Evaluating Europe’s largest project on citizen-inclusive decision making for clean air and carbon management

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With just ten years left to change our carbon intensive lifestyles to mitigate climate chaos, urgent decisions need to be made about how we can reach net zero and clean air. Meanwhile, the Covid19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement show that citizen involvement in science communication has never been more critical to ensure a socially just transition. 

At this critical moment, the ClairCity project has reached its final dissemination stage; Europe’s largest ever research project on citizen-led decision making for clean air and carbon reductions. Six cities and regions came together to share engagement methods to involve citizens in policymaking, namely, Amsterdam in The Netherlands, the Aveiro Region of Portugal, Bristol in the UK, the Liguria region of Italy, Ljubljana in Slovenia and Sosnowiec in Poland.

As a result of the project team’s efforts, 818,736 citizens were involved in some form or another. Of these, 8,302 were directly engaged through workshops, events, schools’ activities, mobile games and apps, and even videos, a number which far exceeded the expectations of the team.

Why was this significant? Because these 8,302 citizens all influenced clean air and climate change decisions in their local context.

Over four years, the project partners and Council officers made many collaborations with local community organisations and together with a strong social media presence, the project’s on- and offline presence grew. Through a variety of engagement tools, citizens were able to have their say on what mattered to them regarding transport and home heating and what they would like to see change to enable them to make greener choices. There were also candid discussions on the potential barriers to such changes to not only make these concerns known to decision makers, but to have a deeper understanding of the challenges and trade-offs that need to be made when taking policy decisions.

Equipped with this information, ClairCity was then able to consult policy makers about the policies proposed by citizens and discuss how to operationalise them. As a final step, the top citizen policies were modelled against current policy plans for each case study to assess whether citizens’ demands could affect future emissions and associated health impacts. In nearly every context, citizens were more ambitious than ‘business as usual’, with the exception of Amsterdam where the local government was in fact more ambitious than its citizens.

An evaluation of epic proportion

ClairCity was a fascinating project to evaluate for our SCU team including Dr Laura Fogg-Rogers, Dr Margarida Sardo, Dr Corra Boushel, Sophie Laggan, and David Judge. We have produced a full evaluation report with all of the findings, which you’re welcome to read if you have the time, and a shorter one if you have less time. For those visual learners, there is also a visual evaluation report and our webinar recording. Finally, to satisfy blog readers, we have you covered too! Read on to hear our reflections and key findings.

The aim of the evaluation was to see whether the project had fulfilled its aim of ‘raising awareness of environmental challenges and their solutions through proactive dissemination of the project outcomes’. To do this, we explored the demographics of participants and those less directly involved, examined indicators of awareness, attitudes, knowledge and enjoyment (so called Generic Learning Outcomes) and citizen’s intended behavioural changes. Additionally, we explored differences across countries, demographics and engagement tools, to understand perceptions in different contexts. ­Data collection was carried out through paper/online questionnaires, including pop-up windows in the game and app, as well as in-depth interviews with staff and social media analysis.

All tools exceeded their targets for audience reach, apart from the App which remained at BETA testing due to technical issues. The Delphi workshops were particularly impressive, with 4887 participants compared with 200 expected, and the ClairCity Skylines game, with 2,800 players worldwide compared with 1500 players expected. Both successes can be largely attributed to the on-the-ground outreach and marketing activities of our case study partners, who made connections with community organisations, produced flyers, spoke on the radio, attended events, and generally made lots of noise to attract people. The cities that spent less time and resources on this groundwork had fewer participants as a result.

Social prowess

Our social media platforms gained a lot of traction over the years, although they were again limited by time and resources available. Our Communication Coordinator in Bristol was able to orchestrate our main sites, resulting in (at the time of writing) 1,392 Twitter followers and 416 Facebook followers, and 36,482 website visitors. Sites managed by our partners – who weren’t dedicated science communicators – had considerably less traffic.

Demographics

Data was collected for age, gender and educational attainment. Given the fact that ClairCity had targeted schools’ engagements, with several team members having direct connections to local schools, in addition to a mobile game, over 40% of participants were aged between 13-24. Working adults occupied around 50% of participants, and over 55+ represented less than 10%. This is quite an impressive finding considering most engagement projects fail to capture the full spectrum of ages. 

63% of participants in the study identified as male. The biggest gender differential came from the game, with more than twice as many male players than female, which skewed the gender balance. Alongside this, many stakeholder workshop participants were senior men in regional organisations, which again skewed the gender balance.

Participants were asked about their education level in our workshops. 81% of respondents held a Bachelor’s degree or above. On the other hand, in the game, 79% ranked their level of knowledge on air quality as being low/none. In other words meaning, the game appealed to people with less expertise.

