Recent involvement in two health and wellbeing festivals in Hertfordshire provides the backdrop of this blog in which I reflect on the experience of promoting research to local communities .
Healthfest Welwyn Garden City (held on 13th June, 2015) and Healthfest Hatfield (held on September 12th 2015) were two recent festivals aimed to help raise awareness among local residents in Hertfordshire about the variety of things that contributed to being healthy, keeping well and feeling good.
Invited as exhibitors to take part in this exciting opportunity to engage the local community with our research, I went along with colleagues in the Food and Public Health Research Unit to the Heathfest event recently held in Hatfield to:
Promote the kind of research that the Food and Public Health Research unit was generally involved in
Recruit participants for focus groups and also raise awareness to would-be attendees about the planned exhibition phase of the OffSEt project planned for mid-2016, and
Obtain views from the local community about their own experiences of the food system
While the Welwyn Garden City Healthfest event held on a rainy Saturday in June (See gallery) , the Hatfield event held on a reasonably sunny Saturday in September – but both events were well attended.
And in the three hours or so that our stall was open to the public, the team got a sizeable response from the local community –some who had come to deliberately attend the festival and others who came out of curiosity, as they undertook other activities in the town centre.
What was on offer to the public?
Information leaflets about the kinds of research the unit was undertaking (around food provision in later life and a recently completed work on food in Schools), #FoodLaterLife embossed whiteboards to get members of the local community to interact with the researchers by sharing their own experiences of getting food via real-time photographs on twitter, a one-page survey to share concerns about issues in the food system and a fun quiz for everyone to take part in.
There were also some freebies in the form of stress balls, notepads, pens and pencils that the public could take away and lest I forget, some home-made cakes made by Wendy and Angela. There was also loads of support from colleagues at the University.
What worked well?
The photographed twitter session was a great way to engage both the young and old and proved useful to test wider beliefs about the local’s community perception of the food system.
Both the short survey, used to explore how well the local community agreed with some of initial findings of our research around food provisioning in the over 60s and a fun quiz (to guess the number of buttons in a jar to win a cookery book) were well received.
There was a winner for the quiz, who won a Paul Hollywood book, and the home-made cakes went down a treat for audiences of all ages and they were a wonderful conversation starter around food research!
What could be done differently in future festivals?
It was not very easy to recruit study participants on the spot to take part in a research using verbal cues or information leaflets alone to pass across the purpose of a project. In future festivals, perhaps the use of a one-page infographic depicting three key points that summarise a piece of research may be more suited for the kinds of passing traffic encountered at local festivals like this.
Both Healthfest events were a great way to meet local communities and promote research being undertaken at the University but it was also a useful way to see what potential fellow-exhibitors were doing and who could be potential points to network and collaborate with in the local community to create more impact with our research. However, it was often not easy to be attentive to managing both these kind of audiences in equal measure- so ensuring that the networking opportunities provided by a festival is fully utilised will be part of my subsequent plans in future events like this,
Tips I would give other researchers for promoting research at a local festival
Be clear on why a festival will benefit your research
Ensure your activities are creative and interactive and will engage different audiences
Make research findings simple and attention-grabbing
Have a mechanism of getting feedback/views off the audience (a quick survey or using social media is a great way to do this)
If you do nothing else, do have cakes (and their recipes) on offer as they can be very good conversation starters
Pictures Courtesy of Angela Dickinson and Faith Ikioda