Associated with Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Thoughts on food from disadvantaged communities

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has begun a digital storytelling project aimed at giving a voice to disadvantaged communities about access to nutritious food. Digital storytelling works well for small groups of up to six people and enables each person to create their own story of two to three minutes duration. A digital story takes the form of an audio track supported by still images. We have found the great strength of the format is the emotional power of personal stories. These then provide ideal material to stimulate discussions with people at subsequent events and exhibitions.

The co-creation team used tablets for digital storytelling

The co-creation team used tablets for digital storytelling. Photo credit: RBGE

During July and August a series of six two-hour workshops were run at a local community food project. The venue was selected as a place well known to the participants. We had been advised by our co-creators that the garden would not be somewhere our participants would feel comfortable. An important lesson from this first phase of digital storytelling is the need to overcome barriers that would prevent people from being involved. A venue with childcare facilities turned out to be essential, the timing of workshops had to be negotiated, and in one case travel expenses were provided. In the latter stages of the process great flexibility was needed to ensure that support was provided to enable all the participants to complete their stories.

An advantage of digital storytelling over other forms of video is that it is technically easy to master, allowing the storyteller to focus on their story rather than the technology. In addition, the storyteller does not need to appear in the finished story. This can be useful as not everyone is comfortable being filmed or photographed. However, hearing the storyteller’s voice helps the listener form an emotional connection. Images are supporting rather than distracting, and the overall experience is similar to listening to a podcast, but with the advantage of relevant images that help tell the story.

So far, we have seven digital stories from a diverse group of people, but some common themes have emerged. A frequent component of the stories is the importance of a family member in passing on knowledge and appreciation of food. Another recurring theme is the impact of health, both mental and physical, on eating a healthy diet. Learning to cook has also emerged as a source of great resilience for people.  

Visitors to the Harvest Festival at the garden were able to view the digital storiesVisitors to the Harvest Festival at the garden were able to view the digital stories. Photo credit: RBGE

A few of the digital stories were used at an event run at the garden in September to test how they might be presented and how engaging people would find them. We discovered that people, and particularly children, are attracted by the tablet screens. In follow-up conversations it was clear that people found the digital stories to be both engaging and thought provoking.