Learning outcomes

Both policy makers and teachers were asked about the usefulness of the tool relevant to them. An overwhelming percentage of policy makers found the policy workshop useful/very useful (95%), compared with a more modest percentage of teachers finding for the schools’ competition (61%). The schools’ activities have since been expanded following this feedback, and our Educator Pack (part one and two) is freely available online, and has been featured in the British Science Association Science Week pack, and through Sustainable Learning.

The majority of participants enjoyed or loved the activities in which they were involved.  Both the Delphi and Stakeholder workshops greatly improved participants’ understanding of air quality (88% and 82% more understanding, respectively). 39% of game players left with more understanding, however for 45% their understanding stayed the same. The app mainly left people with the same understanding (47%), or feeling confused (18%).

Perhaps one of the biggest findings was in regards to behaviour change. At least half of all participants in the Delphi workshops, game, schools’ activities and stakeholder intended to change their behaviours as a result of their involvement (58%, 80%, 67% and 79%, respectively).

Upon cross-comparison, it was found that the more participants enjoyed the activity, the more they reported that their understanding of air quality had improved. Similarly, the more participants reported that their understanding had improved, the more they reported that they would change their behaviour. Younger people and those with lower education to start with were more likely to say they would change their behaviour. All of these relationships were highly statistically significant.

Ultimately, the more enjoyable the engagement activities, the more people gain understanding about the issues, and the more likely people are to make a change to their behaviour to reduce air pollution and carbon emissi0ns, and improve the health of our cities.

Reflections on the evaluation process

  • In future we would recommend other projects take additional time to target women’s groups, or develop ‘tools’ that appeal to women
  • While efforts were made to reach representivity through undertaking the Delphi process in low socio-economic status neighbourhoods, in hindsight we would have worked harder to amplify under represented voices. Recent Black Lives Matter protests have been a stark reminder of the need to make our work inclusive..
  • Working on an international project presented issues with translating the website and evaluation forms. More dedicated evaluation time, or expert science communicators in each country, would have helped researchers who were less experienced in social science research methods.   
  • We benefitted from having evaluation embedded from the beginning (rather than an add-on), and as such designed our evaluation methods to work in different contexts and cultures

Most ClairCity staff found engaging with citizens challenging (due to not having experience in this) but highly rewarding. By the end of the project the vast majority stated they have enjoyed engaging with citizens. This was a rich experience in terms of new skills, with our staff reporting to have learned how to pitch their ideas, how to talk to citizens and how important is to listen to people as well.

If you are interested in our experiences, or in benefitting from our reports, please check out our website for a variety of resources and tools to aid future citizen-led decision making on climate change and air pollution.

Sophie Laggan, Communications Officer, ClairCity

New insight into the motivations of today’s science communicators

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Words: Andy Ridgway

Why do those who blog, tweet, run events at festivals, give talks and engage in all the myriad of other forms of science communication do what they do? What do they aim to achieve when they communicate science?

While many of those who communicate science may well be too busy to ponder these questions day to day, they are important questions because, perhaps subconsciously for the most part, they influence the nature of the communication work they do. Not only that but when we look at these aims and motivations of science communicators at the macro scale, they provide an insight into their perceptions of the relationship between science and society. Are science and society connected and integrated, or somewhat disconnected?

It’s why questions about the motivations and aims of science communicators were an important part of the latest research organised by UWE Bristol’s Science Communication Unit as part of the European Commission-funded RETHINK project  which is exploring the nature of online science communication and how people make sense of science online.

A questionnaire, developed by Elena Milani, a Research Fellow within the Unit, and Unit co-directors Clare Wilkinson and Emma Weitkamp, was distributed to science communicators in the UK, The Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Portugal, Italy and Serbia and sought to find out more about why science communicators do what they do and how they do it.

Many of the 778 people who responded were press officers (just over 140), or described themselves as freelance communicators or writers (nearly 120). We also received responses from journalists and researchers, as well as those who described themselves as a blogger, YouTuber or social media influencer and a whole host of other science communicators.

What the questionnaire responses make clear is that for many of those who communicate science across Europe, it’s an enthusiasm for science that lies behind what they do. Many of those who communicate science said they do it because it’s part of their job. Others say their motivation, which might be very relevant at the moment, is to counter misinformation.

What was also noticeable was that nearly 300 of our respondents said their motivation was to ‘educate’ others about science. Perhaps not surprisingly then, when Europe’s science communicators were asked what they hoped to achieve when they communicate science, the most popular responses were ‘inform’ and ‘educate’.

This implies that in the minds of many who communicate science, the way we produce knowledge through science is distinct from knowledge use by society and how society might contribute to that knowledge. Knowledge is a one-way street that leads from scientists to the outside world.

That said, a fairly high proportion of European science communicators, 65%, said in the questionnaire that they are looking to create conversations between researchers and the public. This implies a more blurred line between science and society – a two-way street, with knowledge exchanged between scientists and the outside world.

