Sarah Higginson reflects on our new CREDS in conversation podcast series
The objectives of CREDS relate to energy use in the UK, but we are interested in learning from international experience. To do this, we have tried two novel approaches.
The first (our VIP programme) invited visitors from across the world to visit CREDS institutions and elicited good interest. Unfortunately, however, Covid meant an international visitors’ programme was ill fated, although a few people have visited. Instead, we developed a new strategy: to develop a year-long series of content using innovative online formats, the aim of which was to showcase internationally leading CREDS research and to exchange knowledge in conversation with an international audience and, if possible, in collaboration with other UK-based consortia.
In practice, this turned into a series of webinars with associated podcasts, which have just been released as a series.
There were a number of reasons this seemed like a good idea:
- podcasts are more engaging than a report or event recording
- they can feature international colleagues
- they are available across time-zones, one of the challenges of running live, online international events
- they are also a relatively new medium and something CREDS had never tried before.
This blog reflects on the process and what we learned.
One of the first things we needed was technical support. Sarah had recently done a podcast for UKERC on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)Opens in a new tab and had enjoyed working with Conor Drum, who has now set up his own business called PodrightOpens in a new tab (an impact arising out of this work). He uses a platform called Zencastr which allows him to do all the technical wizardry required, such as modifying sound levels, but which is very easy for guests as it feels very similar to a Zoom or Teams call (with the great advantage that mistakes can be re-recorded!). He also provided handy hints for people recording podcasts, such as finding a quiet place with a secure internet connection and making sure your mic works.
Just as important as these technical considerations was the advice to adopt a conversational tone, to prepare beforehand but not to read one’s notes as this carries through in the voice, and to assume the audience is unfamiliar with one’s subject (so avoid jargon and don’t assume prior knowledge). Most importantly, the conversation should be enjoyable – if the participants enjoy it, the chances are the audience will too.
As part of the preparation, we developed questions to help our participants think about what they would say. Our podcasts followed directly on from webinars and so our participants were already very familiar with the subject and the other participants views on it, but the audience and means of delivery for the podcasts was very different. Academic-type presentations don’t work in a podcast format.
The questions therefore covered:
- a basic introduction to the subject (2 minutes for each person)
- why it was important (during which participants might start to interact with each other a little more)
- how this related to energy demand and energy policy (keeping it light!)
- how the different ideas presented related to each other (similarities, differences, drawn out by the moderator)
- how we could increase the influence of this work (including what the speakers might do if they were all powerful)
- how listeners might be able to make a difference themselves.
Keeping it small
Podcasts shouldn’t involve too many people. In our case we tended to have the moderator and around three experts, including at least one person from CREDS talking about an area of internationally-leading research, and at least one person from another country. They shouldn’t be too long – half an hour is about perfect, though ours vary quite widely in length.
Getting it out there
We also had to think about the promotion of this work. We started by trying to find fairly punchy titles and interesting speakers, for whom we created impressive-sounding blurbs. The webinars the podcasts relate to were advertised using Eventbrite, emails and Twitter and happened over a number of months. For these, we worked to expand our stakeholder map beyond the UK by plugging into other international networks like the European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (eceee)Opens in a new tab, International Energy Agency (IEA)Opens in a new tab, Hot or Cool InstituteOpens in a new tab, Climate Change Committee (CCC)Opens in a new tab and Climate Compatible Growth (CCG)Opens in a new tab. We also promoted them through our own Energy Demand Research Network (EDRN) and around twelve other UK-based energy consortia, asking them to promote more widely.
The promotion of the podcasts was handled differently, and they have just been packaged and released as a series. This involved hiring a voice-over artist to introduce and finish each one, developing a graphic to represent the series, uploading them onto anchor.fmOpens in a new tab and promoting via social media and digital newsletters. As such, although we featured three very different areas, the package as a whole has a unified feel.
Embrace the diversity of subjects and speakers
In terms of the subject matter, we asked our themes to tell us what they wanted to do, taking a bottom-up, rather than a strategic approach to the content. This means the podcasts vary widely in scope, rather than being thematically linked, which might have been another way to produce a unified feel in a series. However, this approach allowed us to co-create the podcasts alongside our CREDS colleagues and the partners they involved from other countries. In two cases, this actually meant promoting the reports of other organisations, though our researchers had contributed to them.
Although this is not as well represented in the podcasts as it was in the webinars, we tried to promote diversity in our speakers as much as possible, not just in terms of country but also demographic characteristics.
- For Price Elasticity on Energy Demand, our Professor Jacopo Torriti and Dr José Luis Ramírez talk to Professor Anna AlberiniOpens in a new tab from the United States.
- On Realistically Radical Policy Options, myself and our international visitor, Professor Yael Parag from Israel, spoke to Dr Stuart CapstickOpens in a new tab from Cardiff, Dr Yamina SahebOpens in a new tab from Paris and Dr Magnus BengtssonOpens in a new tab in Japan.
- Finally, in Digitalisation for people and the planet, myself and CREDS Professors Tim Foxon and Tim Schwanen spoke to Dr Steffen LangeOpens in a new tab from Germany.
In reflecting on this experiment, more time to hone our approach and draw the podcasts together more tightly would have helped but, at this stage of the consortium, this was not possible. It is possible that we academics also still have a way to go in learning to speak to more public audiences – the subject matter and tone of the podcasts is still quite serious and reasonably dry if one is not steeped in the academic tradition. Nevertheless, we are happy to have taken an innovative approach to this work and are proud of the outcome. We hope you will consider popping on a podcast whilst you prepare your dinner or take a walk and, if you are interested in contacting us about the tools we used and lessons we learned, please do get in touch.
Banner photo credit: FPVmat A on Unsplash