Close Encounters of the Creative Kind: An introduction to the guide

Close Encounters of the Creative Kind: An introduction to the guide

A methodological guide investigating creative approaches to policy research and dissemination.
Abstract illustration featuring various shades of blue, green, and white.
Stephanie Fielding
Policy + Research Analyst
June 19, 2020
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n 2015, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and Greenland geologist Minik Rosing hauled thirty salvaged icebergs from the Nuup Kangerlua fjord in Greenland to a square in the centre of Paris, France for the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference.[1] The public was invited to interact with the ancient icebergs  to climb on them, smell them, hear the air pop, and literally feel the blocks melt away.

According to Eliasson, the aim of this elaborate installation, which has been repeated three times since 2014,[2] is to provoke the audience into feeling a sense of urgency about the devastating effects of climate change by allowing them to experience the physicality of the icebergs in front of them.[3] The project, titled Ice Watch, has been widely covered by the international press.[4] Eliasson was even named a Goodwill Ambassador for The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to raise awareness and mobilize support for climate action and the Sustainable Development Goals (SGGs).[5]

Critics have called attention to the catch-twenty-two of creating such an immersive experience for the sake of the climate crisis[6] 一 namely the significant carbon footprint that is required to haul eighty tons of ice across several continents. Eliasson’s team has responded to these concerns by releasing emission reports with each installation. According to its report, the 2015 installation produced a thirty tonne CO2 emission, equivalent to thirty people flying return from Paris, France to Nuuk, Greenland.[7] To Eliasson, these environmental impact are ‘worth it’ to provoke greater audiences to think about the material impact of climate change.[8] He’s been outspoken about the fact that white paper reports aren’t enough to engage public audiences, advocating for the power of creative practices to affect urgency and impact change in environmental policy. Yet, however striking and dramatic in its effect and ability to promote public and policy conversations, it is difficult to believe that the environmental cost of Eliasson’s project outweighs the overall benefit.

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"...they are designed to share unique stories and perspectives, evoke feelings in audiences, provoke original thought, and communicate the experiential."

Carbon-loaded grand gestures aren’t the only way to use creative approaches to draw attention to policy issues, such an impact can be produced on a smaller scale. Take, for example, the recent film A Message from the Future (2019),[9] narrated by US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, illustrated by artist Molly Crabapple, and published by The Intercept. The lively seven-minute animated film offers a utopian vision of what may happen if the US accepted the Green New Deal, a proposed legislation aimed at reducing climate impact and economic inequality.[10] As of November 4th, 2019 the film had received over half a million views, and twenty seven thousand likes on YouTube. Ice Watch and A Message from the Future are widely different in scope and resources required, but both serve as poignant reminders of the value of using emotions, interactivity, and storytelling to call attention to an issue or problem.[11] 

Today, many policy organizations, from government to non-profit think tanks, are recognizing that written paper reports and online PDFs are not enough to reach a broad audience and impact change. Using creative approaches during research creation and presentation can be used to enable such opportunities; they are designed to share unique stories and perspectives, evoke feelings in audiences, provoke original thought, and communicate the experiential. Not only do these methods provide a more approachable entry point into research findings, they have also been shown to increase audience retention of material,[12] and can prompt discussion by uncovering new connections in the data considered. This means creative approaches have significant potential to increase the reach and impact of an organization by communicating more deeply and with wider audiences.

The Brookfield Institute (BII+E) aims to produce research that is rigorous, actionable, engaging and impactful using an integrated approach to research, communications, and policy. Central to this is the understanding that how we communicate research findings is as important as how they are produced. BII+E has already deployed a range of communications tools, including some creative approaches, from traditional reports to blogs, a magazine-style article series,[13] a zine,[14] original art,[15] infographics,[16] interactive data visualizations,[17] open data,[18] social media (e.g., Twitter chats), and media (web, print, radio, TV). As a continuation of this mission to experiment, BII+E has investigated a wide range of creative approaches, looking at how they might be applied in a policy context. We asked: how might we engage audiences that are unlikely to read written or digital reports, and how could we inspire audiences to empathize with diverse perspectives? The result of this project is a guide summarizing our insights, with use cases and examples drawn from a wide range of sources, including fellow policy organizations and others seeking to communicate policy ideas and research, such as think tanksgovernmentnonprofits, and private organizations. 

While the guide is intended to support BII+E in expanding our approach to performing and communicating research, we believe it to have value beyond our walls and have shared it in hopes that others may benefit from the research. We have adopted a broad definition of ‘creative approaches’, looking at a diverse range of methods and tools, some of which may be more familiar, such as digital publishing and traditional media  and others that are more experimental in a policy context such as visual art, creative writing, walking tours, and urban interventions. It is by no means exhaustive, and is intended as a living document, which will be updated and iterated on as we uncover new and exciting additions, and test some of these in our own work.

“Wake Up!” says sociologist Bruno Latour in Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy,[19] “there are lots of ways of presenting your data. There are lots of ways of collaborating with artists. Let’s organize new connections and recover the materiality of political representation by making things public.” (Latour, 2007)[20]

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[1] Zarin, Cynthia. 2015. “The Artist Who Is Bringing Icebergs to Paris.” The New York Times, December 5, 2015. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-artist-who-is-bringing-icebergs-to-paris.