This is interesting in its own right. But the nature of the science and society relationship has assumed greater significance and visibility since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s why there’s never been a more important time to think about this relationship, and maybe RETHINK some aspects of it.

In addition to asking science communicators about their motivations and aims, the questionnaire also sought to find out what they communicate, how they communicate science (whether they use social media or blogs for instance) and the barriers that stand in the way. The full report, including how this research links to science communication theory and previous research, is available here:

Thanks to researchers at Athena Institute, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in The Netherlands, Copernicus Science Centre, Poland, Vetenskap & Allmanhet, Sweden, Instituto de Tecnologia Química e Biológica António Xavier, Portugal, Sissa Medialab, Italy and the Center for the Promotion of Science in Serbia for their help in translating and distributing the questionnaire.

Science Chatters

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Walking around the Frenchay campus at UWE Bristol is an intriguing experience. Wander down one corridor and you find yourself in the Centre for Appearance Research, down another and you’ll find yourself flanked by science labs. Just what is that researcher doing, hunched over their experiment? What about the one peering at their computer screen? Step outside and, tucked away behind the student union, is the Bristol Robotics Lab. Just what is going on behind those doors?

The Science Chatters podcast is a collaboration between students and staff from the SCU and seeks to answer such questions.

For episode one of the Science Chatters podcast we chose the theme of The Arctic.  Emma Brisdion, a student on the MSc in Science Communication chatted with Dr. Stephanie Sargeant, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science about her recent research trip to the Arctic.

Priya Payment, studying on the Level 3 Wildlife Film and Media module, interviewed Annie Moir whose film, A Voice Above Nature, recently won a prestigious award at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. Annie is a recent graduate from the MA in Wildlife Filmmaking.

From that sublime beginning, we had to turn to something more ridiculous and the second episode of Science Chatters is now live, with the enticing theme of Poo and Wee. Chloe Russell, studying the MSc in Science Communication speaks to Dr. Iwona Gadja about the Urine-tricity project, gaining electricity from urine.

The Urine-tricity project is one way in which researchers in the Bristol Robotics Lab are seeking to find ways to apply their knowledge of how to use “Pee Power” to provide electricity in areas including displacement and refugee camps. 

Fellow MSc student, Jessica Howard interviews Angeliki Savvantoglou about her PhD research into the bears of Greece…through the flies that interact with that thing that bears do in the woods.

Angeliki Savvantoglou examining bear scat.

There’s an argument that we should have called it Bears and Electricity but either way, you can listen here now.

Science Communication comes in many forms and Angeliki is an illustrator alongside her work on her PhD. If she is allowed to use the illustrations in her thesis, the reviewers will have a treat…as well as reading a lot of detail about poo.

Brown bear illustration by Angeliki Savvantoglou.

Jessica Howard, who interviewed Angeliki, is also an illustrator and designed the Science Chatters logo.

I’ve been something of a podcast fan for many years, both as a listener and as a creator. There’s something about the medium which lends itself to conversations which are filled with insight and honesty. In a world seemingly dominated by opinion and spin (to put it mildly), podcasts can provide a much needed escape. The relaxed format allows for conversations which are not afforded by other media and being able to hear directly to researchers involved in the science is really revealing.

UWE Bristol is a hotbed of research and Science Chatters allows listeners to listen in behind the scenes.

Andrew Glester, Lecturer in Science Communication at UWE Bristol.

Building our understanding of diabetes with Minecraft (even if you don’t have the game!)

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The inside of the human body, and all its organs, cells and molecules can be tricky to visualise, and that makes it difficult to understand how conditions like diabetes work. We can use things like models to help us see all these different features, and work out how they link together to do different things.

But models can take up a lot of space, and most of us don’t have anatomically accurate physical representations of the internal workings of the human body conveniently accessible at home, or even in many schools. Diagrams are an alternative, but they’re generally not very interactive.

The virtual construction game Minecraft, on the other hand, is great for exploring scientific concepts because it has many features and processes that relate to the real world, and can be used to visualise things that we can’t usually see – such as cells in the human body. Children and young people are often familiar with the game as it’s hugely popular, and this can give them a sense of expertise and ownership. We know Minecraft can act as a hook for children to engage with science topics, and that by participating in our sessions they can increase their subject knowledge and understanding, making it an effective tool for both catching children’s interest, and supporting their learning.

So what if we could use Minecraft to view and explore a large model of a human body on a computer? We could even get right inside it to investigate the internal organs, cells and processes.

In our ‘Building our understanding of diabetes with Minecraft’ project, we did just that. We have a human body constructed in Minecraft, which users can move around inside. They can explore the organs, cells and molecules inside it, and visualise and learn about processes that occur when someone does, and does not, have diabetes.

