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  • Charlie Rumsby

How to Win an ASEASUK Digital Impact Grant

Updated: Oct 19


The Association of Southeast Asian Studies UK (AEASUK) have opened their call for applications for the 2021/2022 Digital Impact Grant. There is one award for £1500 open to PhD, MPhil, MRes students and early career researchers. As someone who has successfully applied for this grant, I wanted to share some pointers from my previous applications and, hopefully, offer some practical advice that you can use for your own application.


Before we get going, let’s have a quick look at what is expected in an application. The below text is taken from the ASEASUK website


The project could involve:

The dissemination of research to a non-academic audience through a website or film; Online collaboration with an external partner or organisation in Southeast Asia on a project directly related to your research; The development of a film or similar artistic project.


The aim of the award:

To support the creation of a digital project based on research or a project that has already been conducted in Southeast Asia.


The key takeaway from the above is to note what is missing? You cannot see for instance "present project at an academic conference" or "write an academic article" as a central activity or output. This is what sets this grant apart. You might present your project at a conference and / or write an article about the project. I did both. However, this grant is intended to enable you to take your research to new audiences. The grant is there to support you in your own creative process and/or making collaborations with non-academics, be they artists or organisations that you are connected to.


What is digital impact?

Outside of academia digital impact is the ability to create an effect, change opinions and behaviours, and drive measurable outcomes online. Digital influence is largely a phenomenon of social networking.[1] Digital impact within academia has similar hallmarks.

Digital Impact could be translated as visual, arts-based research dissemination for change.

To date my digital impact work (funded by two ASEASUK grants) has been embedded in a desire to take a 'text heavy' research analysis and convert it into another format that is widely accessible to participants themselves, and the lay reader.[2] Other examples of digital impact could be taking your research findings and creating an animated toolkit to assist organisations in their work. It could be creating a website that creatively explains your research findings, or digital impact could be a public exhibition of your work with the intention of engaging people in conversations about topics your research brings to the fore. There are many examples of digital impact out there. I added a few examples below that I hope will inspire you.


You might ask, why should I apply for such a small pot of money? Especially money that does not cover the full economic cost of my employment (like the British Academy Postdoctoral fellowship would for instance). As early career researchers, applying for small pots of money offers practice in grant writing. It opens us up to the process of project management and collaboration. Essential skills for applying for larger grants. Start your funding track record with a small grant.

What do I need to do to craft a successful Digital Impact Bid?

Before you get going on writing your application, find yourself a big sheet of blank paper and start exploring the following:

1. Story telling

What story do you want to tell? For me I wanted to tell the story of children’s everyday lives. In statelessness research the obvious thing to focus on is what children lack. It is important to acknowledge how legal exclusion creates inequalities that severely reduce formal routes of social, economic, legal, and political mobility. Yet, children are not reduced to their statelessness. They are embedded in communities, are negotiating their identity, and belonging among their families and friends. This is a story I wanted to tell. When telling a story, you must also pause and ask yourself “what is the relevance of this story?” Answering the question of relevance is vital. Another way of framing it is, what's the "so what?" factor.


Below is a snippet from my own application regarding story development and relevance:


Stories being developed / Why are they relevant?


The waters of death and life

Statelessness is often framed as ontological dehumanisation. A narrative of legal triumphalism that focuses on the necessity of paperwork for meaningful access to services omits the nuance and insights of how children experience dislocation within their communities and the journey they go on to belong and create feelings of home. This story is relevant because it uncovers the intimate lives of stateless children, their agency and decision making which is missing in the scholarship and political discourse on statelessness. Thus, stories such as this are of great educational value.


My diverse range of textual, image and audio data will link children’s accounts with illustrations, some drawn by children themselves, and other illustrated interpretations of data. I want to experiment with ‘comic’ descriptions of children’s stories that are particularly difficult to tell, because of their morose nature (for instance, children drowning in the water). Drawing on contrasting themes of structural violence, exclusion and discrimination and a more intimate exploration of faith, family life and belonging sensory elements of data aim to help to take the reader on a journey. I want to experiment with sound to convey meaning. In particular sounds of water, song and silence.


