Stories: the power of narrative across research and engagement

Egyptian Hieroglyphs with tourist archeologist silhouettes

Exploring the power of storytelling and why we need stories within and beyond academia, to inspire, engage and inform.

Let me tell you a story…

Perhaps like me, you have also been gripped by the lure of storytelling in all its forms, from fact to fiction, pictures to sounds, and everything in-between.

For the last 14 years, as Head of Research Development at the British Library, I have literally been surrounded by stories. All forms of human creativity, across a myriad of formats, from all over the world. Some of these stories were created yesterday, some date back millennia.

Such boundless creativity across disciplines and distances, with humanity at its heart, is also at the centre of AHRC’s vision as AHRC Executive Chair Professor Christopher Smith recently pointed out. And as AHRC Director of Research Dr Jaideep Gupte has reflected: an inclusive approach to research and collaboration is also about shaping how we value each other.

I am excited to join them and other AHRC colleagues to become part of this story as the new Director of Partnerships and Engagement.

A rich diversity of stories

A vertical garden exterior contrasting with old and new building architecture and red London bus

Credit: JohnnyGreig, iStock via Getty Images

Christopher has written of the importance of narrative skills to equip academics and professionals with the ability to resonate, inspire and communicate for different purposes, across disciplines and beyond academia.

In a different context, UKRI Chief Executive Dame Ottoline Leyser has highlighted how certain narratives such as that of the ‘lone genius’ researcher can be unhelpful. She has also championed the diversity of stories that more accurately reflect UKRI research, innovation, and partnerships.

Narratives shaping society

Narratives shape not only research, but many aspects of contemporary society, from the environment to the economy, and how we respond to change. We know from history that the power of narrative is intergenerational, shaping our own identities and families, communities and nations.

We can see this across AHRC’s thematic programmes, in which narrative and identity is embodied in:

  • design
  • creativity
  • place
  • cultural engagement.

Telling stories through our great collections

Research data and heritage collections, and more specifically their interpretations, are also forms of narratives. The stories we tell through or about them are influenced by past and current attitudes and biases.

The AHRC programme Towards a National Collection is exploring these themes and through digital technologies and data at scale. It is connecting stories across the UK’s museums, libraries, galleries, and archives and encouraging the public to explore our shared heritage in new ways.

Young woman wearing virtual reality headset in museum of modern art

Credit: SeventyFour, iStock via Getty Images

This entanglement of research and engagement has been a major theme of my own career, in which research and partnerships have underpinned exhibitions and the presentation of collections. These approaches have challenged previous ways of seeing and created new stories for different audiences.

It’s great to see a similar approach so beautifully illustrated in the diversity of topics covered in the AHRC Research in Film Awards and and AHRC-BBC New Generation Thinkers scheme.

The start of a new chapter

I am looking forward to working with UKRI colleagues and our many partners to generate inspiring and challenging stories:

  • within and beyond academia
  • through research partnerships
  • through co-creation
  • through engagement
  • through enabling access to culture.

These stories will inspire, engage, and inform. They will also directly influence our wellbeing, our society and how we think about the future of our planet.

To be continued…as they say in all the best stories.

Top image:  Credit: PeskyMonkey, iStock via Getty Images

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