During the 2019-2020 school year, we began using this specially constructed Minecraft human body to deliver sessions about diabetes in schools in England and Scotland. However, now we are unable to do that during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve created a slideshow to explain how diabetes works, using examples from the Minecraft build to illustrate components and concepts, and an accompanying video run through of the Minecraft human body. This way, more people can explore diabetes and the human body in Minecraft, even if we can’t visit them in schools or they don’t have Minecraft at home.

The slideshow and video can be used together, or the slideshow can be used as standalone resource. Each takes you on a virtual tour through the human body, exploring the relevant parts and processes involved in diabetes. They talk about what it’s like to have diabetes, and how it’s treated, and explore the pancreas, blood vessels, and cells and molecules to learn about their roles in diabetes. If you would like a creative challenge, the slideshow gives some ideas for activities, including building with Minecraft and Lego.  

The slideshow and video can be viewed below.

If you use the resources, we would really appreciate some feedback! There is a short online form here where you can report how children and young people found using them.

Project information

Exploring the molecular basis of diabetes with Minecraft is a Science Hunters project based at UWE Bristol, in collaboration with the University of Aberdeen, the University of Hull and Lancaster University and funded by a Royal Society of Chemistry Outreach Fund grant. The project was devised by Dr Laura Hobbs (UWE Bristol and Lancaster), Dr John Barrow (Aberdeen) and Professor Mark Lorch (Hull), and developed and delivered by them along with Sophie Bentley (UWE Bristol and Lancaster), Dr Jackie Hartley (Lancaster), Naziya Lokat (Lancaster), Jonathan Kim (UWE Bristol and Lancaster), Rebecca Rose (Lancaster), Dr Carly Stevens (Lancaster) and Jordan Bibby (NHS Lanarkshire). Science Hunters projects takes a child-led, play-based approach to learning and engagement, and have an inclusive Widening Participation ethos.

Laura Hobbs and Sophie Bentley

Museums will open their doors again after the COVID-19 crisis – here’s why

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Adam Milner’s Late Night Space Force, 31 October 2019 – 26 Jan 2020, Everson Museum of Art.

This blog post was originally published in Spanish and Catalan, and we thank our former SCU colleague Dr Erik Stengler, for sharing the English version with us here.

Just a few hours ago, one of our authors (Erik Stengler) instructed his first class through an “alternate mode of delivery”, with students attending from their homes. He is one of so many who have always been reluctant towards online teaching. At least with synchronous delivery it wasn’t that hard after all – recording classes for asynchronous delivery would have been a much bigger challenge for him. This is actually surprising, because Erik is someone who feels quite at home in TV studios and even presented his own TV show for children. To understand this, it is important to realise that even though shooting a TV show and recording a class may look similar externally, they are conceptually very different. In a TV studio everything is geared towards creating an audiovisual product whereas recording a class entails translating a product from a completely different context into the audiovisual language. For a TV show, it is part and parcel of the format that the audience will enjoy the product sitting at home on their sofas in front of their TV sets completely removed in time and space from what is recorded. For a recorded class this separation is an extraneous element that will require that the translation somehow makes up for the absence of the human contact and social interaction that is inherent to education. No wonder that the best educational TV shows look nothing like a classroom delivery broadcast or recording on camera.

Museums, in the unusual and unexpected current circumstances of isolation and social distancing, are also choosing or rather being forced to come up with online and virtual modes for visitation. Many have been doing this for a long time, but having to close the doors has been the final spur for many to join in the exploration of this option. Some voices have already raised concerns about whether there will be such a leap in the quality of virtual visits or collections that in-person visits will be perceived as superfluous and ultimately visitor numbers will never recover after the COVID-19 crisis. If the future is digital, will museums ultimately be replaced by digital collections altogether?

As Nina Simon reflects, perhaps this deluge of online museum offerings is more the result of the need for a rapid response, to show that we are “doing something” than the outcome of a reflective process about what is happening and how museums should respond to the new challenges. This would not be a surprise, since a lack of strategic planning is a recurring issue in a sector that is often pushed to rush into executive action.

Here we wish to shed a ray of hope for museum professionals, pointing out that virtual museum visits will not replace in-person visits. The key lies in understanding that the museographic language is autonomous and independent of other communicative modes such as the audiovisual, and that it has its own assets and resources that other languages do not have. As explained in The Transformative Science Museum, these assets and resources include sharing a space with the exhibit and engaging in social interaction and conversations.

There is a generalized tendency to think that new technologies will replace existing ones, even though there are plenty of relevant examples to the contrary. In the 1960s, the popularization of photography led many to think that painting would soon disappear. In the 70s, the proliferation of TV sets was feared as the demise of radio. Powerful computers were seen in the 80s as a threat to games likes chess.

The Russian chess player Anatoli Kárpov is believed to have said that “Chess will not disappear with the advance of computers, just as athletics did not disappear with the introduction of cycling.”

