Recommended Podcasts

This is a quick blog written while in transit with iffy wifi, so links are minimal and the information contained within potentially unreliable.

I don’t know when it happened but at least five or six years ago I became a true podcast aficionado. Podcasts are the ideal mechanism for infovores like me to continually learn about the world as I travel, exercise or simply lie in bed. I find that my professional practice as a researcher and consultant is refreshed and enhanced by what I hear on these shows.

Below is a list of podcasts that I wholeheartedly recommend to others in a similar situation to myself, working in research, or in the arts, or transatlantically, or with an insatiable interest in understanding political and social systems that get only the most cursory examination in the regular news media.

Some of the podcasts here come from major broadcasters, some are from small outfits who are simply a passionate and committed to sharing and exploring, and the rest come from an increasingly important group of Podcast Networks (such as Gimlet or Radiotopia) which may in turn displace and replace the traditional radio broadcast networks.

I’ve grouped them in the following idiosyncratic categories:

  1. Essential for artsy folk
  2. Essential for social sciencey folk
  3. Wonderfully crafted human stories
  4. Sundry delights

1: Essential for artsy folk

The New Yorker Fiction Podcast is not just a way to listen to stories from the archive of the New Yorker. It’s a chance to hear from contemporary writers who select, read, and reflect upon a story of their choosing from the archive. They are guided through this process by the sweetly voiced fiction editor at the New Yorker, Deborah Treisman.

The Spectator Books podcast (and there are many just like it from other magazines and newspapers) is part of the carousel of media appearances and interviews that are made by authors of new books in print. Sam Leith makes for a well-informed and impish host, and it’s never overly long.

99 Percent Invisible is a podcast all about design. It is so committed to the principles of good design that the sound-rich and warm tones of the podcast are a delight to listen to. Everything from systems design, architecture, advertising and transport are covered. It’s an insightful and jargon-free way to understand the profound ways in which we are shaped by the world around us.

In Our Time is a public service broadcasting at its best. Host Melvyn Bragg can often get grumpy with his academic guests (specially selected for each show) if they aren’t able to be clear or decisive in what they are saying, but every episode is like a mini-primer on the subject chosen that week. There are interesting episodes on science and technology, but I think it works best when the subject is connected to art, culture, philosophy or history. Dive into the archive.

2: Essential for social sciencey folk

Freakonomics is the podcast brought to you by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, the guys behind the Freakonomics books. Despite its puntastic name the show is about all varieties of social science: psychology, anthropology, sociology, and it does a fantastic job of explaining things in a jargon-free way.

The Ezra Klein Show is hosted by the frighteningly young editor of Vox. His instincts and ethics seem to match my own, so his well-crafted 1:1 interviews with politicians, academics, journalists and other assorted eggheads always seem to take a satisfying (if depressing, this is 2017) turn.

Philosophy Bites is the long running project Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds. They do a fantastic job of breaking down complicated philosophical concepts into little bite sized chunks, and they have a helpful habit of beginning every show with a request that the guest explain exactly what they mean by the term or phrase that is the subject under consideration.

Planet Money is the finance and economics show on NPR in the US. Their style is to take a big news story that seems abstract and technical, and show using classic public interest reportage how it plays out in the everyday lives of people making or selling goods and services around the world.

Revisionist History is Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast. Okay, so not everyone in sociology likes Malcolm Gladwell. I get that. But his popularising of social science findings in the New Yorker and his best-selling books means that his methods and style are always worth observing. The podcast features plenty of ‘Gladwellian’ counterintuitive takes on social norms and human quirks.

More Or Less is a vital part of any podcast list for those of us who care about facts and evidence. It debunks myths, picks apart headlines and generally holds bullshitters to account. It’s got to the stage where some items in the show end up being informed by previous episodes… because zombie stats refuse to die. Despite this, it seems all involved in the programme refuse to become cynical misanthropists. Miracles do happen.

3: Wonderfully crafted human stories

This American Life is probably most British people’s entry point into podcasts. It’s another from the NPR stable, and I believe it’s now syndicated on BBC radio. Each week the producers pick a theme, and bring you a set of stories on that theme. It’s always compassionate and always captivating. As with all great narrative journalism, the show does a fabulous job of revealing the ways in which people are shaped by (and in turn shape) the society in which they live.

Reply All is hosted by Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt, whose infectious love for tech and each other means that every show is a hoot. The podcast is essentially about technology, computers and the internet. There’s enough techie talk to keep your geeky needs satisfied, but what it really excels at is explaining the technological systems and economies that shape our everyday lives that few of us ever see and even fewer understand.

Heavyweight is hosted by Jonathan Goldstein, who has taken the same format he used for CBC’s Wiretap (which frequently had segments syndicated on This American Life) and let it blossom in laconic style to create this podcast about life’s failures and regrets.

