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

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

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

Using creative tools to invite communities into public health decision-making

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Photo credit: Ellie Shipman

Ellie Shipman

The Shape Our City research project and consultation offers a new way to engage residents in decision-making in Bristol. As a participatory artist with a background in Sustainable Development and Community Development, I was interested to work with the Shape Our City team to bring my own creative methods and engagement activities together with the fantastic digital consultation tools, public art and illustration they had already initiated.

My process focussed on creative, versatile and participatory tools, which could be used and re-used in a variety of contexts – by researchers, facilitators and, most importantly, residents. This took the form of a series of icons for each of the research areas as round stickers, which were used to code tags of comments and ideas from residents. The tags were added to three fabric banners, which were made for each of the focus areas: Barton Hill; Lawrence Weston and Knowle West. This took place over a series of community workshops; a free lunch in Barton Hill and stall at Knowle West Fest. The banners showed an illustrated map of each area as a visual prompt for residents to identify areas for public health and urban improvement in their communities. They were designed intentionally unlabelled and unbranded so the communities can be gifted them to use for their own projects, consultations and events.

Photo credit: Ellie Shipman

From these events we saw that residents were interested in the banners themselves, and the stickers worked well to help prompt conversation in each of the research areas. Children in Barton Hill loved leading the banner walk themselves, parading the map proudly as they ran around the local area, with parents identifying areas for public health improvement. One of the researchers attended the local lunch, which was a great way to show residents that they were influencing research and genuinely being listened to. It was also beneficial to show researchers the effectiveness and impact of creative consultation processes and the power of talking to people in a more informal environment.

In order for the process to continue to increase participation in public decision making, creative engagement processes and community conversations need to become more embedded in research and urban planning processes and more of a genuine exchange. Local people need to be further seen as the true experts in their local area, and a diverse group of residents needs to be continuously engaged and welcomed into a two-way dialogue and relationship with the powers that be. This needs to be beyond (but still including) the community planning groups, the local forums and active residents to include others who may get left off the rota of groups to consult. Blaise Weston Residential Home was a great example of a group of residents with a wealth of knowledge of the local area actively wanting to take part in consultations but being regularly left out of such conversations. We held a drop in workshop with Blaise Weston Court and simply sat and chatted with residents, staff and volunteers in the community cafe with the map across a table, making notes on tags as we spoke.

Photo credit: Ellie Shipman

Creative community consultation processes have developed hugely over the last ten years or so. Companies such as Bristol’s Mufti Games are using play to engage communities in discussions about the housing sector; Place Studio use ‘Spaceshaper’ workshops to support resident-led neighbourhood plans amongst other urban change projects; or Make-Good who involve communities in design and architecture of their own neighbourhoods. There does seem to be a gap for awareness raising consultation activities around both urban planning and public health, which is perhaps a niche Shape Our City will continue to carve.

Taking part in Shape Our City has further affirmed for me the importance of the connections, mutual understanding and respect necessary to affect real change involving residents’ voices and experience, research and planning. There need to be as many opportunities as possible for these conversations to happen: in multiple places – from the office to the allotment to the living room; in multiple ways – from the post-it workshop to the three dimensional creative project; and at multiple levels – researchers and residents, residents and planners, planners and researchers – everyone and everybody.

Find out more about Ellie Shipman and the Shape Our City research project.

2018 Max Perutz Science Writing Competition – winner announced!

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The winner of the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) 2018 Max Perutz Science Writing Competition has been announced. The competition, now in its 21st year, was open to all PhD students funded by the MRC and entrants were tasked with writing about their own research, explaining to non-scientists why their research matters in just 800 words. Since the competition started in 1998, more than 1,000 researchers have submitted entries and taken their first steps into science communication.

Natasha Clarke winner of the 2018 Max Perutz Science Writing competition

This year’s winner is Natasha Clarke of St George’s, University of London with her article: ‘How artificial intelligence, and a cup of tea, could help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease’. Briet Bjarkadottir, of the Nuffield Department of Women’s and Reproductive Health at the University of Oxford was the runner up with her article: ‘Stopping the conveyor belt – cancer and fertility’. Fraser Shearer, of the Centre for Cardiovascular Science at the University of Edinburgh, was commended for his article ‘Keep calm and carry to term’.

Andy Ridgway, a Senior Lecturer within the Science Communication Unit, was among this year’s judges that also included the MRC’s Executive Chair, Professor Fiona Watt, Dr Claire Ainsworth, freelance journalist and science writer; Stephen Curry, journalist and science writer; Dr Roger Highfield, MRC Council member and director of external affairs at the Science Museum Group and Jennifer Rohn, journalist, novelist and scientist at University College London.

 

Andy said: “What really shone though in the shortlisted entries was the power of telling a relatable, human story when explaining the importance of medical research. By showing how a disease or condition impacts an individual and how this new treatment will change their lives, it conveys the impact of the research in a powerful, engaging way.

