Social Work and Fuel Poverty: Practice Examples?

I’m on the lookout for some examples of how addressing fuel poverty has become embedded into (mainly statutory) social work practice. I’d be really interested to read about any initiatives or research projects that have examined this issue. If you know of any, could you please add a comment? I’ll document any suggestions in a list. Thanks for your help!

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Can Homelessness Be Ended in a Moment?

I was invited this week by Homeless Link to write a short article for a series of blog posts they were publishing for World Homeless Day. I decided to write about one of the stories I heard during the course of our research which highlighted the ‘moment of clarity’ experience that many people described to me when they realised they needed to take control of their lives. The blog post is published here. Feel free to get in touch if your organisation could benefit in any way from the knowledge we have acquired during the course of our research.

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Qualitative Methods in Homelessness Research

My latest conference presentation about using qualitative methods in homelessness research is published in the video below.

In the presentation, I discuss some of the key findings from the research and explain why it may be more important to think about how individuals interpret the events in their lives that may lead them toward homelessness rather than speculating on the generic causes of homelessness.

Also, I discuss how the versatility of a qualitative understanding of homelessness allowed the research team to engage in a range of contemporary debates about the subject. Finally, I talk about how we achieved a level of impact and engagement with our research.

The presentation was originally designed for and delivered at the 4th International Conference of Community Psychology at the University of Barcelona in June 2012.

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Life by Powerpoint: Why There’s Hope for Researchers Yet!

I love Powerpoint. I really do.

Just think: you’ve lived and breathed a research project for months – maybe even years. You’ve sweated and stressed about your research for all this time, overcome problems you could never have anticipated, and finally gotten to the point where you have something to say about what you’ve been working on for all this time. What could be better than getting an opportunity to tell people about your labour of love and why you think it’s so great?! For me, this truly is the pinnacle of a research project’s life cycle.

Powerpoint is the perfect tool to assist us in sharing the story of our research. I don’t think there are many among us who are skilled, trained presentation experts who can alone maintain the interest of our audience with our sense of humour, confidence, and personality. But, Powerpoint can help us by providing a few visuals to illustrate our message while we talk. I don’t think there is an audience member so highly educated or knowledgeable that they don’t appreciate a few nice pictures to help receive the message while they’re listening to the speaker. Ask yourself the following two questions:

  • How many times have you thought a presentation’s content was too complex?
  • How many times have you thought a presentation’s content was too simple?

If your experience is anything like mine then the answer to the first is ‘yes, too many times’ and to the second ‘no, never’.

Powerpoint is brilliant. It can:

  • structure your presentation
  • help simplify your message
  • give the audience something interesting to look at while they listen
  • help the audience visualise and imagine your research experience
  • help the audience see the real world implications of your research
  • give the audience a reason to remember you and your research (for the right reasons)

I look forward to creating Powerpoint presentations because I enjoy the creative process. I like creating the story, finding the images, designing the slides, playing with colours and fonts, and tinkering with it until it’s just the way I want it. The task is quite different to many of the functional researcher tasks and I appreciate the time I get to spend making something that I (and hopefully, my audience) will like the look of. It’s fun.

I leave my latest presentation below. I hope you like it.

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Exploring Novel Approaches to Public Engagement

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to publish my first book from my research. Unusually though, this wasn’t a traditional academic text but a graphic novel of sorts and the subject matter was homelessness.

The homelessness project has been my core research for the last two years and it has now come to an end. If there is one thing I have discovered in my time as a researcher it is the thrill of having work recognised and appreciated. This only comes as a project concludes. Research isn’t easy: there are lots of challenges along the way and in truth, much of the legwork, the administration of a project and analysis of data, for example, is painstaking and tedious. But at the end, something can be said about the project’s subject matter and the knowledge that has been gathered can be shared with others.

One of the things I love most about working at a University is the access to ideas, knowledge, and creativity of the people that work there. It’s an environment that provides a constant stream of fresh ideas and thinking. The only downside is that rarely do some of these ideas get the resources and the opportunity to be turned into a reality. Luckily, the graphic novel was one idea that made it through. My research colleagues, Phil Brown, Lisa Scullion, and Peter Somerville all backed the idea of producing the book – all we had to do was find someone to draw it!

I was introduced to Sam Dahl via a colleague in the School of Art and Design at the University. Sam, who was just finishing his Masters degree, was interested in the idea of the book and produced a two-page storyboard for us. It was very exciting to see the idea for the book start to take a physical form. But what really won us over and gave us confidence that the idea could work was seeing Sam’s graphic interpretation of some very sensitive material, which in this instance was an episode of childhood sexual abuse.

From that point we asked Sam to draw the whole book which would include around five or six stories from the life histories we gathered in the research. Most of the work from this point up until completion of the project was therefore undertaken by Sam. It wasn’t easy because none of us had done anything like this before and we didn’t know what was possible and how long things would take (now it’s finished I’d like to think we were pioneers!).

