SHAPE Involve and Engage: inspiring climate action through the power of drama

18 Apr 2024

University of Southampton academic Dr Denise Baden, recipient of a British Academy SHAPE Involve and Engage award for public engagement, shares the creative process behind her project, a play called “Murder in the Citizens’ Jury”. Her work aims to educate audiences on actionable steps towards climate friendly decisions through drama, workshops, and community engagement. The SHAPE, Involve, and Engage funding scheme offers exciting opportunities for humanities and social sciences researchers to seek innovative new ways to engage with the public.

Our SHAPE Involve and Engage project, “Murder in the Citizens’ Jury”, is an interactive play where eight people in a citizens’ jury – also known as a citizens’ assembly – meet to discuss and debate potential solutions to the climate crisis. Delivered in partnership with Southampton City Libraries, our project highlights that despite a strong demand for concerted action to counteract climate change, there remains a general lack of awareness about the diverse array of solutions, both big and small, that are available to us.

The terms citizens’ assembly and citizens’ jury tend to be use synonymously, although citizen’s juries tend to be smaller with up to 24 people, compared to citizen’s assemblies which are typically around 100. Participants are chosen through random sampling to be a representative sample of the population. This method is increasingly popular in policy decision-making due to its democratic structure, independence from special interests, and its capacity to foster long-term strategic thinking and solutions. Recent examples are the Northern Ireland citizens’ assemblies on equal marriage, abortion and policies to tackle issues presented by an ageing population.

Kicking off our series of engaging performances is a 25-minute play which places the character of the Director of Public Prosecutions at the centre of a moral dilemma with potentially far-reaching implications. Faced with the decision to prosecute a case that could end up alienating his family and potentially dismantling the citizens' assembly model of direct democracy, the Director's dilemma underscores the play's themes of choice, consequence, and the climate crisis.

We're delighted that award-winning director and academic Jack Klaff, renowned for his roles in “Star Wars” and “Poirot”, will be starring as the Director of Public Prosecutions. The performance is scheduled for Saturday 20 April 2024 and will be taking place at the Southampton Central Library, followed by a Q&A session.

From September 17th – 21st, the Maskers theatre company will be premiering a 90-minute ‘whodunnit’ production of “Murder in the Citizens’ Jury” where audiences will delve into an array of potential solutions to the climate crisis. As the mystery unravels, the audience will be asked to cast their votes on actionable climate solutions through an app or via pull-out sheets provided in the play's programme. The interactive component of the performance encompasses a wide range of topics, from evaluating the effectiveness of citizens' juries and the proposal of a wellbeing index as an alternative to GDP, to the implementation of on-demand bus services and personal carbon allowances. This immersive experience is intended to entertain and engage audience members with critical environmental issues.

We’ll also be organising a workshop version of the play to accompany one of the performances. The workshop will engage participants in ways that are familiar to them, mimicking chatty everyday scenarios such as being at the hairdressers or in a taxi, which provide a lively, thought-provoking space prompting in-depth discussions on the proposed climate solutions.

Finally, we are working with a local Southampton school on a performance of “Murder in the Citizens’ Jury” later this year. We hope that this engagement will highlight the relevance and impact of climate themes on younger generations, encouraging people of all ages to consider actions they could take to combat the climate crisis.

Allison Walker, Reading and Resources Development Officer at Southampton City Libraries, said:

"By collaborating with Denise and her team at the University of Southampton, we hope to highlight the pivotal role libraries play in providing and facilitating access to reliable information. In alignment with our commitment to the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals' Green Libraries Manifesto, this project is an important step toward addressing the proliferation of climate disinformation, enhancing environmental literacy and understanding, and fostering critical thinking across all ages."

More information and tickets to the 20th April performance of Murder in the Citizens’ Jury can be found here. The event will also be accessible via livestream on Youtube for those unable to attend in person.

Contact the press office

For further information contact the Press Office on [email protected]  / 07500 010 432.

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