Published on July 17th, 2015 | by WMG Editor0
Get In The Middle of MyChainReaction
Based on The Mediasmith Project blog posted here
Dr Ruth Leary is a Senior Teaching Fellow at the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies at the University of Warwick. She is engaged in a joint research project with Professor Jan Godsell and the Supply Chain Research Group at WMG to investigate the concept of ‘Supply Chain’ in a creative and novel way that will provide rich new insights to the public, practitioners and policy makers, in order to inform the future development of Supply Chain strategy and policy and drive behavioural change at the individual level.
Back in February we hosted the Popathon x Mediasmith Project Storytelling Hack Jam, and many of the methods we explored are now about to be put to the test in our large-scale research project called MyChainReaction.
Worldwide Supply Chains Bizarrely there is currently no shared definition of supply chains within academia, despite the fact that they are recognised as a discreet disciplinary field. In turn I also suspect that awareness and understanding of supply chains amongst the wider public is relatively poor despite being of national importance. Supply chains are key in supporting economic growth, contributing to increasing both GDP and employment levels. Supply chains touch almost every aspect of our daily lives but many simply don’t realise. This formed the basis for the development of MyChainReaction – a research impact project that would test these assumptions and invite the public around the world to participate and share their supply chain stories.
Bringing MyChainReaction to Life The core of the project combines crowdsourcing, social networking and storytelling in a website designed to both generate research data and increase public engagement and understanding as more and more take part. The site features an engaging example of a local supply chain, bringing to life the story of Stroud based ice cream maker Kate Lowe. Kate lives in a village where she is well known for producing delicious honeycomb ice cream. Her mother makes the honeycomb at home in Norfolk and posts it to Kate who then makes the ice cream in batches using other locally sourced ingredients. Kate’s ice cream is infamous at dinner parties and family gatherings but her ambitions are to develop a brand and sell her ice cream more widely. Upon reading Kate’s story people are encouraged to reflect on their own participation in a supply chain and share their stories which are simultaneously pinned on the MyChainReaction map. In doing so they also answer a couple of simple questions about their knowledge of supply chains which will generate quantitative data for further research.
Transmedia integration The website is, however, just one part of an integrated transmedia approach. We have also reserved funding for an artistic commission in which artists will be invited to respond to the themes of the project and the stories that emerge. This will be presented at the Global Supply Chain Debate, to be hosted at the International Digital Lab at the University of Warwick in November 2015.
Play Your Part Appealing for public participation adds a whole layer of marketing and communications activity usually reserved for the dissemination of research, rather than the research process itself. We have debated the ethics of allowing research participants to see others’ stories (but not responses to the research questions) at length, initially worrying that this may bias their participation. However, audience participation is an inherently social activity – participation depends on the motivation that stems from seeing what others have posted and the willingness to share. This decision making process impacted on the intrinsic design of the website. Should we prime the audience with a working example whilst restricting access to the crowd sourced stories to those who had registered and completed the research questions first? Or, should we make this content accessible to everyone in the hope that this will motivate others to take part? Creating such a ‘walled garden’ felt counter intuitive and, given that the only criteria our research respondents need to satisfy are a) the possession of a valid email address and b) a story to tell, the risk of skewing the user generated content seemed to be outweighed by the social imperative to join others and take part.
‘Infectious’ research? Supply chains are perhaps not the most accessible and people friendly subject so another challenge has been to find the right language to describe and pitch the project. Discussions of food security, provenance and sustainability highlight the importance of supply chains in relation to food and agriculture, like Kate’s story, but they remain less visible in other areas of public life. It’s also a question of semantics as we may well be referring to supply chains but in different terms or contexts that, we believe, have nothing to do with them e.g. the arts, education, medicine, etc. We also wanted to promote the cause and effect relationships that our interactions with supply chains produce so, after much scratching of heads, we arrived at the concept of a chain reaction. This gave us a unique hashtag #MyChainReaction and a ‘Get in the middle of a chain reaction,’ call to action courtesy of Diana Ross and RCA Records.