Museums are singular spaces. Their mode of communication is based on their own language: the museographic language. This language is characterized by several endemic communicative resources, based on real and tangible objects and experiences. These are presented, rather than represented – which makes for an asset that is all the more relevant in the day and age of the virtual. As mentioned, this is complemented seamlessly by the social experience that is so inherent to a shared museum visit, with conversation as the main common thread, within the context of many other modes of interpersonal relationship that can even include physical contact. In all, only in a museum is it possible to live an intellectual experience that engages visitors in this particular way that cannot be replaced by other languages. Museums are a unique and therefore necessary mode of communication.

Audiovisual technology has not always been introduced in museums in a balanced way that is respectful of the singular nature of the museum experience. Even before the arrival of infographics, virtual reality and augmented reality experiences, this already happened with the introduction of audio guides. These devices require individual use, and while they can certainly have interesting uses in a museum, they can also remove all chances of interpersonal communication and conversations within a visiting group. It was posited at some point that audio guides could even substitute well prepared and enthusiastic museum educators. Needless to say, museums can and should adopt new technologies, but they need to keep in mind that museums already have their own technologies with potential to be developed without having to borrow from other languages, such as the audiovisual, unless it is done in a measured and well-thought-out manner, and always as an auxiliary and not a core resource.

Often museums contradict themselves in this regard. Many museums and exhibitions have fully embraced new Information and Communication Technologies, in a manner that shows little knowledge of the characteristic features of the museum experience, and reduce it to a very naïve caricature. Some exhibitions are very difficult to tell apart from a Samsung showroom. We will not discuss here the lack of social relevance of such expensive products – luckily their heyday is already in the past and they are gradually being superseded.

Aquariums[i], for example, would never even dream of replacing their successful tanks full of marine life by video recordings, no matter how technologically sophisticated these views could get to be. We are not denying that a virtual visit to a museum can complement a museum’s own communication mode, or bring it to new audiences, but it will never be able to replace it. Otherwise we would have to think that the wide availability of photographs and videos of all corners of the world over the Internet could replace travel. Rather, the opposite has happened, as they have sparked widespread interest in tourism.

Of course there is such a thing as a virtual museum. Just as there are virtual cuisine and virtual sex. As said, such approaches can complement a museum experience but, even though they are valuable in their own way, they cannot naively claim to be offering the same experience by replacing through new technologies precisely those aspects that these new technologies are unable to offer.

So, while we are confined, what are we doing to respond to the challenges that museums are going to face in the future? Why don’t we use this valuable time forced upon us by COVID-19 to pro-actively reflect, though telecommuting and videoconferencing, on how we will transform ourselves in order to become agents of transformation and the cultural leaders that contemporary museums are called to be in their communities? Or are we going to just respond reactively to whatever comes next?

Erik Stengler*, Guillermo Fernández*, Javier Hidalgo*, Marta Soler*, Pere Viladot* and Sarah Callan.

Cooperstown Graduate Program, SUNY Oneonta

*Promoters of The Transformative Museum (www.thetransformativemuseum.org).


[i] Aquariums, together with zoos, were explicitly included in the definition of museum at ICOM’s 11th General Assembly held in Copenhagen in 1974. Therefore, and independently of one’s personal views about these organizations, it is accurate to fully consider aquariums and zoos part of the museum sector.


MSc Science Communication Part-Bursary Scheme – open for applications

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This year, the Science Communication Unit at UWE Bristol is able to offer a bursary which will part-fund a place on its renowned MSc Science Communication. The value of the bursary is £1500.

To apply for the bursary, you must have applied for the MSc Science Communication by Friday 5th June 2020 and be wishing to start the course in September 2020. Only those who have been or who are in the process of being offered a conditional or unconditional full time place will be considered eligible. The bursary may only be used on the Science Communication courses offered at UWE Bristol.

The MSc in Science Communication is taught at UWE Bristol’s Frenchay campus. If however restrictions due to coronavirus are in place during part of the programme, full teaching will be provided online so that your learning is not effected.

To apply for the bursary, please complete one of the following;

Write a short popular article that is no more than 300 words long on an area of science, health or the environment. The article should include a headline. Also provide brief details of the publication where the article would appear, outlining its audience, the types of article it publishes and why your article is a good fit with the publication – this should be no more than 200 words. The chosen publication should be a newspaper, magazine or website that covers science-related topics for non-experts.

OR

Write an outline for a science communication activity (maximum 500 words) on an area of science, health or the environment. The outline should describe the planned activity, give an indication of content and details of the target audience.

Your work should be emailed to Andy Ridgway (details below) to be received by 5pm on Monday 15th June 2020. You will be informed if you have been successful in your application for a bursary by Friday 3rd July 2020. The successful applicant should inform us if they are subsequently successful in receiving funding from a different source or sponsor i.e. employers, local schemes, so that the bursary may be allocated to a different student.

