Storytelling is an innate human need. It is how we make sense of our lives and plan out our futures. Yet too often the public is expected to engage with environmental topics like climate change in a way that runs counter to that inner narrative drive. Facts and graphs act as barriers rather than enablers to understanding. The vitally important story of climate change becomes a closed book, giving those with an interest in denying the science and its implications a space to operate unchallenged. Citizens become disillusioned and disenfranchised, unable to grapple with a problem that affects all our futures.

To overcome these barriers to mutual understanding and positive engagement The Climate Stories project provides a new model for public engagement that breaks down these barriers to mutual understanding and positive engagement. It brings climate scientists together with arts practitioners for whom story-telling lies in their professional DNA. Working collaboratively with communities and artists in theatre, poetry, music, and printmaking we are unlocking the creative potential of the people involved to elaborate effective and empowering narratives of change and mutual understanding.

Our consortium brings together a group of expert practitioners across disciplinary boundaries with a proven track record of creative public engagement and outreach capabilities. We are also gathering the evidence and assessing the capabilities of the new model of engagement that we are co-developing with community groups. While our activities are Devon based, our consortium is well placed through its project partners to develop a wider programme of activities at a national or international level.

Objectives and beneficiaries

To equip a cohort of volunteer climate scientists with storytelling skills through an intensive workshop led by arts practitioners, exploring alternative methods of storytelling.

To work with a diverse range of community groups over the course of a year to co-develop new stories about climate change with our newly skilled cohort of climate scientists.

To provide a legacy in the form of curated materials, including a published book of writing, online resources for information and debate and archived materials including recordings and animations, as well as an innovative contribution to the ongoing debate about the communication of science through the publication of project insights in peer-reviewed publications and a final project report.

To analyze and evaluate the progress of this engagement in order to inform the development of a wider programme of activities internationally.

Strong points of the solution

One of the great strengths of the Climate Story project is that it brings together artists and scientists to create new insights that would not be possible without such a collaboration. During a three-day intensive workshop in May 2018, twenty climate scientists and four arts coordinators worked together to produce new poems, songs, site-specific theatre pieces and prints, results that were truly inspiring and surprising.

Another great strength of the Climate Story project is in bringing newly skilled climate scientists together with members of the general public, including disadvantaged inner-city children, amateur dramatic clubs, local folk singers, and community groups to co-produce new responses to the challenges, threats, and opportunities of climate change. A third strength of the Climate Story project is that it documents the transformation the participants have undergone through diaries and interviews.

Expected results and benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation

Only through newly energized populations will it be possible to tackle the pressing issue of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the impacts of on-going climate change. Climate Stories provides a template for a new creative and innovative way of communicating the opportunities and threats this issue presents. The project has produced a cohort of newly skilled environmental scientists ready to work within their communities to develop new ways of engaging with this pressing problem.

The project will publish a book of work from the project, including poems, theatrical responses, pictures and songs which is planned to be launched at a showcase event at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter on 19th September 2018. Other materials including song recording and animations will be released on the Climate Stories website. There will be presentation of project outcomes at academic conferences and publication in academic journals.

Scalability potential of the solution

While the activities of Climate Stories are based in Devon, UK, the template is well placed to be scaled up to a wider programme of activities in other regions nationally and internationally.

The model we have developed can be applied wherever there are enthusiastic scientists willing to take part, and creative writers, artists, and musicians eager to collaborate. Also, since storytelling skills are universal, our model can equally well serve other contemporary environmental issues as well as climate change such as marine degradation or air pollution.

[Editor's Note: All information published as submitted by the author(s). Minor edits may have been made for length and clarity.]