The book, entitled ‘Somewhere Nowhere: Lives Without Homes’ is now finished and on sale. We bought a number of copies ourselves to give to people who were in contact with the research in Stoke-on-Trent where the study took place.

The book has been very well-received by those who have seen and read it. I don’t think academics should ever underestimate the power of visuals when presenting their research and engaging others in their messages.

I’m very proud of what we have achieved by producing this book. I’m pleased because my research colleagues were willing to support the idea, even though we could never be sure where it would lead.

I’m pleased because we had an opportunity to offer someone who was brave enough to take the task on and will reap the rewards and recognition of his efforts in illustrating the book.

I’m also pleased because the response to the book has been so positive and I’ve had feedback from people (and witnessed it myself) that people who would not ordinarily engage with this difficult subject matter have read through the book in its entirety.

And I’m pleased because we decided to self-publish the book, giving ourselves total control over its content, and have shown that it is possible, quite easily in fact, that if researchers have something they want to publish they don’t need to necessarily take the traditional publishing route to achieve it.

This book has been our way of trying to engage a wider audience with our research. It’s always seemed to me that social sciences are provided with greater challenges for public engagement because it’s not as easy as some disciplines to offer a visual representation of the research.

Are there any examples of social science public engagement methods that are worth shouting about?

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How to Generate Content for an Academic Blog: An Unfinished Guide

There is a question I often ask myself about blogging, especially when I haven’t posted for a while. It’s the same question I hear people ask when they are considering blogging for the first time and searching for advice: what do I blog about?

I’m starting this post here and I hope that others will share their ideas. I think it would be useful to develop some sort of typology of blog posts that would be useful to share with others when they are new to blogging or hit a blogger’s block. A Google search showed me that there is plenty of advice out there for creating blog content but I’ve not yet found anything specific for academics. I’ve kept and contributed to academic blogs for some time now; the main one is homelessinstoke.com. That blog will end soon as the research project finishes. The information I’d like to collate here is the guidance I wish I’d had when I started homelessinstoke.com.

So, here goes, a typology of blog posts and pages to help generate content for an academic blog:

1. Who/What/Why pages

It’s just common sense to put in a few pages about what the research is about, who is involved, and what it is for.

2. Showcase

It’s very easy to use a blog to collect all your research outputs into the one place, such as slideshow presentations, posters, conference abstracts, videos, etc.

3. Advertise an event

It is also very easy to write a blog post outlining an event you are holding and want to invite people along.

 4. Update

Project updates explaining where you are up to and what you will do next, also includes summaries of findings in progress.

 5. Useful resource

One of the most used pages on homelessinstoke.com is a list of homeless services in the city. People constantly Google search this information. As it is the most comprehensive and up-to-date list available, it gets used a lot. Conversely, I found that the blogroll list of general homeless websites (on the homepage sidebar) is rarely used and therefore unlikely to be of much value to anyone.

6. Reflection

Diary style personal reflections of learning and discovery.

7. Responding to news

If there is a hot news topic in your area, a swift response or opinion on the matter in a blog post can help drive traffic as well as shape your thoughts and encourage debate.

8. Host a debate

If a debate is brewing on Twitter and you feel it needs more space, offer to host the debate in a blog post and tackle it in greater depth.

9. Description/Review

Sometimes writing about an event/seminar/conference you attended helps to reflect on learning and can be useful information for others in your field.

10. Ideas sharing

Blogs are a good space to just say ‘What If… ?’ and indulge in some creative thinking. If your ideas are a bit wacky, I would argue its better to have wacky ideas than dull ones.

11. Guides

Sharing learning of your experiences in ‘how-to’ guides (such as this one) can help to turn your implicit knowledge into explicit knowledge that others can use (I hope!).

12. Polls/Surveys

Hosting a poll on a topic may be a way to invite readers to offer an opinion and encourage deeper debate.  Thanks to @mrnick for this suggestion.

These are just some of the things that I’ve tried. If you would like to help finish this unfinished guide, please write your suggestions below. I will add to the list and credit as appropriate. Thanks!

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Getting Over an Underwhelming Poster Presentation Experience

I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of academic poster presentations; however, I did submit to one at Salford last year. It was an internal college ‘showcase’ event.

I wanted to do something a bit out of the ordinary and come up with a poster that would catch the eye a bit. I wanted to challenge perceptions of what a poster presentation should be. I thought about the purpose of the presentation. Is it to impart information? Is it to sell the idea of your research? Do you want to give an audience everything at once or do you want to hook them in and tempt them to discuss it with you, rather than just reading about it? Looking back to last June when I did this, they all seem to be quite grand aspirations I’d had at the time, don’t you think? ;-)

I asked a friend of mine to help me with the design because this is his trade; I learned quite a lot from him. I met him a long time ago and was always impressed with his talent and because art and design has rarely been a strength of mine. Anyhow, the design we settled on and submitted is below. What do you think?