Further information on UWE Bristol fees, studentship and bursary advice is also available here:

Andy Ridgway, Programme Leader MSc Science Communication

Andy.Ridgway@uwe.ac.uk +44 (0)117 328 3332

If you are not interested in applying for a bursary, the deadline for applications to the programmes remains the 31st July 2020. Please note – we are currently receiving a high number of applications and would encourage you to apply as soon as your application is ready.

Research and writing placement exploring science communication and the tobacco industry

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Have you ever considered researching corporate misbehaviour?

I hadn’t either until October when, just after I had started my MSc, a placement opportunity came through the Science Communication Unit and landed in my email inbox. It was asking for applicants with attention to detail, good writing ability, an enquiring mind, and an interest in public health or social policy.

I was interested so I applied and that is how I ended up walking, getting the train, and jumping on a bus to get to Bath and back on some of the coldest and darkest days in January.

I spent a week with the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath. The placement and training course supported the work of the team of academics and journalists who produce the Tobacco Tactics website. This investigates and publishes on the activities of international tobacco companies and their allies.

We spent the first two days hearing from academic members of the research group and guest speakers as well as getting acquainted with the research topics. We participated in lectures on topics such as writing for different audiences, investigative techniques and freedom of information requests. By Wednesday we were ready for practical sessions. In groups we spent three days working on different topics, researching and writing up our findings. We worked hard!

Each day we also heard from PhD students. They presented their research topics which included corporate influence on science; illicit trade; and social media monitoring. These lunchtime talks were interesting and I particularly enjoyed learning about digital methods such as collecting and analysing Twitter data.

Working with students from undergraduate and postgraduate courses at Bath, UWE Bristol and Gloucester universities was really valuable as we were able to share our wide range of interests and experiences to learn from and collaborate with each other during the placement.

Throughout the week I had many moments where I linked what I was learning on placement to what I was learning in my MSc, to my previous studies, and to experiences I have had in different job roles. This was rewarding and motivating whilst I am studying and thinking about my future career plans.

Because of the industry the group researches, in order to undertake the placement we had to sign a conflict of interest form and our conversations and work were kept on a secure network which is required for this area of public health communication.

The commute was worth it!

By Morwenna Bugg, a student on the MSc in Science Communication at UWE Bristol

Discovering science communication at the Science Communication Unit, UWE Bristol

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I’m a junior assistant professor at Utrecht University, which means I split my time 50/50 between teaching and PhD research. The moment I knew I wanted to specialize in science communication was when I was attending a lecture about an – at that time – recently published study as part of my training in Ecology. I remember being upset by the fact that no one outside the academic world had caught onto the study that the researchers had spent six years on. So many more people could benefit from the new insights!

That’s why I specialized in science communication through a graduate program in Writing and Communication at the University of Amsterdam. It involved a year of training in Communication Studies and Argumentation Theory as well as a six-month internship. For my internship, I worked at the science department of a Dutch national broadcasting agency (VPRO): I worked in communication, was an editor for the website and assisted in the production of Labyrint, a weekly science popularization program on national television.

After finishing my training, I worked as a teacher both at the University of Amsterdam, where I taught science communication and academic skills, and at Utrecht University where I taught in interdisciplinary research skills and academic writing. In my role as a teacher, I became interested in teaching practices and wondered why science communication played such a small role in academic programs. In the Dutch educational context, science communication training is part of graduate training although it is mostly confined to dedicated science communication programs or electorate courses. I especially noticed the lack of structural training in science communication and a lack of attention being paid to skills associated with communication in undergraduate training programs. As such, I wanted to know how science communication training could be implemented in the undergraduate program where I taught: Liberal Arts and Sciences at Utrecht University. Liberal education students are trained in interdisciplinary research skills and use insights from different disciplinary fields to study societal issues. These are real-world problems that often need societal awareness to come to a solution. Because most liberal education students pursue a career that enables them to make an impact on society, it’s important for them to learn how to communicate outside of their academic specialization.

In my PhD project, I get to explore science communication for interdisciplinary research settings. As my passion as a teacher is on teaching writing skills, they are the focus of my project. I use insights from both Linguistics and Educational Sciences to discover how writing skills in the genre of science communication, or popularization, can best be taught in liberal education settings. I use Liberal Arts and Sciences at Utrecht University as a case study.

I found out about the Science Communication Unit (SCU) when I was applying for the Julie Johnson Kidd Travel Research Fellowship. This grant allows teachers in liberal education to spend time at another university. Although Utrecht University has a highly regarded Linguistics department, it does not have a research group dedicated to science communication research, which is why I felt I could really benefit from input from the Science Communication Unit at UWE Bristol. What attracted me to the SCU was the fact that the research group combines insights from theory and practice, being known internationally as a leader in academic research into science communication, as well as producing its own science communication efforts. What made me especially enthusiastic about a stay at the Science Communication Unit was the MSc Science Communication that offers training to a new generation of science communicators.

