i-Docs Community Conversation 4: Immersive Audiences

We are delighted to invite you to join us for our fourth i-Docs Community Conversations webinar – Immersive Audiences

While the last decade has seen a burgeoning of immersive nonfiction; commissioners, producers and researchers have tended to focus their attention on the poetics of immersive media, leaving exhibition and audience experience under-examined. This event addresses that gap – bringing together a conversation about diverse recent research on immersive audiences. We’ll be discussing how we conceptualise immersive audience experience, what methods can throw light on it, and how research considers the interests of audience, producers and platforms. The webinar will be chaired by Kate Nash, with speakers Maria Economou, William Uricchio and Mandy Rose .

Webinar details:

  • Thursday 25th March, 5-6.30pm BST (UK)
  • Register via Zoom link here  


Panelist Presentations:

Immersive storytelling and emotional engagement in cultural heritage interpretation
Maria Economou
The presentation will focus on the use of immersive storytelling for engaging audiences with cultural heritage and the past. It will use mainly the experience from the H2020 Research & Innovation EMOTIVE project and to some extend also the lessons learned from the MSCA POEM European Training Network research on Participatory Memory Practices. Drawing from the case study of the Hunterian Museum’s Antonine Wall display of Roman Scotland, where immersive narrative techniques were employed to encourage visitors to build emotional connections with objects and exhibition themes, the talk will refer to the mainly qualitative evaluation carried out and the main findings. These highlight the importance of social interaction during, as well as before and after the immersive experiences and the use of dialogic approaches for encouraging critical reflection, challenging stereotypes, and creating links between the past and users’ present lives.

Narrative coherence and users’ experiences of VR
William Uricchio
It’s still early days for VR.  Like the early film medium, lingering in the shadow of theater, VR’s signifying practices are still-taking form.  This research focuses on user experiences of narrative, and more specifically, on tensions between VR content strategies based on ‘story-telling’ and those based on ‘story-finding’ — between makers trying to communicate a particular narrative, and users being free to explore and find their own — often different — stories.  Understanding how users navigate narrative worlds can help us to articulate the medium’s capacities, with implications for production and aesthetic appraisal.  This work draws on some 400 user experiences of VR at the 2019 IDFA DocLab, and is part of IDFA’s Immersive Network R&D Program carried out in partnership with MIT’s Open Documentary Lab.

Audience responses to VR nonfiction in the home
Mandy Rose
Consumer headsets have brought VR nonfiction within reach of at-home audiences, though the appetite for VR at home for uses apart from games has been underexamined. In an empirical study, conducted within the EPSRC Virtual Realities project (2017-2020) 35 people across 12 diverse households were invited to experience VR nonfiction at home over several months. Participants showed considerable enthusiasm for the potential of VR for nonfiction, but also raised concerns around the ethics of immersion, and demonstrated a tension between the platform and the home setting. Meanwhile, the accounts of research participants suggested that social will be key to future directions for VR at home.

More on our speakers:

Chair Dr Kate Nash is a documentary scholar whose research is focused on documentary media, audiences and questions of theory and ethics. She has written extensively on interactive documentary, exploring the challenges that digital technologies pose for documentary scholars and considering the ways in which interactive documentaries are taken up (or not) by diverse audiences. Her forthcoming book Interactive Documentary: Theory and Debate (Routledge 2021) engages these questions. She is also interested in the complex and changing roles that documentary media plays in relation to social, cultural and political issues.


Mandy Rose is Professor of Documentary & Digital Cultures at UWE Bristol where she is Director of the Digital Cultures Research Centre, co-convenor of the i-Docs Symposium and UWE lead in the Pervasive Media Studio, Bristol.

Mandy has worked in film, TV and emerging media. During twenty years at the BBC she oversaw award-winning projects including BBC 2’s ground- breaking Video Nation and the Capture Wales digital storytelling project.

She is co-editor of i-docs: The evolving practices of interactive documentary – Wallflower Press 2017.  As Co-Investigator on the EPSRC Virtual Realities: Immersive Documentary Encounters project she led work on VR nonfiction ethics and audience experience. Her recent writing appears in Studies in Documentary Film and World Records  and Convergence.

William Uricchio is a media historian. He explores how cultures understand reality, how they represent it, and how those representations are deployed; he has a particular interest in emerging media systems.  Professor of Comparative Media Studies at MIT and founder and Principal Investigator of the MIT Open Documentary Lab and Principal Investigator of the Co-Creation Studio, William received Guggenheim, Humboldt, and Fulbright awards, and has held professorships in the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, and China.  His most recent book, co-authored with Katerina Cizek, is Collective Wisdom: Co-Creating Media Within Communities, Across Disciplines, and With Algorithms.

Professor Maria Economou is Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage, a joint post at the University of Glasgow shared between Information Studies at the School of Humanities and the Hunterian Museum, where she leads the Digital Strategy. She is Co-Investigator (Co-I) in the EU MCSA POEM Innovative Training Network on Participatory Memory Practices (2018-22) and was Co-I also in the EU H2020 EMOTIVE project (2016-19) on emotive virtual cultural experiences through personalized storytelling, and the AHRC/ESRC-funded Scottish National Heritage Partnership (2018-19) examining the use of Immersives in Cultural Heritage. She co-ordinated the Scottish Network on Digital Cultural Resources Evaluation, funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh (2015-16). She is founding co-director of the Glasgow Digital Cultural Heritage Network, supported by the Arts Lab. She was previously Associate Professor, Museology and New Technologies at the University of the Aegean (2003-13), where she directed the Museology Research Laboratory and worked at the University of Manchester (2000-2003) and the Pitt Rivers Museum as Assistant Curator- Information Technology (1995-1997).