4: Sundry delights

From Our Own Correspondent is Kate Adie’s round-up of short news stories from overlooked and under-reported parts of the world. Savage Lovecast is all the therapy you need for your love life and personal ethics. The Weeds is a policy discussion show that is sufficiently wonky for my hyper-wonky tastes. The Totally Football Show is where the jovial and cosmopolitan James Richardson has taken his puns and football chatter after years with the Guardian. Little Atoms is a reliable podcast for bringing on some of the more far-out and provocative thinkers passing through the media circus. The World in Time is Lewis Lapham’s podcast, which often feels like a bookish fireside chat with Great Uncle Lewis. Page 94 is the Private Eye podcast, which tends to go deeper than the magazine on investigative matters.

What did I miss?

A Draft Service Menu

I’m putting this online to see what people think. I’d love to refine this in light of any feedback. It’s sometimes quite difficult to know what consultants actually do for a living! This is what I think I do:

James Doeser Service Menu: June 2017

Here is a menu of services that I offer as a freelance consultant. Essentially, my time and output tends to be valuable in two ways: I provide a corpus of knowledge (‘what works’, who is doing cool stuff, etc.) whilst also bringing an analytical mindset (testing, questioning, teasing). All of this is presented in a compelling and robust (yet jargon-free) package, whether that’s a presentation, workshop or written report.

Any and all of the tasks below can involve a short consultation and small amount of remedial work, or an in-depth commission lasting many months.

Getting Data-Smart

1. You’ve got data

Maybe you’re sitting on survey data, box-office data, financial data, or something similar. You’ve been collecting it but not taking advantage of its insights.

My contribution: I can audit what you have, straighten it out, analyse it, benchmark it against other sources, and present it back to you in an attractive dashboard and/or short written report.

2. You’re data-hungry

You want to gather all the relevant data for your forthcoming project or report. Maybe you’d like to evaluate and benchmark your work, and you need to start with a baseline (or at least set some reasonable targets).

My contribution: I can assemble a basket of relevant data and present its story to provide a robust picture of the landscape.

Getting Strategic

3. From idea to action

You are just starting out, you have a bright idea for a new programme of work or a new project. You need help putting it into operation.

My contribution: I can work with you to devise a Project Plan, develop a Theory of Change, map out potential audiences, stakeholders and partners.

4. Refining mission, goals and objectives

You’ve got an idea, you’ve got a plan, but you aren’t sure if it’s going to stand the test of time and whether it all really fits together. You’re looking for an independent ‘critical friend’ to make sure it’s robust enough to withstand scrutiny.

My contribution: I can work with you to ‘stress test’ the approach you propose, to sharpen your objectives and ensure that your approach is going to yield the results you’re after.

Knowing What Works

5. Learn from the best

Whatever new programme or project you are developing, it’s likely that someone elsewhere in the world (or elsewhere in history) has attempted something similar. Why not take advantage of their experience, repeat their successes and avoid their mistakes?

My contribution: I will undertake a rapid review of all known research and activity underway globally to package up in a straightforward way the insights that identify key success factors and pitfalls to avoid.

6. Change the world

Perhaps you want to educate, inform or entertain? Every programme of work or project seeks to change the world in some way. The work that you do is only one part of the story. You need to know that your project will have the desired impact and not be blown off course by other things going on in people’s lives.

My contribution: I can work with you to fully understand what change you are seeking to make, and help refine your plan so that it takes account of all known research to really deliver that change as effectively as possible.

7. Be a learning organisation

You want to be the best at what you do. Evaluation can be a daunting task, yet it is essential to understand the impact that your organisation is making, as well as accounting for the impact of other people’s investment in you.

My contribution: After learning about your work and its purpose, I can design and conduct/commission an appropriate evaluation (tailored to your needs), I can subsequently help you digest its findings and disseminate the learning more widely.

Joining forces

8. Find the experts

You have allies and insightful people at your disposal, even if you don’t realise it. Who has published the most important studies that are relevant for you and your work? Which organisations are busy pursuing the same goals as you?

My contribution: I can scan the world to find the most appropriate experts to team up with, I can present you with their key insights and seek to broker future collaborations with them.

Getting funded

9. Public sector, trusts and foundations

You need money. What are your prospects for applying to the likes of the Arts Council, Local Authorities and other independent grant-giving agencies? This is an increasingly competitive world. Crucially, many funders don’t simply give money for activity, they want to see measurable outcomes.

My contribution: I can advise on the best approach to project design and the vocabulary to use to ensure your work aligns with their goals. Beyond this, I can draft (or merely edit/advise upon) the text of your funding application(s).

