March 17, 2017, by Stuart Moran

Digital Engagement (6): Envisioning the Future

As researchers it can be all too easy to forget how difficult research can be for members of the public to understand and apply. Often researchers have a clear vision of what the future of their discipline might look like, but it can be so far at the cutting edge that it has no point of reference for the public. A successful technique to making research more approachable and digestible is digital envisionment. The idea is to articulate complex ideas, large scale systems, future scenarios or novel findings in simplified and visually engaging ways.

For example, a particular envisionment that had a huge impact on me personally was the animation below which reveals the inner workings of human cells. It gives an incredible glimpse into a series of rich and complex activities that would be otherwise difficult to imagine or relate to. While I do not fully understand the video, it is something that I have never forgotten – which just goes to show the power of this engagement approach.

In fact, envisionment does not just have to be solely about engagement, it can serve as a research tool in its own right. In some previous research we were interested in exploring people’s attitudes and opinions towards future energy systems involving software agents. The complex combination of the technical infrastructure, economic principles and intelligent software agents made it a real challenge for us to capture public opinion in a short period of time. So we embraced the envisionment approach and created an animated video (using a normal whiteboard) that served to explain the concepts in a simple, humorous and engaging way. We were then able to have in depth discussions about the implications of such a future with our participants, all within the space of an hour. The video also served as a great promotion tool for our research.

We have even adopted this approach within the Digital Research Team.  We are working to improve the digital research environment across the university and have used the technique to demonstrate to researchers our vision of the future environment, how it will remove barriers and also create new opportunities for them.

Below are some other interesting examples of future envisionment videos and explanations of complex topics in different styles.

Envisioning the Future

Animated Explanations 

Next in the series we will look at a range of digital tool kits for engagement in research. If you would like to discuss the use of envisionment in your research, please do get in touch with the Digital Research Team.

This blog is part of a series on Digital Engagement. Previous in series: The crowd and their knowledge.

Stuart Moran, Digital Research Specialist for Social Sciences

Posted in Digital research methods