Our top 5 tips for engaging on complex or difficult topics

We often conduct research with the public on complex topics – the details of which are likely to be unfamiliar to participants. Over the years we have successfully helped members of the public to understand, discuss and debate a wide range of complex subjects, from the challenges of global food sustainability to the difficulties facing NHS bodies in redesigning services for a changing population.

Here are our five top tips for engaging on complex topics:

Use visuals to help convey complex information

Information can be provided through presentations, briefings, videos, quiz sessions and expert speakers to ensure that different learning styles are catered for. Complex information needs to be broken down into bite-sized pieces and made fully digestible. Visual information often works better, in this respect.

We often use graphically illustrated scenarios/story boards to aid comprehension of the key issues and to facilitate discussion. Graphic illustrations can convey potentially quite complex scenarios in a way that makes intuitive sense because it is easy to show relationships and links. Digital illustrations are relatively quick to produce and very adaptable, so they are a good fit for projects with tight timings and budgets.

In a number of recent projects, we have taken this further by developing bespoke whiteboard animations. The availability of off-the-shelf software such as Videoscribe (animations) makes the process relatively easy. At Community Research, we are increasingly using this technique as part of our deliberative research tool set and we’re finding it really works. More information on animations is provided in our blog post of 3rd July 2017.

Alan Whitlock