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Behind the scenes: making the Reflecting Value podcast



Person recording a podcast

What goes into making a podcast? Our research associate and podcast host Dr Robyn Dowlen talks through the process of making Reflecting Value, how it has supported her own development as a researcher and what organisations may want to consider if they’re planning their own.

I’ve always been interested in podcasts as a medium. My work is all about asking questions, digging deeper and helping people to reflect. Podcasts really help you to do that.

But a question I get asked a lot is ‘how do you start one?’ So here are my reflections from making the first series of the Centre’s podcast Reflecting Value, and some learnings we’ll take forward for series two.

Know your purpose

The first thing we realised about making a podcast is that it is very time intensive. Around three month’s work went into planning before we hit the record button. For this reason, you need to make sure you have a really clear idea of what you want to achieve. Give yourself breathing room right at the beginning to think about your niche.

For Reflecting Value we were interested in bridging the gap between research and practice, and finding a really accessible way to do that. It was about bringing things into the open and having the honest conversations I think we don’t necessarily always get the chance to have as researchers. That’s why we framed the episodes around questions, as opposed to the projects themselves.

It’s also really helpful to listen to the different types of podcasts that are out there. We use a narrative style which helps us to bring our conversations back to those key questions, but you might find that a straightforward interview or journalistic approach would suit your audience and subject matter better.

Rehearse with the tech

Of course we were doing all of this during the pandemic, in makeshift home studios. Our producer and fellow team member Mikey Nissenbaum and I spent a lot of time figuring out how to get the quality we wanted, including sitting under duvets and in wardrobes to test out the sound!

I started every interview with an easy question to get people talking and to develop a warmth (more often than not asking what they had for breakfast). We then went through the best way to get clean audio on their end, including turning off speakers and alerts, and putting any cats outside the room.

Find guests who are prepared to be open

The interview that really sticks in my mind is with the Culture Box team (episode three). This episode is all about whether research creates additional barriers to engaging with culture, health and wellbeing work. The team were doing an action research project and they were prepared to be very open about the challenges they faced in recruiting a diverse group of participants for their sample. This allowed us to dive deeper into why they thought that was and what they’ve learnt from the experience, with no judgement. You just don’t get this level of depth from peer reviewed literature.

Grace Quantock’s conversation in the same episode was also really interesting because she had such a breadth of knowledge and really wanted to explore different concepts around the theme of safe spaces. As a psychotherapeutic counsellor she was a great guest, because she brought a layer of criticality.

Let the guests speak for themselves

For episode 4 we had a submission from five cultural leaders in Leeds, who call themselves the ‘Leeds 5’. This episode focused on their own experiences of health and wellbeing as female cultural leaders from different ethnic backgrounds, the challenges they’ve had and how they supported each other, particularly following the murder of George Floyd.

They had complete ownership of that episode. They curated it themselves, selected an interviewer and had input into the questions. It was a very strong and moving episode because of it.

Don’t over-edit

Part of the challenge is in the edit. Every interview we did was about an hour, and with 10 guests that’s more than 10 hours of audio. But we kept each episode at 30 minutes (or 40 minutes for episode 4), to make sure that it was accessible and can be listened to on the move – whether you’re out for a walk, on the school run or while you’re washing up.

But we still tried to edit honestly. We had to let go of trying to get the story right and instead let the guests tell their stories.

A learning experience

Finally, something I didn’t anticipate was how I would develop as a host and expand my skills as a researcher. I’m now really interested in the ways podcasting can be used as a research method, to allow people to open up about their stories, and speak in a safe environment.

The next theme we’re going to be focusing on is cultural participation. We’re going to look at older people and their sense of connection and cohesion through culture, as well as everyday creativity, voluntary and amateur arts. We’re also going to try to unpick the idea of digital culture and what that means – now, five years ago and ten years in the future.

Listen to Robyn talking more about the podcast below.

Listen to Reflecting Value on Spotify, Apple Music or wherever you find your podcasts.

You can also help to shape the next series, by completing our quick feedback form.

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