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Bath Matters: exploring issues of ageing

The Institute of Contemporary Interdisciplinary Arts and the Centre for Death & Society researchers reflect on engaging with a theatre company and the public.

Bath Matters was a pilot theatre-based evening event which used food and cooking to bring people together to explore the issues of ageing. Voluntary organisations, researchers, charities, and a public interest care home were all present.

Each participant was asked to bring an ingredient. The group then devised and cooked dishes collaboratively with the Unfinished Business theatre company hosting and curating the event. In this role, the company managed discussions and solicited thoughts, comments and questions.

This innovative format for gathering local stakeholders' thoughts and opinions on a shared issue of interest provides a fresh take on roundtable discussion events. A template has been devised for researchers who might wish to deliver a similar event; it includes costings that would be helpful as part of a Pathways to Impact statement.

The researchers

  • Martha King, Arts Assistant, ICIA
  • Dr Helen Featherstone, Head of Public Engagement

What we gained from the experience

This format created a 'level playing field' where everyone was able to bring their perspectives of the issue under discussion.

The researchers involved enjoyed the experience as it brought new people to the issue under discussion but felt it needed more focus:

'It was fun and very relaxing to cook and eat with a bunch of people, many of whom I did not know. I think as a process it worked in helping to develop local networks around a theme, helped those who already knew each other to meet up and catch up. I'm not sure though that the process worked in enabling us to progress the issues. I suspect too many questions and issues were aired and there wasn't any discussion as to what we wanted to achieve by the end of the evening?'

What our partners gained

Unfinished Business found it a very positive experience. The format was based on a previous production where the issues surfaced were shaped by the company. It was novel for Unfinished Business to be given a topic.

'We really enjoyed the event. After a fair few months away from the project, it felt reignited by this new context and the positive energy of the group. We're really excited by the possibility of continuing a collaboration with you in order to create events which bring together academics with non-academics to discuss pertinent issues.'

Other participants also enjoyed the format:

'What a great event which I really enjoyed and had several really interesting conversations. A great model for bringing people together.'

The questions raised by the group were seen as valuable. Participants commented that the technique modelled a real-world issue for the ageing population (healthy eating and social experiences) and this was valued.

What we'd do differently

Unfinished Business needed more time in direct conversation with a researcher to get to grips with the depth and breadth of the content. By coincidence the lead academic who was involved with the project at the beginning was on maternity leave at the time of developing the event.

Use a venue that was more appropriate. The venue (the Scout HQ in central Bath) was cold and had smoke alarms which couldn’t be switched off which made cooking rather risky.

Developing the questions more collaboratively and more rapidly would have helped the discussion get further in the time available.

Our tips for other researchers

We used an external event manager. Next time she suggested using an event system such as Eventbrite to take registrations.

Unfinished Business ran the event very skilfully and had fine-tuned their approach— this was apparent in the event and comments from participants. One example was that each person had a notebook. Participants used this to jot down thoughts and ideas. One person was observed writing an 'Ideas list'.

Keep to time—we started late and overran.

The basic format was valuable but needed a tighter focus and purpose. People valued the interaction but wanted to know, 'what next?'.

Contact us

If you want to discuss how you might engage publics in or with your research, the Public Engagement Unit can help.