In terms of my PhD, the literature told me that explicit teaching of science communication skills would lead to better scores and a higher self-perception of writing abilities. The next step was finding teaching interventions that are effective in teaching these writing skills, and the Science Communication programme was the perfect way for me to see teaching activities in action. The module ‘Writing Science’ was of specific interest to me as it is unique to have a course that focuses solely on writing skills in science communication. As part of my sabbatical I could sit in on teaching in this course and observe best practices in teaching. I was also able to ask students taking the module to participate in my research by letting them write one-minute papers and reflect on learning goals, the content of the classes and the results of the teaching efforts. Furthermore, I let students fill in a questionnaire about self-perception of their science communication skills and writing abilities. This gave me insights into the self-perception of their writing skills as well as their likes and dislikes in the way that the curriculum was built. I’ve never seen a more enthusiastic group of students! They loved everything about the programme and had no dislikes.

Left to right: Clare Wilkinson, Emma Weitkamp, Andy Ridgway and Hannah Little

I was also able to interview Emma Weitkamp, Hannah Little and Andy Ridgway, staff who teach on the module, about their didactical frameworks, educational vision, how to build a science communication curriculum, and educational techniques. I got to sit in on teaching for undergraduate programmes at UWE Bristol and on masterclasses, continuing professional development aimed at those working in the field. What really stood out to me is that in all their teaching, the SCU team would actively make the connection between theory and practice, offering many examples of science communication efforts to their students, as well as enabling students to participate in real-world science communication themselves.

More generally, my time in Bristol gave me insights into effective teaching techniques for science communication within the context of a specialized graduate programme. I will bring these insights with me to inform my further research. The next step in my own project is implementing teaching interventions in the undergraduate programme Liberal Arts and Sciences, and my stay in Bristol gave me some great insights into how I might construct this part of my research.

I felt like a research stay at the start of my second year of research was a great time for me to spend some time at SCU. This stay gave me some great insights into theory and practice and helped me bring more focus to my project. The entire team made me feel very welcome during my time at UWE, with academics  Andy Ridgway, Andrew Glester, Clare Wilkinson and Kathy Fawcett, letting me sit-in on their teaching. Furthermore, it was great to spend time with fellow PhD students David Judge and Elena Milani, who became real friends and helped exploring Bristol. In short, I would highly encourage any PhD student thinking about spending time at UWE Bristol to say yes to the opportunity!

Florentine Sterk stayed at the Science Communication Unit from September to November 2019 as a visiting PhD student. You can find out more about opportunities to spend a PhD sabbatical in the SCU here: https://www1.uwe.ac.uk/research/sciencecommunicationunit/coursesandtraining/postgraduateresearch/phdsabbaticals.aspx

Behind the scenes at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

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MSc in Science Communication student, Chloe Russell, describes their recent visit to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery as part of the Science, Public and the Media module.

It’s not every day you get to go behind the scenes at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, and hear all about the interesting research that is underway.

We spent the morning with Isla Gladstone, a senior curator at Bristol Museum, learning about the museum’s action plan and ambitions. In the morning, we were given a group exercise to pick an audience and create a science communication led activity based on the taxidermy animal we were given. The groups were given a kiwi bird (Apteryx mantelli), a shrew (Soricidae), a couple of toads (Bufonidae), and an Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius). Through this exercise we found out that Eurasian jays are as sociable as dolphins and kiwi birds have enormous eggs! Seriously, google it.

You often see big doors in museums saying ‘private’ and it leaves you wondering what sort of wonders could be behind those doors… Well believe you me, it’s everything you could have dreamed of. Think ‘Night in the Museum’ with Ben Stiller. We met Geology curator Deborah Hutchinson, who led us down into the basement via a public floor of the museum, but not before we were warned of the low oxygen density and potential to faint in such conditions. These air settings are under high control to manage the artefacts’ quality.

It was very exciting indeed, one step into the basement of wonders and I noticed my first gulp of air was tighter than usual. It felt like the air I was breathing couldn’t reach the bottom of my lungs unless I took a longer, deeper breath. This must be how people faint! Soon this feeling evaporated and we were left in awe of the countless, brilliant objects in the Geology stores. I say countless, but there is a margin of a million objects in there… Drawers and drawers and drawers of ‘Jurassic’ labels, skulls and bones of pre-existing dinosaurs strewn near and wide. So many incredible fossils, minerals and stories to be told including Bristol diamonds, which are in fact none other than quartz!