10. Corporate sponsorship and private giving

You still need money. Approaching corporate sponsors and private individuals can be a daunting process. For some organisations, it is about offering a glamorous antidote to corporate life, while for others it is about a route to social justice and community impact.

My contribution: Together we can devise a prospectus for corporate sponsors, and think critically about how to tell the story of your organisation in way that is compelling for potential donors.

Spreading the word

11. Review and refresh

Your website, programme notes, annual reports etc. all say something about your work and your values. It can be hard to convey these in a powerful way that is authentic to the complex artistic work you do. Establishing an institutional voice and tone can be a challenge.

My contribution: I can review all your communications material and together we can sharpen up the prose to make it powerful and distinctive whilst retaining an essential authenticity.

12. Generate killer copy

You want to get the word out there, to the opinion-formers and decision-makers. An essential task of all arts and culture organisations is keeping the world abreast of your most recent work, its qualities, and the difference that you make in the world. This involves more than just writing your latest programme of events or brochure for next year.

My contribution: I can write compelling and intelligent copy about your work that is jargon-free. This can for the basis for annual reports, case-studies, website or social media content. Together, we can pitch articles to the trade press and other media outlets.

Culture Manifestos for GE2017

I am back in Public Service Mode. No deprecating commentary this time, just the links.

Here is an assortment of manifestos prepared by UK arts and culture folks in advance of the 2017 General Election. Please notify me of any missing ones.

The Heritage Alliance

Creative Industries Federation

Museums Association

Cultural Learning Alliance

UK Music

National Campaign for the Arts

National Society for Education in Art and Design

One Dance UK

UK Theatre and Society Of London Theatre

Music Venue Trust

Bob and Roberta Smith

Royal Shakespeare Company

Culture Counts (with a Scotland perspective)


Once all the political party manifestos are out I’ll be pitching to the usual places with my take on them as an assemblage. Here are the the main ones:

Labour and Conservative and Liberal Democrat and there is literally nothing worthwhile or interesting to say about them.

Meanwhile, go and depress yourself by reading Democracy for Realists by Achen and Bartels.


A jazz playlist for Ben

I am not a jazz fanatic, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I was asked to put together a playlist for a friend of mine, in order to tempt him to the genre (if jazz is such a thing). All art suffers from the tyranny of taxonomy. Music more so than any other art form. Yet jazz is about transcending these things. Poor old jazz.

Any credentials I possess are partial and particular. I love Gilles Peterson and Late Junction on BBC Radio. I occasionally hang out at Cafe Oto in Dalston. I am a proud owner of a HMV102 Gramophone and a number of 78s that put the structural integrity of my flat at risk. Hipster, moi? So this is the jazz playlist that I have put together. It follows a roughly chronological order. It is not meant to be comprehensive in any way. Just a selection of tunes that I like, and that I think you will like, that all fall (in one way or another) under the classification of “jazz”.

Two other, superior tour guides in the cathedral of jazz lie at your disposal. One is Eric Hobsbawm and the other is Ken Burns. Read them, watch them, soak in their storytelling delight. These two sages of olde, along with my playlist, hopefully capture at least some of  jazz’s origins, main points of juncture and development, while along the way hinting at where it has cannibalised from other musics and (in turn) other musics have taken from jazz. You’ll hopefully recognise a sample or two.

Many of these tunes will be familiar to you. No apologies about that. The heavy presence of that cool, 50s and 60s jazz, is because so much of this music is a soundtrack to an imagined life. A life which is urban, nocturnal, curious and without anything close to a thudding metronome. Sometimes the imagined becomes real, either by design or accident. That’s when this really works. Enjoy:

All The Jazz Band Ball – Bix Beiderbecke & His Gang
Begin The Beguine – Artie Shaw & His Orchestra
Sing, Sing, Sing – Benny Goodman
Si tu vois ma mère – Slow – Sidney Bechet, Claude Luter et son orchestre
Strange Fruit – 1939 Single version – Billie Holiday
Ain’t Misbehavin – Django Reinhardt – Quintette Du Hot Club De France
La Vie En Rose – Single Version – Louis Armstrong
So What – Miles Davis
Moanin’ – Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers
‘Round Midnight – Miles Davis
Look For The Silver Lining – Chet Baker
Blue in Green – Miles Davis
Peace Piece – Bill Evans
Take Five – Dave Brubeck
Bitches Brew – Miles Davis, Mark Wilder
Unsquare Dance – Dave Brubeck
Cantaloupe Island – Herbie Hancock
Holy Thursday – David Axelrod
Watermelon Man – Herbie Hancock
Think Twice – Donald Byrd
Yèkèrmo Sèw (A Man of Experience and Wisdom) – Mulatu Astatke
Music For A Found Harmonium – Penguin Cafe Orchestra
Take Me To The Mardi Gras – Bob James
Shine It – Medeski, Martin & Wood