See the final piece here


2. Collaboration

After I understood what story I wanted to tell, I asked myself what I needed to do to tell the story. As I do not have skills in illustration and illustration was a key medium I planned to use, I needed to collaborate with an illustrator. Acknowledging the limitations in your own skill set does not have to be a negative. It is an opportunity. Who could you work with to tell your story? What skills do you need to bring to the table? To learn more about my collaborations click here Collaborations offer a variety of new skills that can compliment and bring to life your story, they also open up your story to new audiences.



3. Audience

Who do you want to encounter the story you have to tell? Policy makers? Participants? Non-academic audiences? When considering impact, knowing your audience is crucial. You need to be able to clearly articulate who you intend the end user of your work to be. Moreover, what action would you want your audience to take, if any? How could you measure that action? Measuring digital impact is not straight forward. If might be that it's impossible to know the exact numbers of people who go onto engage with your project. Yet, you might, for instance, exhibit your work in a space that historically is known for impact. For example, I was able to submit the illustrations Ben and I had done as part of the illustrating anthropology exhibition. This then led to our work being selected for public exhibition at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool as part of the Being Human Festival. I do not know exactly the number of people that viewed our work, but I do know that both outlets are established and well respected. Consequently, Ben and I were able to reach new audiences. Moreover, the digital footprint being involved in both events enhanced our ability to connect with people outside of academia. Each outlet had it's own social media following too, so the distribution of the work was made easier.


4. Digital footprint

If covid-19 has taught us anything, it has shown us that you can do a lot online. In fact, when I won my first ASEASUK digital impact grant, I had no other choice but to embrace online communities around me. Online exhibitions are a thing. I have participated in two (1) illustrating anthropology and (2) Immobile lives in turbulent times: Methods and Practices of Mobilities Research. These exhibitions and creating a website to document the visual elements of my research have enabled me to continue to update various audiences via social media on the progress of my digital impact projects.


If you created a website who would you want to use it? What would you want them to know about you and your project?

I was a novice when I began with my website. I purchased a template off Wix and learnt to populate it. I use the blog to continue to encourage traffic to my website, update audiences about my growing research CV and to promote the work of others. This has sustained my digital footprint. When you draft your application think through your digital footprint and how you can best maximise it. Connecting with your existing networks and creating new ones is an easy way to do this.


5. Networks

Impact is not an activity achieved in isolation. When I drafted my ASEASUK Digital Impact application, I had in mind the networks I had built throughout my career. Colleagues I had met in Cambodia who work for NGOs, fellow academics who work with visual methods, friends and family who would want to view my research in different formats. I also researched new networks I could approach and connect with to strengthen my dissemination activities.


My latest ASEASUK Digital Impact Project, an ethnographic film that looks at Christian mission in Cambodia, will be submitted to film festivals, both academic and otherwise. Moreover, I intend to engage sixth form students who are choosing their university courses and premier the film with them. This impact activity will promote Southeast Asian studies, Anthropology and Visual Methodologies. Engaging new audiences can certainly include those who do not know much about regional studies, your discipline, or your research topic.

The Application Form: important practical details


Describe the project and how you will publicise it


This is an important element of the application form. I strongly suggest breaking it down into sections. This will guide the reader and help you to be concise.


Examples of headings I have used in pervious applications:


Aim: in sentence or two what will you do and what will the project allow you to do in the future?


Project Brief: explain what stage you are at in the project. For example, for my latest Digital Impact Grant I already had film footage that needed editing, for my first project I needed to create illustrations from scratch.


Impact Strategy

Make a list of your impact activities. For instance:


1. Submit film to selected academic and non-academic film festivals

2. Build website to showcase project

3. Host a project end event inviting key stakeholders (name them) to view the art installation


Teaching

How will your engagement with digital forms be useful for teaching purposes? I have been invited to teach PhD students and Masters students off the back of my projects. If you are in a university context how will this process and the knowledge / experience you gain for it be useful for building the capacity of others?


