“Financial decision makers don’t want stories. They want data to go in to their financial risk models”. So said a speaker at a meeting I attended in Brussels yesterday to launch a set of projects to provide climate services for Europe. I’m sure she’s right. If I’m going to walk in to a betting shop to put money on a horse and I don’t want to lose my stake, I should probably go through the door with a head full of data about the runners and riders rather than a head full of fanciful stories about jockeys and their steeds.
But then, in our over-heated and stuffy conference room as the first snows of winter settled on to the paving slabs of the courtyard outside, another project coordinator showed us why stories matter to the rest of us, at least when we’re not gambling. A French social scientist called Jean-Paul described his project by walking around the room with an imaginary butterfly net catching stories from the air. For the first time that afternoon everybody seemed to be paying full attention. He was rewarded for his efforts with the warmest applause of the afternoon.
Jean-Paul’s presentation helped me think about ways in which our locally sited Climate Stories initiative could have relevance to the wider world. Over in Brussels we heard lots about the need for narratives in public engagement. We were provided with training from public engagement specialists in getting our message across. Yet it was Jean-Paul who for me made the most interesting point of the day. He had designed a project, he told us, whose “procedural benefits” would outweigh any other benefits. For his project, it was capturing the process of bringing personal stories and scientific information together that mattered most, rather than the results of that process themselves.
In Climate Stories, we’re going to put pen to paper, finger to guitar, or hand to print making machine in order to create new stories. It’s a tremendously exciting prospect, not knowing what will happen. At the Climate Stories kick off meeting last week we had a fabulous time thinking about what we were going to do, planning out the road ahead and having fascinating conversations informed by very different disciplinary perspectives. The September 2018 event at which we will showcase the writing, theatre pieces, songs and pictures we’ve made promises to be an exhilarating evening.
Arguably though, it was the tricky issues of evaluation that got us most exercised at our Climate Stories kick off meeting. How do we capture the value of what we will achieve over the next year? How do we measure how we have changed from how we were at the start? How do we evaluate our project without resorting to gathering data that has little actual meaning? These are all questions that we wrestled with as we thought about trying to measure the success of our project.
We have plenty of ideas and our work will be informed by other projects funded under NERC’s Engaging Environments as we try to develop and implement “best practice” in this area of evaluation. But thinking back to that meeting in Brussels, maybe the most important thing we could do in evaluating Climate Stories is simply try to capture what’s happening in whatever ways seem to work for us. That could be the best way to document how artists, scientists and community groups in Devon have worked together to create new stories. We won’t have created data of any use to a financial analyst. But we will have created new narratives, stories about the creation of stories, that might mean something to people outside the county, or even outside the country. Interesting times lie ahead. And I think we’re going to need Jean-Paul’s butterfly net.
PI of Climate Stories