The impact component of the Research Excellence Framework (2014) poses a significant challenge to academics: how to communicate research so as to change wider society for the better? Academics must engage with the communicational barriers of the ‘impacts interface’ through which research filters but also the ideological inertia permeating the interface and society in general. Communication is a lot harder when people do not want to hear the message.
We have been grappling with these challenges at ESRI and one approach has emerged out of an ESRC-funded project ‘Hands-off sports’ coaching: the politics of touch’ (see the report) by Heather Piper, Dean Garratt and Bill Taylor at MMU and the University of Chester.
The research identified a moral panic surrounding adults being around children, especially in relation to ‘touch’. Although there is no legislation against adults touching children, for example, to improve their technique on the violin or hug a crying child, those working with children feel themselves to be under constant suspicion of inappropriately touching or abusing a child. The effect is that adults regulate their behavior to avoid being accused of acting inappropriately and this damages the crucial relationship between the coach and the young people they work with.
The research team’s response was Inspired2Greatness. The campaign aims to interrupt the moral panic surrounding ‘touch’ and associated issues between adults and young people by using social media to enable anyone who cares to post a video message sharing a story of how an adult took time to share a love of sport and the ability to play it well. Without adults taking the time to work with young people the summer of sport – Euro 2012, Wimbledon, the London 2012 Games, and the Olympic Legacy – would have been a desultory affair.
By asking members of the public to share a positive story about someone who inspired them, the Inspired2Greatness campaign both facilitates the dissemination and engagement with the research but also builds a campaign and a counter-discourse focused on the positive motivations and effects of coaches working with young people thus interrupting the dominant narrative that adult and young person relationships should be understood primarily in terms of the risk of harm and abuse.
Heather Piper and James Duggan