Conversations with IRiS: a new podcast

Conversations with IRiS video thumbnail

Dr Stefano Piemontese and Professor Nando Sigona explain why they decided to turn IRiS's online seminar series on migration and diversity into a new podcast. The podcast is available on GoogleApple Podcast, and Spotify

Before the pandemic, IRiS hosted monthly seminars on campus, inviting scholars, writers, and activists to present their work and discuss it with staff and students. In Spring 2020, the pandemic started and lockdown restrictions were implemented, we asked ourselves: how do we carry out these activities in this new scenario? The answer was simple: we moved our seminars online. 

Our audiences for online seminars were double or triple compared to in-person meetings.

The transition from the offline to online world was not easy, but as a research institute we could build on our long-established social media presence and our experience of reaching out to different audiences with our research. In practice, teleconferencing software like Zoom, and social media platforms like YouTube, allowed us to invite a larger audience to our events: not only could people living in Birmingham come, sit and engage in discussion with our speakers, but virtually the rest of the world could participate, also in an asynchronous way. 

If we have learned something from social media, it's that it can make the private public. That's how we came up with 'Conversations with IRiS': we wanted to allow audiences to 'eavesdrop' on a dialogue between two people, people who took the time to ask the right questions, listen to each other, and build together a shared reflection outside the traditional canons and formats that characterise the dissemination of research results, such as conferences and seminars. 

'Conversations with IRiS' was born to create an alternative, more intimate and dialogical space to talk about the research we conduct at IRiS. 

We used the conversations to reach out to new audiences worldwide, enter into a dialogue with people we would not have usually reached with an on-campus event, and strategically build international partnerships and networks. For instance, the generation of automatic subtitles on YouTube allowed us to run conversations in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, and thus engage with research realised outside of the English-speaking world. Moreover, this format enables us to give space to the multiple voices that make up our Institute. In the end, Iris also became a collective name made by different identities, positions and intellectual interests. 

In one year (from May 2020 to June 2021), we produced 25 episodes of 'Conversations with IRiS', talking about everything from racism in healthcare to the effect of COVID-19 on LGBTIQ asylum seekers in the UK. 

This summer, we decided to convert all these episodes into a Podcast. We will continue hosting our conversations on Zoom and also publishing them on the IRiS YouTube channel. However, we do not want to ask people to be in front of a screen for more time than they already spend. We are overwhelmed by screens, at work and home. In addition, the communication technologies we use daily to communicate with our friends and family, including social media and video chats, invite us to spend a lot of time online. The pandemic has only exacerbated this situation. After a day at work, surrounded by screens, you may not want to watch a 20-minute Youtube video. But if this conversation is on a Podcast, you can just drive your car, sit on the bus, go running, or relax on your couch, close your eyes, and spend 20 minutes of your week learning something new.