By s.godec, on 25 November 2021
‘Have fun because the possibilities in this are endless’: from Curious Researchers to future participants
This post was written by Amanda Colbourne, Participation Catalyst at We The Curious.
In 2017, We The Curious began a more purposeful journey to become more accessible, and representative of the city of Bristol. Thanks to funding from the Inspiring Science Fund, we embarked on an exhibition transformation, Project What If, based entirely on the questions asked by the people of Bristol. We knew our journey also needed to be informed by a deeper understanding of equity, a more participatory practice and new skills. The opportunity to become part of the Youth Equity and STEM (YESTEM) project couldn’t have been better timed for us.
We wanted to work with young people from excluded communities through the Curious Researcher project, building new relationships and approaches to support our engagement and reflection. We focused on developing our methodology for facilitating longer-term engagements and understanding how to embed equitable practice across the organisation.
For us, positioning and power-sharing were novel. Initially, it was scary to share power with young people and we were learning to trust and value their input. Shortlisting the publicly submitted questions for Project What If with the Curious Researchers to help create new exhibits was the first moment of trust for us and a pivotal moment in our development. Going through the experience once, and seeing the brilliant results of a more diverse input into our decision making, built our confidence to carry on the process with other partners, including ideas generation and prototyping.
On the whole, the Curious Researchers didn’t just give the learning for WHAT to do, but rather taught us that we needed to know more about this and showed us where there were gaps in our practice and systems. Working with a longer-term process gave us more time to listen and reflect and build relationships through trust.
For us, the learning from not just Curious Researchers but the wider YESTEM research-practice partnership has influenced policy change to support how we create more equitable relationships within our programming. For example, we have developed rationales and policies for the payment of a living wage to young people for their contributions. Equitable recruitment policies are also now being worked on for young people in programmes, i.e., we seek to involve not just those who are most confident or who get picked by their teachers. We are exploring ideas such as sharing any interview questions beforehand, trying to adjust the language around roles and how we communicate opportunities and who with, including audio and video formats. With further plans to develop in this area, these ideas are moving from youth projects into organisational HR strategy and culture.
Being part of YESTEM meant being part of a research partnership with three other sites in the UK and four sites in the US. This breadth of practice in very different settings was invaluable, and we could draw on the other partners’ experiences as well as the research findings. This is particularly useful, as we have developed our own practice through a very specific model, but longer-term, we need to draw on best equitable practice from a wider range of engagement models. We have also been able to develop institutional memory around working with schools and young people in historically excluded communities, understanding that these relationships take more time, more effort and totally different ways of working.
We are now exploring how to use the Equity Compass in a range of ways across the organisation as a reflective tool, not just to help frame our young people’s programming, but to embed thinking about equity into all our work.
For more details about how We The Curious has been developing its participatory practice as part of partnering with the YESTEM project, see this short film.