Case Study

My Garden of a Thousand Bees

The Team

Martin Dohrn: Director

Marjee Chmiel: Director of Evaluation, HHMI Tangled Bank Studios

Jared Lipworth: Head of Outreach and Impact, HHMI Tangled Bank Studios

Alexandra Pearson: Impact and Communications Producer, HHMI Tangled Bank Studios



Unlike most impact campaigns highlighted by the Jackson Wild foundation and via our impact research, the impact campaign around My Garden of a Thousand Bees is separate from the filmmaking efforts. The film itself follows the renowned wildlife filmmaker Martin Dohrn, who turned to his backyard garden during the coronavirus lockdown in Spring and Summer of 2020, when he could no longer travel to the wild to film subjects he would normally focused on. The film is set in Bristol, England – a bustling urban setting – where one would not except lots of wildlife. However, throughout the film, Dohrn reveals an extensive ecosystem of over 60 species of bees – including many species of wild bees – as well as other insects and a wide variety of plant life that exists just within the confines of his small urban garden. The #PlantWildFlowers is an impact campaign designed and supported by HHMI Tangled Bank Studios. The campaign uses My Garden of a Thousand Bees as a starting point in their comprehensive effort to mobilize local communities toward protecting and expanding the presence of wild bees and wildflowers in their localities. This campaign is focused just within the United States, and therefore, is somewhat removed from Bristol. The #PlantWildFlowers campaign does an exceptional job of situating the film within the American context.  

Creative Design

Martin Dohrn’s background as a traditional Blue-chip filmmaker is evident in the structure and style of storytelling in My Garden of a Thousand Bees. The individual bees and other insects featured in the documentary are anthropomorphized as characters with needs and wants. The dramatic story arc of the documentary is set up in a way that gets the audience invested in whether one particular bee would be able to successfully mate, build a nest or protect themselves and their eggs from predators. This creates multiple protagonists – in this case one from each species – and their respective antagonists. This structure gets the audience rooting for one character over another and gets them engaged by the dramatic tension that exists within this given ecosystem. This is a classic storytelling in nature documentary, which allows audiences to stay interested in scientific topics that may ostensibly seem not connected to their daily lives. That being said, the impact campaign that was built by HHMI Tangled Bank Studios does a great job of explaining the relevance of the film to the fight against climate change and wildlife extinction. The film is indeed relevant to the survivability of life on this planet but the dramatic arc of the story gets that message across without being explicitly didactic.

Another central storyline in the film is Dohrn’s innovativeness in figuring out the mechanics of filming extremely small organisms that move at very high speeds. A significant portion of the film is dedicated to explaining the technology behind macro cinematography. This part of the film ties in with Dohrn’s story as a wildlife filmmaker, making him a relatable narrator. My Garden of a Thousand Bees is a performative documentary that uses Gohrn’s story arc as a tool to engage the audience emotionally. Anyone who had lived through early 2020 would understand the predicament of not being able to go to work or partake in one’s regular activities. 

Collaborative Model

HHMI Tangled Bank Studios is a well-established non-profit based in the United States and is dedicated to making science education accessible to the wider public by supporting various creative mediums of storytelling. In this case, HHMI Tangled Bank Studios took an existing film that was produced in the United Kingdom, and used its financial and organizational resources to maximize the impact of the film in local communities across the United States. It used a national-local partnership model to create an efficient but wide-reaching campaign. The studio developed a general framework and toolkit that focused on specific learning goals regarding raising awareness about the role of pollinators in the fight against climate change. The studio also already had a partnership with a network of 283 local libraries across 48 states, which were involved in getting their local communities engaged in a different previous impact campaign – Backyard Wilderness. HHMI Tangled Bank Studios then equipped these local partners to add their unique local knowledge to their general toolkit and engage in a customized local outreach campaign. This model takes advantage of both the top-down approach and the bottom-up approach. In a top-down campaign, there is often more substantial funding and structural support that will greatly amplify any impact campaign. Hence, it has the ability to reach a larger number of people. But often, purely top-down campaigns designed at the global and national levels do not have the specificity necessary to make a topic locally meaningful to every single community. This is where on-the-ground knowledge and expertise can enhance the quality of an impact campaign. Through this collaborative model, this impact campaign was able to get the best of both worlds. In addition, this campaign went even further in incorporating grassroots initiatives into its national campaign because it required each library to collaborate with a community initiative such as a Girl’s Club in its outreach efforts. Furthermore, the campaign created a Facebook group where all local partners can come together and exchange ideas of what worked for them. This allowed a more organic community form around the different local partners and took the collaborative nature of the campaign to the next level. 

Outreach Strategy

This impact campaign employed a range of outreach strategies at various levels. First of all, it collaborated with five PBS stations to make sure the film itself is being aired in as many regions of the United States as possible. Furthermore, the campaign provided a range of promotional material to each local library based on their specific need and ask. Then, more targeted social media initiatives allowed for more interactive and personalized outreach. For example, the #PlantWildFlowers campaign allowed for individuals interested in taking action as a result of the campaign to each connect with both the campaign and other individuals sharing that interest. Through the hashtag, the campaign was able to distribute over 20,000 wildflower seeds. 

Measuring Impact

The campaign has had two approaches to measuring impact. In order to get a large number of data from individual attendees of events held as part of the campaign, the studio provided incentivized surveys. These are quick and do not demand too much from individuals. This allows the studio to get a sense of the public response to the campaign. But in order to get a more in-depth understanding about the success of the campaign, the producers interview the libraries regularly. This gives the studio rich data from dedicated local partners that can inform any future impact campaigns. 


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