Knowing your audience

Any questions?

As part of my other duties, I work with “UK in a Changing Europe“, trying to contribute evidence-led research to the debate on UK-EU relations, in which Brexit is a particular focus.

We’re branching out a bit on the programme these days, having built a very good reputation with journalists and policy-makers in Westminster. Very much conscious that influential though these people are, they’re not the be-all and end-all of things, we’re getting out across the UK to public events and to talk with as many different groups as we can.

One upshot of that has been the creation of masses of materials, on our website and our various flash publications. Which raises an interesting opportunity for us: talking to students.

So far, we’ve not really seen students as a group to target. Partly that’s because a lot of our events have happened in universities, so we cross paths with them pretty frequently; partly it’s because in the grand scheme of things, students have tended to be better informed than many other social groups, so the need to speak to them hasn’t been very high.

Both things still hold, but we also now have some more capacity to think about what we can do with what we’ve built up, and students look like a promising group.

One of our current ideas is to produce packs on key questions in the Brexit process, designed for students. These would bring together the choicest pieces of our work and more nuts-and-bolts explainers with a specially-written overview to pull it all together.

Sounds good and simple, but it’s highlighted many of the kinds of issues you and I confront in the classroom.

Firstly, what’s the point of these packs? We can easily put them together, but to what end? Our comparative advantage is in the speed that we have been able to turn around informed analysis, so it makes sense to use that to provide the timely content that colleagues haven’t been able to, even if only as a starting point.

That points to creating packs that fit into curricula, which in turn means we’re now doing some work identifying what curricula needs there are, be that in EU politics, British politics, law, economics and the rest.

Secondly, how do we select the content? There’s a big pile to chose from, but that’s rather the issue: what’s wheat and what’s chaff and who decides?

Here, we’re using a combination of approaches. Part of it is traffic data: what’s got consistent and/or high levels of reading? Part of it is the nature of the content: we have some stuff that’s aged very quickly, while other pieces are more of a review, and yet others are more abstract. And part of it is linked to the overview piece, where we want to illustrate some big questions and themes in our choices.

Finally, how do we get this out to students? Our website already has lots of different bits and isn’t always the easiest to navigate – which is why we’re doing this in the first place – so we cant just plop it down on a webpage and hope people notice.

Here, there’s going to be a piece of work in pushing this out to our mailing lists and to colleagues – much as I’m doing now, in fact – in various academic settings, as well as to students more directly when we do events on campuses.

In sum, it’s been quite instructive to think about this project as an extension of my teaching experience, rather than as simply a marketing or communication exercise. As we progress with it further, I’ll share more.