Publications

Does your project speak to the use of a new method / offer insightful details regarding collaboration? If so then adding an academic output here is a good idea.


Ethics

This might not be so relevant, but I want to mention it as I already had film footage for my second award and to get that footage, I had to go through an ethics process. Showing the grant assessors, I had ethnical clearance demonstrated that my allocated timeline covered all activities.


How does the project meet the award criteria given in the guidance notes?


As mentioned before, headings are useful for each section to help you get to your point clearly. Headings I have used in this section are as follows:


Academic Research: what debates or literature does your project speak into?


Methods: what methods are you using? How do they fit the digital?


Research Reach: how will you ensure the project is impactful utilising the digital? This is about your audience, platforms you will use and what issues will be raised.

Timeline


Any good application will have thought through the time it will take to deliver the project. This must be included in your application. Discussing this timeline with any collaborators before is essential. Of course sometimes timelines shift, but having an idea in the first instance is important. Here is a snippet of the timeline from my recent application to give you an idea of what is expected:


Project Timeline

Project Activities

Deadlines

Create StoryBoard (SB)

Major Review of SB

SB Edits

Rough Cut

Major Round Feedback: - Scene change - Music change

- Shot change

Major Edits

Minor Edits Feedback:

-Colour

-Graphics

Minor Edits

Lock-in

First Viewing


Note the simple but effective table explains the project activity and the deadlines (which I have deleted 😊, I cannot reveal all things!)


Costs


All good projects are well costed. I am a big believer that people should be paid for their labour. We might get ‘mate’s rates’ if we work with friends, but paying your collaborators is important. In your application you need to include your costs and justify how you will use the grant. This does not need to be a long section. Yet, the details are important.


I have managed to raise additional funds that will supplement the projects I have applied for. You might be able to do that too. If so, include it here. It shows that others believe in the credibility of the project.


Conclusion

The Digital Impact Grant is a great starter grant for you to test the waters of alternative ways to disseminate your work. It can offer an example of what you would like to do on a bigger scale, and show other potential funders what they can invest in. The focus on the digital is unique and provides a creative opportunity to experiment.


I encourage you to apply! Good luck. Oh, p.s. you can also watch an online explanation of the above here around 28 mins in.


Examples of digital impact

Hmongdom: innovative technology for rural development Hmongdom is an ongoing peer-to-peer development project which aims to empower, encourage and equip Hmong farmers with various opportunities to enhance their livelihoods. Dr Seb Rumsby applied for the ASEASUK research grant to launch this digital impact project. Being able to launch this project influenced its digital impact.

After the ASEASUK funding Dr Seb Rumsby was able to upscale the work through an ESRC impact grant. Now Hmongdom distributes high-quality, relevant mini-documentaries on different livelihood options, such as growing flowers as cash crops or community-benefit tourism. Episodes are based around interviewing successful business entrepreneurs within the local community and showing how it can be achieved by the viewers. Hmongdom's youtube page has received over 500,000 views with further activities in the pipeline. Read more here.


Stories of Migration MIDEQ and PositiveNegatives launched The Story of Migration, an animation in six languages that aims to tell the complex story of the relationship between migration and global inequalities. The animation, illustrated by Karrie Fransman, is based on a script written with MIDEQ’s partners in 11 countries in the Global South and challenges many of the ideas that currently dominate media representations of migration. It highlights:

  1. The fact that migration between the countries of the Global South accounts for nearly half of all international migration, 70% in some places

  2. The complex reasons why people move including poverty, conflict and love

  3. The fact that inequalities are increasing and have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic

  4. The role of inequalities including gender and age in shaping migration decisions

  5. Inequalities in the ability to travel safely between the countries of the Global South

  6. The economic, political, social and cultural contributions made by migrants

  7. The implications of migration for those ‘left behind’

Footnotes

[1] https://www.techopedia.com/definition/28497/digital-influence [2] you can read more on that here https://entanglementsjournal.org/retrospective-representation-turning-the-written-ethnographic-text-into-an-ethno-graphic

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