Poet Lemn Sissay
Poet Lemn Sissay shares his compelling story of beating the odds in the BBC Ideas short film about Oxford's Young Lives project, which has followed young people in four developing nations for more than 20 years. Photo: BBC Ideas

Just Four Films. BBC-Oxford social sciences join forces to turn four great ideas into fantastic new films

  • ‘Dragons Den’? More than 80 social science researchers deliver ‘amazing’ ideas

  • Four ‘exciting’ projects chosen to be turned into short films

Seven months ago, Social Sciences Division put out a call to its academics: would you like to make a short film based on your research, in collaboration with BBC Ideas? Who wouldn’t?

Six weeks later, not surprisingly, some 80 amazing ideas for filming were delivered, covering the full range of the division’s research. And somehow the BBC and the division had to whittle those down to just four ideas, which could be distilled into five-minute films or animations, explaining the research and being entertaining for an under 35s audience.

BBC Ideas BBC Ideas
It was an extremely tough call. According to Bethan Jinkinson, the BBC Ideas Executive editor behind the films, ‘We’ve never done anything quite like this before. It was wonderful to hear from so many different academics about so many amazing ideas and such a wide range of projects. The standard was very high.’

She explained how BBC Ideas works, ‘These are short films aimed at an under 35s audience…they need academic rigour, insight and facts but also need to be effortlessly entertaining.’

Sam Sneddon, Head of Research, Impact & Engagement in the Social Sciences Division, said, ‘We are very excited about this partnership with BBC Ideas – the first of its type for Oxford – because it is a huge opportunity to engage new audiences with social sciences research.

‘We hope that these short films and animations will inspire watchers to explore new ideas and perspectives, and find out more about Oxford’s excellent academic research in the social sciences and beyond.’

 The four projects chosen were:

Why do some children beat the odds? a captivating film based on the Young Lives project’s idea about how children in some of the poorest countries on Earth have beaten the odds to improve their lives.

How the humble bean can help the world, a clever, entertaining animation based on an idea from TABLE, the future of food platform, about how the humble bean is the answer to everything…and not.

Five things you probably didn’t know about periods, an amazing and incredibly interesting film, led by doctoral candidate Gabriella Kountourides based on her research on menstruation.

How to keep cool (without heating the planet). As the world warms and heatwaves become more frequent, we turn up the Air Conditioning. But that contributes to climate change. This fascinating animation looks at the air-con conundrum. 

Bethan explained, ‘Turning what are quite intellectually demanding concepts into five minutes of film, that a wide audience will enjoy, is often a challenge.’

But she added, ‘It was great to work with a new partner, and exciting to be working on social science topics.

‘These films showcase the variety of connections to the real world in social sciences.

‘It’s been privilege to work with the academics and to discover new ideas and fresh perspectives.’

BBC Ideas was launched in 2018 and has published over 750 short films. They are available on numerous channels, from the BBC Ideas website (bbc.co.uk) as well as YouTube and Twitter. Films are promoted on the BBC News website and Homepage, as well as the main BBC Facebook, Instagram and Tik Tok accounts.

One of the most popular BBC Ideas films on YouTube is about being an introvert in an extrovert world, and has had over 5.7 million views. Another very popular film on YouTube is about the man who invented algorithms – with over two million views.

Bethan concluded, ‘We are really pleased with the final films. The animators and production companies we’ve worked with have done a brilliant job, they are so creative and brilliant. We’re really excited to share them with the audience.’

The Films

Why do some children beat the odds?

Young Lives has followed the fortunes of some 12,000 children in four developing nations for the last 20+ years. And the team behind the long-running survey knew they had an idea which would relate to many young people: beating the odds.

The BBC matched the idea with the poet Lemn Sissay, who told his compelling personal story of triumph over adversity – based around three factors identified in Young Lives’ research. Young Lives has looked at how the young people it has followed overcome crises and difficult lives – more information can be seen on the website here.

Julia Tilford, Communications Manager, said, ‘We were thrilled to have the opportunity to bring this positive story to young audiences – particularly when there are so many crises in the world.’

Dr Cath Porter, the project’s Director, added, ‘We were very excited to be chosen and to work with BBC Ideas and Lemn Sissay, whose own inspiring story brings our research to life.’

How the humble bean can help the world

TABLE works with food system stakeholders to explore the future of food, and the ways in which scientific evidence and social values inform often conflicting visions and arguments for necessary change. So, the idea of making a film about the humble bean, and whether it is the answer to everything, was very much in the team’s wheelhouse.

Jackie Turner, who worked closely with the BBC on the film, said, ‘We pitched a few ideas, but in the end, beans turned out to be a great topic choice because they join up so many different strands of conversation in food systems - they're in the middle of so many different proposed solutions.’

Tamsin Blaxter, member of the TABLE team, said, 'Our usual audiences are people working in food production or on food policy, but the reality is that everyone is a stakeholder in the food system. Everyone can exert some power through what they choose to eat, how they choose to vote, and what they choose to support - and everyone stands to benefit from healthier and more sustainable food.'

TABLE director Dr Tara Garnett explained, ‘It was something of a joke: beans are the answer to everything. It was flippant but not really. Beans are great – they’re good for health and the environment. We will all be eating beans for dinner after this.’

But she added seriously, ‘Nothing can ever be the answer to everything and that’s a really important message about the food system.’

The TABLE team members emphasised how pleased they all are with the film and the potential for reaching a wide audience.

Five things you probably didn’t know about periods


Rarely discussed but experienced by about 50% of the world’s population, menstruation is fascinating to Anthropology doctoral student Gabriella Kountourides.

Her film busts five myths about periods – including the idea that periods are somehow linked to lunar cycles (they’re not) and that women’s periods synchronize if they live together (they don’t) Gabriella also explores old myths – such as the Ancient Greek idea that wombs float around the body (obviously they do not).

In what is likely to be a very popular film, the irrepressible Gabriella concluded, ‘There’s so much unknown about something that happens to half of the world’s population at some point in their life.’

How to keep cool (without heating the planet)

As temperatures go up, the cost of power should go down...right? Wrong. Potentially, the cost of cooling - and the emissions created - will add to global warming, in an ever expanding feedback loop. In this powerful short film, based on the research of Dr Radhika Khosla and the Oxford Martin School Programme on the Future of Cooling, the problems of keeping cool are explained. The research team said, 'The BBC Ideas team worked closely with us on the script and animation to make sure it was as true to the research as possible while also being easy to understand.

'Our hope is that it informs a new audience about sustainable cooling and sparks their curiosity. Above all, we want people to know that while the challenges presented by climate change are enormous, there are some solutions we can start implementing right away.'

The AC might be effective at cooling the room, but they are power hungry appliances. A small unit in a single room uses more electricity than four fridges.