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Visualising climate change 2020 Hackathon

By Toby Smith on January 21, 2020

How has the evidence base for what constitutes effective, powerful climate imagery evolved since our original 2016 Climate Visuals research?

Earlier this month, Climate Visuals and Saffron O’Neill, Associate Professor in Geography at Exeter University, organised the ‘Visualising Climate Change 2020 Hackathon’ to critically update and expand the evidence base for how to effectively communicate climate change through imagery. 

Together we convened  a dozen academics specialising in climate change imagery as well as industry professionals from both Getty Images and the World Press Photo Foundation. Members of the Climate Visuals team included Toby Smith, Adam Corner and Joel Silver. 

The starting point of this proactive Hackathon was the 7 Climate Visuals principles which in practice are fused collaboratively by the Climate Visuals team with observations and critiques of newsroom and image sourcing processes.  The Hackathon brought together the latest insights of the room, promoted critical dialogue and identified gaps in knowledge requiring new research. It also reflected on the rapidly widening and intensifying coverage of climate change throughout 2019. 

The immediate results of this Hackathon include a sense of community and reinforced connections among practitioners and academics within what is a niche and specialist area. The informal notes, documents, references and discussions were collated live and will be edited into an accessible report to be co-authored and published by Climate Visuals and Saffron O’Neill in the next few months. 

The 7 Climate Visuals principles published in 2016 were critically tested and scrutinised but reassuringly, came away unscathed as an accessible and robust guide to editing and commissioning Climate imagery for 2020.  It was gratifying to learn that everyone attending left with an accelerated understanding of the state of climate imagery and a sense of purpose for the challenge ahead.  

Both Saffron O’Neill and the Climate Visuals team would like to thank everyone who attended and those on our guest list who, although unable to attend, have already kindly offered to help review the draft report before publication. We would also like to thank the ESRC (Economic Social Research Council) for their funding as part of an Impact Acceleration Grant. 

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By Toby Smith

Toby was the Visuals and Media Programme Lead for Climate Outreach from 2019 to March 2023. He had the strategic goal of expanding our presence, influence and impact in the visual and media sectors.

Toby graduated with a Masters in Photography from London College of Communication in 2008 after spending 2 years working across Africa utilising his bachelors degree in Zoology and Environmental Science.

He joined us with over 12 years experience as an award-winning environmental photographer with a focus on building innovative and global stories through collaboration and publication in leading editorial outlets.


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