Managing the mentors

Sensory Stories is set come to life through its Sensory Opportunities, and organising these is no mean feat. Specialised project management training is one way the team has been tackling the challenge, as Ben reports.

Inspiring example: Appleside Sensory Garden was one project the Sensory Stories team heard about at the project management training day. (Picture courtesy of Kate Harper)

Entering an unfamiliar environment can be a daunting prospect for anyone, and for the Sensory Stories team this is doubled by the challenge of “engaging” a group of complete strangers. A day’s tailored training from Kate Harper, University of York Volunteering Development Officer, outlined just how complicated the task of arranging venues for the Sensory Opportunities was going to be. Kate’s experienced guidance, and the insights of a series of deeply inspirational outreach and student volunteering projects, showed us just how successful this could be, though.

A thorough and engaging discussion of how academics define and encounter “the public” proved to be the first step towards a better understanding of this task. By listing the methods, venues and forums in which we might present humanities research, we began to realise that the concept of the “general public” as a defined entity has severe limitations for engaging research on a practical level, as different venues are likely to attract diverse demographics, with specific needs and characteristics.

Lesson in engagement: an Educational Studies Day provided another example for the team. (Picture courtesy of Kate Harper)

This highlighted another key issue in the management of the Sensory Opportunities: the wants and needs of the people we are attempting to engage with. Existing institutions and community events can often provide a ready-made platform from which to present research to the public. However, co-operation with these various organisations is a two-way process. Care must be taken to ensure that the research being presented, and the methods used to present it, are appropriate for the specific audience and offers something they want or need. Our sensory approach has the advantage of engaging with the public in new ways, potentially offering a different perspective to existing projects.

The impact of these key points, coupled with the inspirational nature of Kate’s project experience, has fundamentally changed our understanding of how to approach the organisation of the Sensory Opportunities. Aside from the practical implications for how we approach potential venues and partners for Sensory Stories, the management training day proved a landmark for me in personal development, as I had not previously realised the genuine appeal and benefits that our approach could offer to various non-academic institutions.

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