What do the general public think about when they hear the term food security? How can we determine whether an exhibition developed around the theme of GM Crops has successfully engaged visitors about the subject? And how can we capture whether taking part in the co-creation process changes the attitudes of participants to food security and botanic gardens in general?
Exploring the exhibition spaces in Hortus botanicus Leiden
All of the above are important questions to ask in relation to BigPicnic. One of the ways the project is trying to answer some of these questions is through a method of evaluation known as Team-Based Inquiry (TBI).
In December 2016 and January 2017, Dr Theano Moussouri and David Francis of University College London visited three of the botanic gardens taking part in BigPicnic – Hortus Botanicus Leiden, The Royal Botanic Garden of Madrid and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh – to deliver training on how to evaluate their co-creation projects. Piloting TBI at these first three gardens allowed the training to be honed and tested before being rolled out to the other gardens in the spring of 2017. It also illustrated the need for the training to be flexible and responsive to the different environments and individual projects undertaken by each of the gardens.
The training was structured around TBI four-stage cycle of Question, Investigate, Reflect and Improve. As the training was taking place at the beginning of the co-creation process, it focussed on the first two stages of the cycle: Question and Investigate. Each of the gardens were working with different groups and investigating a different aspect of food security, so the questions and methods developed during the training session were different.
Cooking up questions
Hortus botanicus Leiden have been working with a wide variety of groups, including market traders, school children and families who do not typically visit botanic gardens. Together they are developing a number of resources to explore the subject of food security, including a recipe book and an interactive board game. The workshop focussed on exploring key questions including:
• Are the current co-creation participants representative of our target audience?
• What do school children know about the subject of food security?
• How do we evaluate if our food security board game has successful engaged audiences?
Constructing evaluation questions in the Royal Botanic Garden of Madrid
Project Partners have developed Food Security Advisory Groups (FSAG) of experts in the field. In Spain two botanic gardens – the Royal Botanic Garden of Madrid and Juan Carlos I Royal Botanic Gardens Alcalá de Henares University – have brought together a group of individuals including leading retailers, policy makers and scientists investigating the chemical toxicity of food. As well as the creation of an exhibition on the subject, their project focussed on the creation of a picnic basket containing a series of activities themed around food security issues co-created with school children and teachers. Some of the potential questions to investigate brought up in the session were:
• How can we keep the members of the FSAG motivated?
• How can we treat food security in a way in which multiple opinions are represented but still remains scientifically accurate?
• What material/resources should the picnic basket include to make it useful to teachers/pupils?
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh are looking to explore the issue of food poverty in Scotland, recruiting potential co-creation participants through existing organisations who already tackle the subject. Potential questions they were interested in investigating were:
• How do we know if we’ve broadened our audiences through BigPicnic?
• How do people understand the topic of food poverty? Do they consider themselves food rich or food poor?
• How do we support the quietist voices in our communities to be heard?
Cooking food in the Botanic Cottage kitchen in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh provides an ideal backdrop for evaluation activities
Dinner and a dialogue – meals as method
Cooking and eating is an intrinsically social activity, food brings people together and has the potential to spark conversation and allows us to reflect on the rhythms of our own lives. The sharing of food therefore provides an ideal backdrop to an evaluation activity, such as a semi-structured group interview. In Edinburgh we cooked a soup and broke bread in the 250-year-old kitchen of the Botanic Cottage. The harvesting of food from their edible garden and its preparation and consumption in the cottage is a key part of Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s strategy for engaging potential co-creation participants. The rustic environs of the cottage’s kitchen, with its wooden beams and open stove, provides a safe space for participants to reflect on the co-creation process and discussions here can potentially generate rich qualitative data. Throughout the project, Edinburgh will be trialling different methods of building in reflective evaluative session into their co-creation process within this space. Kitchen table conversation as innovative evaluation method – food for thought indeed.