“You Cannot Not Communicate” – IFSTAL Summer School Day 3

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IFSTAL Summer School Day 3 – Communications  

 Yesterday at the IFSTAL Summer School 2018 was all about mind-expanding systems thinking.  Today, another blistering summer’s day in Reading, seemed like a day for straight talking. It was all about communication and communicating effectively. But with food systems it seems nothing is simple; nothing is straightforward. Luckily, at IFSTAL we embrace complexity!  

We discussed theories and models of communication in the morning with IFSTAL’s Dr Rebecca Wells and Dr Lauren Blake. Taking a systems perspective on communication means that we can view human communication as a complex web of interaction. We are always communicating through our behaviour, even when we don’t mean to, even when we are not talking. So Watzlawick, Bavelas, and Jackson’s famous double negative “You Cannot Not Communicate” rang true.  

Communicating food systems messages isn’t only about our own behaviour, it’s also about listening and trying to understand other people’s behaviour. Students tried to condense their own research into a clear, succinct and engaging soundbite and then tried to tell someone else’s research story back to them. Harder than it sounds.  

Martin Caraher, Professor of Food and Health Policy at the Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London gave us a crash course on communicating a policy briefing in response to a fast-moving story. Groups of students got into character, role playing organisations caught up in the recent media story about Jamie Oliver, Domino’s Pizza, Nicola Sturgeon and the BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) pizza deal.  How would their organisations respond to this story? What policy would they advise if required to act at speed? BOGOF salad deals from Domino’s? Better paid jobs promised by the Department for Work and Pensions?  

After lunch we were lucky to have a guest presenter, Pete Castle, from Reading University’s Communications Department. Pete helps Reading academics communicate their research to the wider public and he worked with the IFSTAL students to produce short films about their Summer School projects at breakneck speed. It was fun and engaging and taught us that we can communicate powerful messages with nothing but ourselves and our phones (and a few well-chosen props!). 

Many thanks to the guest speakers and all the IFSTAL students for their hard work – it was a really exciting day to be part of.