The development of harm reduction messages as a creative process

Two separate events got me thinking about the creative process that goes into developing harm reduction messages that advocate for harm reduction or promote risk reducing practice.

The first event was a recent comment I received on an article I had written  about different methodologies that can be utilised to rapidly produce visual images promoting harm reduction.  The commenter offered a critique of the subjects that are often used to promote harm reduction such as images of needles, poppies and blood.  I maintain that this characterisation was a overgeneralisation and that images of a range of different things have been used to promote harm reduction.

The second event that has prompted this article was a recent 30 minute presentation I did for a small organisation regarding the use of social media in the promotion of harm reduction.  During the presentation I focussed primarily on the technical aspects of how a message could be produced and disseminated.  What I didn’t speak about was the creative process.

The development of messages promoting harm reduction is a creative process.  The ideas that we come up with will impact upon how engaged people will be with the message and have in my view a larger influence upon the reach of a message than other factors such as production values (though production values can still be really important!)

If you think about the viral videos that may pass your way via email or Facebook, many of them have very low production values. It is the content that engages the audience and makes them want to share it with others.

Looking for harm reduction in the everyday things

While many of the visual messages that I have produced to promote harm reduction, do indeed contain images of injecting equipment, poppies or blood, many other messages have utilised images that would not usually be associated with taking drugs or harm reduction.  Looking for the harm reduction messages in the everyday things can be a fun and interesting challenge.  The slideshow below provides some examples of what I mean.

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Of course not all your creative outputs will be a visual image.  7 dating tips for harm reduction workers has proven to be one of the most popular articles on Stonetree ever.  It was written originally as a series of tweets while sitting on a train on Valentines Day in 2012.  I was really bored and started playing with the idea of how I could link harm reduction with Valentines Day.

7 dating tips

Finding the connection between the everyday and harm reduction can be a great creative process.  By conjoining harm reduction concepts with seemingly unrelated events or items we can create a bridge for engagement.

Some tips to aid the creative process

1. Write down your ideas

I have dozens of ideas a day.  Most of them stink, some of them are not bad, but many of them never see the light of day as they occur at the most inconvenient moment (like when I have to get something else done.  I’ve found that taking the time to write a brief note to myself helps.  It acts as a kind of prompt when I go back to my notes and provides me with materials to start the creative process again at a time when I can dedicate some resources to the idea.

2. Go through old photographs looking for the harm reduction in the everyday

I am a keen photographer and often go on ‘photo walks’ capturing hundreds of images over a day that are not related to harm reduction.  Reviewing these photos with an eye for looking for ‘the harm reduction in the everyday’, has provided the materials for some quite unique harm reduction messages.

3. Talk to people – lots of people

I have found that other people are one of the greatest creative resources available.  Being able to bounce ideas of others helps me to filter out the ideas that are less engaging and focus upon those that may show some promise.  In the context of Stonetree, physically I work in relative isolation, therefore the networks I have developed online have become critical in the creative process.

Check out these creative ideas that took unrelated memes or concepts and added a harm reduction twist:

Keep calm and carry naloxone

Politicians take drugs too – Playing Cards


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