hands on a deal. There were other negotiating partners to come, and ones that would prove more tractable, particularly as the Shell delegates polished their negotiation skills.

Next up was Ethiopia, and Shell’s toughest negotiating partner of the afternoon, with both sides reluctant to give too much away too soon. Propositions went back and forth with constant consultations between the two negotiation teams. Eventually, as the time of the session came near to an end, a voting deal was done with a handshake. Shell had done well; a trade on keeping the Arctic open for what was a compromising, but not disagreeable, vote from Shell on the protection of climate refugees.
Ethiopia: Shell's toughest negotiator!
The final round of formal negotiations saw Shell talking to Brazil, which had promised to be the most fruitful meeting of the day – depending on how much they had already been tied into. With Shell’s negotiating team now in full flow and putting on a tactical masterclass, a deal was quickly formalised with no real concession on their part. As negotiations began to come to a close they fought hard for a further deal, which would have seen Brazil renege on an earlier deal they had made with Greenpeace. Shell’s argument that Greenpeace’s more militant-activist tactics had invalidated the formal agreement fell on receptive ears, but the integrity of the agreement process was upheld when they finally held firm to their previous pledge, even with the threat of pulling all business out of the country.

And the final three minutes meant free-roaming negotiations and last-minute deals. The room was buzzing as now was the time to shore up some multilateral bloc voting agreements in a final attempt to get favourable resolutions passed in the final vote. Shell, the corporate power house, reached quick backroom agreements with political and economic powers the USA, Russia and China, in a final attempt to ensure that the logic of the market and the multiplier effect would prevail for the benefit of all, even if they wouldn’t see it.

Following a break for lunch it was time for to vote; five resolutions to determine a global strategy for how the world’s resources, environment and the people affected by it, would be managed for years to come. The negotiating teams waited and voted patiently, assessing the room with each show of hands to see how the vote was going whilst justifying their various positions.
Voting on the five resolutions
Whatever it may auger for COP21 in Paris starting at the end of the month, on all five resolutions the one which promises the most for addressing environmental degradation was passed. Even Shell, with a fairly free vote on one resolution, voted in a way which raised eyebrows in the room again, although this time out of pleasant surprise rather than suspicion.

The resolutions passed by this group of students have resulted in a climate change agreement that sees: all countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050; a global fund of $100 billion for at risk countries by 2025; the protection of all climate refugees; the protection of the forests under a REDD-style scheme; and the end of exploration of the Arctic for fossil fuel supplies. On final reflection it was a great day; an exercise in critical, lateral and creative thinking, in empathy, in dirty dealing, strategising to maximise interests, in bargaining and compromise. Shell had not seen a single one of their preferred positions on the resolutions passed; the best they took away was a second preference on one resolution.

That wasn’t evidence of a lack of skill on the part of Shell’s negotiators but, above all, about bringing some hope and solidarity to the table. This hope was secretly shared by the Shell delegates as they thought about the future of the environment and their role as part of the global powers responsible.
Backwell School students pose with Sir Winston Churchill, former Chancellor of the University of Bristol
This blog was written by Thomas Sealy, first year PhD Sociology student and one of the facilitators at the Climate Change Negotiations event.

If you're interested in running a schools event like this, the Public Engagement team can help advise and support.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Bridge Learning Campus visit to ENHS

Mark Edwards
Recently a group of Year 8 students from Bridge Learning Campus spent the day with staff in the centre for Exercise, Nutrition, and Health Sciences. Two of the girls (Amy Manning and Jess Martin) were winner and runner-up respectively of the Bristol Bright Night (Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds) award. As part of their prize Mark Edwards (ENHS) and Chloe Anderson (Public Engagement) arranged for the girls to visit the health-focused Centre. Mark reflects here on the fun and insightful day that ENHS spent with the girls.

Five girls, accompanied by their Science teacher, Ms Williams, spent the day learning about the research we do and gave us some great insights into the barriers they face to being physically active. Almost all of our work into physical activity is assessed by accelerometers (which give a sophisticated measure of physical activity). Byron Tibbitts from ENHS offered a tour de force of the little red device we use to measure activity. In true Blue Peter fashion, the girls made a rudimentary accelerometer and then did their own mini controlled trial with the real things! The girls not only conducted the experiment with Byron, but then went on to analyse and interpret the data too.

Next up, Emma Solomon, Bex Newell and Rosina Cross (the B-Proac1v team) taught the girls all about blood pressure (a measure used in the BHF-funded study into young children’s physical activity). The girls confirmed our hypotheses that music and physical activity both affect blood pressure levels.

Finally, Kate Banfield built on the work we do in our FAB Kids outreach project to discuss sugar content in drinks. In an illuminating study, the girls were genuinely shocked to see the amount of sugar in drinks commonly consumed by people their age.diagram

After a great lunch in the Refectory we headed back to have a roundtable discussion on the barriers girls face to being physically active. The declining physical activity levels of female adolescents is a real public health concern (and the focus of the Acitve7 and PLAN-A studies), so this gave staff in ENHS a great opportunity to hear about the issues girls face. Mark Edwards and Sarah Harding led the discussion and were hugely impressed with the candid and insightful observations the girls made.

The final part of the day was always going to be the most nerve racking for the girls. But they excelled. Speaking to a room packed full of academics – scary for even a seasoned prof! – the girls gave a brief presentation on what they learnt throughout the day, with a wonderful practical example of how accelerometers work. The girls then spoke about the barriers they face to being active and presented some possible solutions for getting around them. The key messages we heard were that physical activities need to be FUN! There also needs to be the opportunity for girls-only activity, a chance to try new activities in a welcoming arena, and girls want to dress in whatever they feel comfortable. In making our research effective and getting it to truly speak to the people it is aimed at, it is vital we hear the voices of the girls.

It was a pleasure having the Bridge Learning Campus girls and Ms Williams come in – the girls did themselves, their teachers, and the school proud. We hope that they not only learnt some interesting things about physical activity but also had a good deal of fun too. None of the girls knew anybody who had been to university, and none of them had ever visited a university before. We hope to have inspired them to consider university as a viable option for them when they begin thinking about their future beyond secondary school.

Due to the success of the day, we hope to work with the Public Engagement team to make this an annual event.

This blog has been reposted with kind permission from the School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol