Published on 17 May 2023
Kelly Stevens – RENEW Project Administrator
In February and April 2023, the Collaboration in Practice (X3) team invited all RENEW team members – from the University of Exeter as well as the National Trust, our research partner – to take part in two creative collaboration workshops. The research programme is our “living laboratory” for researching biodiversity collaboration as it happens, and the workshops are just one aspect of the research elements underway to understand collaboration in and around RENEW, and in biodiversity research more widely, as we move forward.
The X3 team are investigating collaborative practices across disciplines and between academics and partners, observing and analysing what’s happening across the programme as it unfolds, as well as undertaking oral history research into previous biodiversity collaboration (in partnership with the British Library). It’s no surprise that the connections between people – building relationships and trust – are important to ensure honest and open communication and maximise cooperation and understanding. The aim of the workshops was to foster connection and reflection across, in and on RENEW with time for lunch, tea, cake and chat, providing space and sustenance for that relationship building.
Creativity helps encourage reflection and the X3 team was interested in exploring creative methods to help the team gain a holistic overview of our work and strengthen our collaborative processes. Since there is already a lot of mapping taking place in the RENEW project such as partner mapping, mapping biodiversity renewal activities, potential field sites and communities and so on – we were tasked with mapping RENEW itself, and the people in it.
Large maps of the UK (Slow Ways maps, which are part of an effort to create a network of walking paths between places) were laid out on tables for each group to pore over and annotate. We were asked to bring images or objects that represent our favourite places in nature and our workspaces. We were encouraged to add stickers, images, post-its, objects, string, newspaper clippings and Lego to our maps, and to annotate, draw and write on them.
The groups connected over their emotional relationships with nature: for instance, a love of sea swimming and favourite childhood beaches in one; a collection of natural objects from pinecones to grape hyacinths, poems and the joy of spring, in another. A border of string surrounded the coastline of one of the maps to represent the fierce protective feelings of the group to look after their much-loved waters. Each group mapped their experiences both personal and professional, with field trips, ecological connections, current or future field sites, and important personal encounters posted across the breadth of the UK. We talked about who we are, where and on what we are working, and how we are shaped by and shaping places and ecologies – both those that are significant to us and those that are forgotten, ignored or neglected.
Moving on to map our ideal, imaginary RENEW programme saw the ambitions of the team mapped out; what was important to us in our work, what we hoped to achieve in the project and how. We acknowledged the challenges and complexities of working on knotty problems and shared the desire to collaborate without resorting to linear structures or hierarchy, maintaining multiple perspectives on our research topics and using our knowledge and know-how – and that of communities and other stakeholders – to move forward with positive, tangible solutions to biodiversity problems.