After our tour in the Geology store, we were led to the Natural History store. Immediately you were met with a cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) holding its prey just above your eye level. Led by Natural Sciences curator Rhian Rowson, we were guided through the narrow hallways, walking single file, listening intently to some of the stories behind the collection. There were a couple of house sparrows (Passer domesticus) pulled out of their drawer, one was darker than the other, and to our shock it was due to the coal in the air during the industrial revolution. Researchers can use the darker house sparrow as an indicator of the extent of air pollution during this time.

What really amazed and humbled me were the personal touches within both collections. The hand written labels, hand thrown plastic covers over the odd elephant skeleton in the room… it felt very homely. There wasn’t a need to present the spaces as squeaky clean galleries, which you see so often. I did however, walk backwards into a deer, which between me and the deer, I’m not sure who was more startled. There was a feeling of genuine character, care and comfort of stepping into these narrow hallways and oxygen thin walkways. For someone like myself, with a keen interest in geology and natural history, this trip was a massive privilege, and I’m very fortunate to take my camera along with me.

Chloe Russell, MSc Science Communication student, UWE Bristol

How we mapped the vast online science communication terrain

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The number of people writing, tweeting, instagramming, blogging, podcasting, vlogging about all things science is unfathomably large. Then there’s the universities, the charities, the businesses and so on who are adding to the mix. It’s no wonder then that the online science communication terrain isn’t mapped. We know it’s out there, yet exactly who is doing what, where and how is something we only have snapshots of information about. Yet mapping this vast terrain is exactly what we’ve been trying to do within the Science Communication Unit as part of our work on the European Commission-funded RETHINK project .

The RETHINK project involves 10 institutions across Europe including VU Amsterdam and Ecsite, the European network of science centres. Together, we’re trying to explore how science is communicated online so we can see what’s working well and understand more about what’s going wrong when it’s not, such as the audiences that aren’t being reached. To start this process, we needed a better view of the online science communication terrain in terms of who is doing the communicating, the platforms they are using and the forms their communication takes.

Given the terrain’s scale, we decided to set some boundaries to our exploration. Firstly, in conjunction with the other RETHINK project partners, we decided to concentrate our mapping efforts on three topic areas – climate change, artificial intelligence and healthy diets. These topics were selected because they are important to all our lives. But they also represent very different online habitats; with different individuals and organisations doing the communicating and very diverse subject matter. It means we get a richer insight into how varied the online science communication landscape is.

Secondly, we limited the number of each type of communicator we would map to 10. So, for example, once we had found 10 universities communicating about climate change, we would stop. Otherwise the mapping would have been an insurmountable task. After all, what we were really aiming to do was to explore the different types of communicator as well as the forms of communication they are involved with. We were mapping the extent of the terrain – how far it reached and what was there – rather than trying to measure the peak of each mountain; the number of specific types of organisation or individual communicating about each topic.

To get an even better view of the terrain, the mapping was carried out by RETHINK team members in seven countries across Europe – Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and Serbia as well as the UK. Each country chose two of the three topics they were going to map. Again, to make the exploration more manageable.

To make sure we could compare the online science communication terrains in different countries, the exploration needed to be carried out in exactly the same way in each country.  So Elena Milani, a Research Fellow within the Science Communication Unit, developed a ‘mapping protocol’ – a set of instructions for researchers in each country to follow when they were exploring.

So what did we find? Well, across the seven countries, 697 different individuals and organisations that communicate climate change, artificial intelligence and healthy diets were identified. Digging into the data in a little more detail provides some interesting insights, including:

  • Climate change has the widest range of individuals and organisations communicating about it online of the three topics. In other words, it has a particularly rich communication environment.
  • The online science communication landscape is complex – there are large differences in the types of communicators, the platforms used and content shared between science-related subjects.
  • With all three topics, many of the sources of information are not traditional experts, such as scientists or health practitioners. Nor are they traditional mediators of information, such as journalists. There are lots of alternative sources of information, such as non-professional communicators and support communities.

But this is just the start. Having a clearer view of the landscape thanks to our mapping will help with the next stages of RETHINK, such as understanding the connections formed by communicators with their audiences.

For the full report on the online science communication mapping carried out by the RETHINK team across Europe, visit: https://zenodo.org/record/3607152#.Xh1zmRdKjOQ.

To learn more about the project overall visit: http://www.rethinkscicomm.eu/acerca-de/

Within UWE Bristol’s Science Communication Unit, the RETHINK team includes Elena Milani, Emma Weitkamp, Clare Wilkinson and Andy Ridgway.

The organisations involved with RETHINK are: Science Communication Unit, UWE Bristol, VU Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Ecsite, Zeppelin University, Germany, SISSA Medialab, Italy, Danish Board of Technology Foundation, ITQB Nova, Portugal, Center for the Promotion of Science, Serbia, Vetenskap and Allmanhet, Sweden.