I really liked it and still do, but the response it got at the event was distinctly underwhelming and never really provoked the kind of discussion that I hoped it would. Anyway, I dug it out again recently and wanted to post it here because I think it’s a shame to work hard on something and invest hope in it, only for it to be consigned to the backwaters of an old folder on a memory stick. I was disappointed that it never got the response I hoped for in the sense of encouraging discussion around innovative and perhaps even radical ways of engaging people in complex academic material. But, I was glad to have tried something different and gained the feedback, or lack of, that that kind of experience brings.

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We’re Having a Pop-Up Seminar: Discourses of Place

In February, I will be holding a Pop-Up Seminar with some like-minded colleagues, namely the bright and enthusiastic trio of @jennacondie, @sarahlonglands, and @lovestoke.  The theme of the seminar will be discourses of place, a topic for which the four of us share a passion and interest. We want to meet others who think the same way.

Pop-Up Seminar?

The inspiration for a Pop-Up Seminar came after I attended a Pop-Up Tea Party/underground tea room organised by @nouveaucakes. I’ve since learned of the Pop-Up Art Gallery movement, also. Is there any reason why academics and similar interested parties can’t borrow the model and make it work for them?

The premise of the Pop-Up Seminar is that the only important aspect of attending any seminar or conference is the exchange of knowledge. I envisage it to work like this: the attendees will each give a short, informal presentation (around 6-8 minutes) of their research, practice, or interest in the themed topic. Once all the presentations are completed, the group will be able to ask questions and discuss the topics inspired by what they have heard. It’s a very simple format.

The philosophy of the Seminar will be to maximise the return on the time and effort invested in organising and attending the event. This will be achieved by:

  • Organising only what is necessary (i.e. a room or space to meet in)
  • Attendees having a close interest in the topic
  • A small maximum group size (8 people)
  • Offering the opportunity for feedback, inspiration, and information from others with similar interests

The obligations of attendees are to:

  • Deliver a short, informal presentation (powerpoint optional!)
  • Offer constructive feedback to others
  • Enter into the spirit of the event, which is one of mutual support and benefit

In the Pop-Up Seminar, there will be:

  • No long wait for the event to happen
  • No cost (except for individual travel cost)
  • No registration and form filling (just email me: g.j.morris@salford.ac.uk)
  • No keynote speaker
  • No hierarchies or expertise
  • No awards
  • No formal dress
  • No delegate pack
  • No badge
  • No catering
  • No abstract or paper submissions

The only concern is to create a space in which people with a mutual interest can talk to one another.

The Seminar Theme: Discourses of Place

Among those of us that will be attending the Pop-Up Seminar, at least three are PhD researchers with a mutual interest in discourses of place. We’re interested in not what places ‘are’, but how we talk about them and use language to create them. It’s about how we give meaning to places and why we do this. We don’t see descriptions of places as being fixed in any way, but flexible in the sense that language is fluid and used by speakers to achieve their particular ends. You can read more about Jenna’s research here, Sarah’s here, and mine here. In contrast, Bret Shah will talk about his ‘Love Stoke’ project and his aims to change the city’s image of itself. You can find out more about Bret here.

If these are topics you are interested in and would like to take part in the Seminar, we would love to meet you. Get in touch with me at g.j.morris@salford.ac.uk to let me know and I’ll send on further contact details.

The Pop-Up Seminar will be held at Media City, Salford on Wednesday 22nd February from 4pm to 6pm. There is a tram that goes direct to Media City from Manchester Piccadilly train station, and a bus that goes there from the University of Salford/Salford Crescent train station. There is also a car park at The Lowry which is opposite Media City. Hope to see you there.

*** UPDATE – 2nd FEB ***

We now have a full house for this seminar; it’s taken just five days a little bit of promotion to find enough people who want to participate – this is really good news. Unfortunately though, this means that we won’t be able to take any more people for the seminar at this time. I’ve promised to make it a small, intimate affair so participants can get maximum contact with each other and this is something I’m very keen to deliver on.

However, it’s very encouraging to be able to find people who share our interest in discourses of place and I’d still be keen to collect some details of people who may want to get together in future and perhaps stay in touch using social media. So please still contact me and say hello and hopefully we will build on what is happening here. We may well be able to find convenient ways of exchanging knowledge and establishing an informal network which will benefit us all.

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Conference Presentation – Retrofit 2012

Below are my slides for my presentation at the Retrofit Conference at the University of Salford on 26th January 2012. The presentation is based on a research project I conducted with colleagues at the University around low carbon skills provision.

Designing slides is certainly one aspect of research that brings out my perfectionist side. I subscribe to the view that oral presentations are much more engaging when supported by carefully chosen and relevant images that can tell the story of the research. I can spend many hours looking for the right images and playing around with colour, contrast, and the placing of text and images. I’m quite happy with this one because the images support the story for about two thirds of the presentation; however, at the back end, there is a greater emphasis on the text.

I used to spend a lot of time looking for free images but because it is so time consuming, I now tend to buy them instead. A lot of image stockists require a subscription which can be very expensive. I often buy them from Big Stock Photo now because you can ‘pay-as-you-go’; I also find they stock simple images for concepts such as ‘Green Deal’ which would otherwise be difficult to represent.

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