Engaging younger audiences with research on food in later life

April 12, 2016

In February and March this year, we ran two events targeted at disseminating and publicising our research about older people’s perceptions of the food system to much younger audiences.

The first of these events was as part of a University of Hertfordshire research showcase which held at the Hatfield Galleria. To make our research on food in later life resonate with the rather young audience we planned to have at the event, we designed a comic with short extracts from interviews with participants titled "What does it mean for our food habits when we age".





There were also a series of blank comic activity pages for young children to fill in; focusing on the challenges of growing food in later life, the use of kitchen technology and illness in later life as well.


The hands-on activities also included a ‘grow your own water cress’ activity; which went down a storm with parents and younger children and a food coloring session.


In the March event, we also took part in a crucial crew event for Year 9 pupils with six schools across Hertfordshire attending at the Fielder Centre Hatfield to hear about a range of service, opportunities and research being conducted at the University.


At our Food and Public Health research  stand, pupils were prompted to help us sketch some ideas about what their food futures would look like when they get older, as part of the development of a comic or graphic novel depicting food in later life. To stimulate interaction with the comic idea we employed a combination of texts, images and food ideas. The texts took the form of questions like ‘Will you cook’, How will we grow food?’, ‘what will food look and taste like?’ and ‘How will food be ‘delivered’. There was also a collage of images from our research showing the variety of ways participants in our study currently grew, cooked and had food delivered to them. We also offered a taster session featuring some astronaut ice cream-a glimpse perhaps of what our food futures might look like!!


We received a total of 39 ideas sketched on postcards that ranged from drone flying and Hover-board food delivery services, to holographic foods, robots cooking meals and designer foods in the form of pills etc. One particularly striking feature of the sketches was the prominence of technology and the absence of people, cooking and relationships in the future; only one pupil  drew herself cooking with her future future family and grandchildren in the frame. In the words of one of the pupils noted on a postcard:



“In the future it will be dull, because robots will be doing everything for you and you will just be sat there”


These events have challenged how we design the content, style and type of activities employed in engaging younger children. We learnt a valuable lesson from our interaction at these events that when it comes to disseminating research, the outputs of traditional research may hold little interest for much younger audiences. However by scaffolding and anchoring research on  kinds of interactive activity relating to one or two key messages of your research that  younger audiences can relate to, a different but useful kind of message is heard about what matters to younger audiences as a result of the kind of research we conduct.

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The project is a collaborative project by  the University of Hertfordshire between the Centre for Research in Public Health and Community Care and Hertfordshire Business school.