[2] The project has been executed three times, first in Copenhagen, DK (2014), and most recently in London, UK (2019). For a history of the project, see: Eliasson, Olafur. 2019. “Ice Watch History.” Ice Watch London. 2019. http://icewatchlondon.com.

[3] Rea, Naomi. “Olafur Eliasson Hauls 30 Icebergs to London, Inviting the Public to Contemplate the Devastating Effects of Climate Change.” artnet News, December 11, 2018. https://news.artnet.com/exhibitions/olafur-eliasson-ice-watch-london-1416811.

[4] Jonze, Tim. 2018. “Icebergs Ahead! Olafur Eliasson Brings the Frozen Fjord to Britain.” The Guardian, December 11, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/dec/11/icebergs-ahead-olafur-eliasson-brings-the-frozen-fjord-to-britain-ice-watch-london-climate-change; Parsons, Elly. 2018. “Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Ice Watch’ Confronts Londoners with the Realities of Climate Change.” Wallpaper, December 11, 2018. https://www.wallpaper.com/art/olafur-eliasson-ice-watch-londonZarin, Cynthia. 2015. “The Artist Who Is Bringing Icebergs to Paris.” The New York Times, December 5, 2015. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-artist-who-is-bringing-icebergs-to-paris.

[5] United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2019. “Acclaimed Artist Olafur Eliasson Named UNDP Goodwill Ambassador.” United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). September 22, 2019. https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/news-centre/news/2019/Olafur_Eliasson_named_UNDP_Goodwill_Ambassador.html; United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2019. “Goodwill Ambassadors and Advocates.” United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2019. https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/goodwill-ambassadors.html.

[6] Balzer, David. 2017. “The Carbon Footprint of Art.” Canadian Art, February 20, 2017. https://canadianart.ca/features/the-carbon-footprint-of-art/.

[7] Bottrill, Catherine. “The Carbon Footprint of Ice Watch Exhibited at the UN Climate Change Summit (COP21) Paris, December 2015.” Julie’s Bicycle, December 1, 2015. http://olafureliasson.net.s3.amazonaws.com/subpages/icewatchparis/press/Ice_Watch_Carbon_Footprint.pdf.

[8] Rea, Naomi. “Olafur Eliasson Hauls 30 Icebergs to London, Inviting the Public to Contemplate the Devastating Effects of Climate Change.” artnet News, December 11, 2018. https://news.artnet.com/exhibitions/olafur-eliasson-ice-watch-london-1416811.

[9] Klein, Naomi, and Molly Crabapple. “A Message From the Future With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.” The Intercept, April 17, 2019. https://theintercept.com/2019/04/17/green-new-deal-short-film-alexandria-ocasio-cortez/.

[10] Friedman, Lisa. 2019. “What Is the Green New Deal? A Climate Proposal, Explained.” The New York Times. February 21, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/21/climate/green-new-deal-questions-answers.html.

[11] Bennett, Stephen. 2018. “A Role for Art in Policy-Making?” Policy Lab UK. October 31, 2018. https://openpolicy.blog.gov.uk/2018/10/10/a-role-for-art-in-policy-making/.

[12] Rinne, Luke, Emma Gregory, Julia Yarmolinskaya, and Mariale Hardiman. 2011. “Why Arts Integration Improves Long‐Term Retention of Content.” Mind, Brain, and Education 5 (May): 89–96. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-228X.2011.01114.x.

[13] Malli, Nisa, Sarah Doyle, Erin Warner, and Jessica Thomson. “Building Inclusion and Equity into Canada’s Innovation Economy.” Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship, 2019. https://brookfieldinstitute.ca/project/building-inclusion-into-canadas-innovation-economy.

[14] Ramkisson, Simona. 2018. “Digital Literacy + Coding Pilot: Quarterly Insights.” Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship. October 1, 2018. https://brookfieldinstitute.ca/commentary/digital-literacy-coding-pilot-quarterly-insights-2.

[15] Thorton, Jessica, Heather Russek, and Tara O’Neil. 2019. “Turn and Face the Strange: Changes Impacting the Future of Employment in Canada.” Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship. August 9, 2019. https://brookfieldinstitute.ca/report/turn-and-face-the-strange-changes-impacting-the-future-of-employment-in-canada.

[16] Do, Andrew, and Annalise Huynh. 2017. “Hello World! Working in a Digital Era.” Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship. April 10, 2017. https://brookfieldinstitute.ca/commentary/hello-world-working-in-a-digital-era.

[17] Vu, Viet. 2019. “Canada’s Tech Compass.” The Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. January 2019. https://brookfieldiie.shinyapps.io/Tech_Workers_2019/.

[18] Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E). 2017. “Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E).” GitHub. 2019 2017. https://github.com/BrookfieldIIE.

[19] Latour, Bruno, and Peter Weibel. 2005. Making Things Public. The MIT Press, ZKM Centre for Art. https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/making-things-public.

[20] Latour, Bruno, and Peter Weibel. 2005. Making Things Public. The MIT Press, ZKM Centre for Art. https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/making-things-public.

For media enquiries, please contact Lianne George, Director of Strategic Communications at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

Stephanie Fielding
Policy + Research Analyst
June 19, 2020
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