Can We Communicate Ourselves to a Better World?

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By Professor Ekant Veer

The University of Florida’s Centre for Public Interest Communications seems to think so and they discussed this at their recent ‘frank’ gathering in Gainesville, Florida. The Centre’s Director, Prof. Ann Christiano, and Director of Programs, Ellen Nodine, visited Christchurch in October of 2019 to work with the city and UC on developing communications programs and practices that would benefit the city after the March 15 terror attacks.

During their short stay both Ann and Ellen gave a public lecture as well as held meetings with members of the UC faculty, students, mana whenua, local city officials, and practitioners all to discuss the role that public interest communications can improve social cohesion and well-being. On the back of this visit I was able to visit Gainesville and take part in the frank gathering as ‘The Curator of the Love Track’ (more on this weird title, later). Gabrielle Huria from Ngāi Tahu was also in attendance to speak on the role that she and her iwi were able to play in bringing people together after the shootings.

The frank gathering aims to bring together an equal proportion of practitioners, activists, academics and funders to all share their own ideas about how communications can improve society. So, while I would normally go to a conference and get excited about sitting next to a prominent professor in my field, here I was sitting next to the person who started the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt, then have dinner with a Muslim hip-hop activist, followed the next day having breakfast with a professor from Cambridge, then giving a talk alongside creator of The Daily Show. It was an experience that was completely out of my comfort zone, but showed how important it is for us, as academics, to engage with the full gamut of influencers out there.

The gathering is in its 7th year and this year all the talks were split into different tracks based on an emotion. We heard from people talking about anger, hope, pride, love etc. Each track had a curator that would coach the speakers and tie together each talk together with an opening. This is where I became the ‘Curator of the Love Track’ and was given the privilege to open the set of talks with some experiences of working in Christchurch after the shootings and what the role of love plays in driving action forward. In between all these very inspirational talks were breakout sessions where we were able to put some of the experiences into practice in a more hands-on fashion.

Both Gabrielle and I were there to see what we can do better back in Christchurch and whether a similar gathering could work here. Perhaps a local collective of people from all walks of life sharing their knowledge and experiences about public interest communications and what things we have learnt in our own journeys that others may benefit from. Watch this space as we develop plans in this area.

Many thanks should be extended to Bruce McTaggart and his whānau, whose passion and vision for seeing betterment in our society funded both Prof. Christiano and Dr. Nodine’s visit to Christchurch in 2019 as well as Gabrielle and my visit to frank last week.

Dr Ekant Veer is a professor in marketing in the UC Business School at the University of Canterbury. His area of expertise is in social marketing and social well-being.

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