Associated with Institute of Archaeology, University College London, Balkan Botanic Garden of Kroussia, University of Warsaw Botanic Garden, Botanic Garden Meise

Team-based Inquiry training update

Team-based Inquiry (TBI) is a method of evaluation that can be used by  our botanic garden Partners to test prototypes of BigPicnic activities and capture the impact of their projects on participants. In our first update on the Team-based Inquiry evaluation training, conducted by Dr Theano Moussouri and David Francis at UCLwe reported on piloting the training at Hortus Botanicus Leiden, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Royal Botanic Garden Madrid. One of the commonalities that emerged in this process was that the preparation and consumption of food has a ritualistic quality that brings people together, creates conversation and provides qualitative data ripe for evaluation. 

As we journeyed to six other cities – Hannover, Thessaloniki, Berlin, Warsaw, Meise and Sofia – similar stories emerged around the authenticity of food and the way it reflects our identities, and both defines who we are, but also who we are not.

One of the key functions of TBI is to provide a series of evaluation tools by which gardens can test the effectiveness of some of the activities they are developing with their co-creation participants. At the Balkan Botanic Garden of Kroussia, the garden are working with trainee farmers, school teachers and friends of the garden to create a series of activities promoting the use of Greek superfoods as alternatives to much hyped anti-oxidant rich imports, such as goji berries. The inclusion of aromatic pharmaceutical plants in dishes, such as capers, dogwoods and fennel, which have been used in Greek medicine for centuries, has the multiple benefits i.e. cutting down air miles and providing a much needed economic boost to local Greek farmers, while also being good for your health. TBI provides some tools for assessing the effectiveness of these activities as the garden pilots them. Some of these tools are formal such as interviews and observations, while others have a more playful element, incorporating voting and drawing to discern what participants thinks work and doesn’t about an activity.  

This idea of thinking more closely about our food-choices, about what we eat and where it comes from, is a shared across many of the activities undertaken by the BigPicnic gardens. During the training at the School Biology Centre Hannover, they used the German word, Wertschatzung, which broadly translates as ‘to hold in high-esteem or value’, to describe what they wanted to develop in co-creation participants in relation to food. 

The idea that through the process of making things with another group of people we change them and are changed by them is one of the key principles underlying the process of co-creation. Team-based Inquiry provides a number of tools, including keeping ethnographic field notes and running group interviews, which help to capture how participants’ attitude to food-security and botanic gardens in general can changed over time.  

The topic of food security is not one that is uncontested, but as our travels around the gardens have shown is potentially deeply politicised. At the University of Warsaw Botanic Garden they told us how the seemingly innocuous activity of making compost was actually regarded by some as a signifier of being a member of the hipster metropolitan elite, which extended to organic food (known in Poland as bio-foods) more broadly. The garden’s aim for BigPicnic involves bringing together local people with bio-food cooperatives and artists to promote dialogue between different groups about compost and bio-foods. 

The University of Warsaw Botanic Garden are one of several gardens, who are using TBI methods to capture some of the changes BigPicnic brings about in their own gardens. At the Botanic Garden Meise this takes the form of a survey conducted with the garden’s over two hundred staff about their own attitudes to food security issues. As well as identifying areas of expertise in relation to food security, it is also hoped that the results may influence the institution’s own staff dining provisions, potentially leading to sustainable change within the garden. 

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