“It was a pleasure to read all the shortlisted entries and there are some gifted writers in the field.”

The awards were announced at a ceremony at the Royal Institution on 25 October by the MRC’s Executive Chair and Chair of the judging panel Professor Fiona Watt, alongside Professor Robin Perutz, son of the late Max Perutz.

Fiona said: “It has been a great pleasure to chair the judging panel of this year’s Max Perutz Award.

“The competition is a great way to highlight to early-career scientists the importance of science communication and to showcase their work.  This year we received a record number of entries, from about 10% of MRC-funded PhD students.

“The topics of the winning articles are artificial intelligence and Alzheimer’s disease; cancer and fertility; mental health, depression and stress. I’d like to thank everyone who entered the competition – the judges had a tough time making the selection. Our PhD students do a brilliant job at bringing their research to life – using everyday language, rhetorical devices and personal anecdotes.”

All of the short-listed articles, including Natasha’s winning entry, are now published.

 

Shape our City, one street at a time

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A new UWE project is working with artists and community organisations to creatively engage the public on issues around healthy urban development. A team from the project has recently been in Barton Hill listening to local people’s ideas on how to improve the area.

Cities are fascinating places to live. And Bristol is no exception. It frequently makes the top-spot for ‘best place to live in the UK’, due to its ‘small city that feels like big city’ vibe, with beautiful scenery, green rolling hills and easy connections to the countryside. It is also overflowing with creativity, from its industries to its thriving arts scene. Most people you speak with say they love living here! Yet despite all the praise, Bristol has many inescapable health issues. Chronic air pollution, growing levels of inequality linked with malnutrition and obesity, fly tipping, drug use, crime, increasing rent and house prices… there is a lot these Top 10 lists forget to consider.

When talking about who should address these issues the response may be ‘it’s their responsibility’ – whoever ‘their’ is. In reality, we all have a part to play in the health of our city. We cannot blame any one person because the design of our cities often make it hard for us to make the healthy choices.

Take food. If you live in a poor household then statistically you are less likely to have access to fresh food in your area and have increased exposure to food high in fat, salt and sugar. In an average day, we are exposed to 100s of food adverts, from billboards to supermarket promotions and TV ads, and may walk or drive past dozens of fast food shops – if you live in a poor part of the city this number will often be higher. Clearly it’s not just free choice here, the design of our cities and regulations are important factors in determining our health.

For a growing number of Bristolians, they have to make daily trade-offs about what to prioritise for their health.

In a recent Bristol Mag article one person was quoted as saying: “Food has to come low on the list of priorities in my household, the same as it does for so many others. Rent has to be paid, or my family will be hungry and homeless, rather than just hungry…”

With the health challenges continuing to mount, especially among the poorest of society, it feels like we are almost at breaking point. Something has to give.

So what can we do about it?

This year UWE Bristol launched Our City Our Health (OCOH) to ask the public just that. Over the past year, they have been gathering public opinion to feed back to researchers and city decision makers so health is prioritised in cities.

Giant diesel soot particle sculpture by artist Luke Jerram

Keen to think outside the box when having these conversations, they drew on Bristol’s creative talents. They commissioned Luke Jerram to create Inhale, a giant diesel-soot particle to visualise air pollution and commissioned a graffiti artist to paint a Park Replacement Service so we could imagine what life might be like without green space to roam. They even worked with residents and artist Andy Council to produce their Shape Our City consultation, which allows you to step inside the shoes of decision makers and trade-off health priorities with a limited city budget. There is still time to have your say. Head to: bit.ly/shapeourcity.

Sophie, the project coordinator says: “OCOH is not only influencing decision makers; it is a campaign to encourage the public to take a more active role in city decision making. Most of us are aware that our neighbourhoods are rough around the edges but there is a real sense in Bristol that we are prepared to pick up a sander and smooth out the diamonds. We’re here to offer the sanders!”

So in addition to gathering ideas for a better Bristol, the project is helping to put these ideas into action in Barton Hill and Lawrence Weston – two areas where poverty levels are higher than the Bristol average.

In July, OCOH together with Ellie Shipman, a Bristol-based participatory artist, organised a lunch at Barton Hill Settlement, with lunch provided by a local women’s group. Over 50 people came along to share food and recipe ideas and discuss their health priorities for change. Several eager children then led a banner walk around the neighbourhood, with their parents pointing out all of the things that make the area an unhealthy place to live. Based on these conversations, the project is now connecting local residents with UWE’s Hands On Bristol to address some of these health challenges. A similar event happened a month later at Blaise Weston Retirement home.

“Architecture students are being set a design challenge and must work with the residents to create an action that improves the health of the area based on their priorities. They’ll also create a toolkit for other residents in Bristol, showing them the steps they need to take to create their own action,” explains Sophie.

The challenge began this month and will end in late November with a party in each neighbourhood to celebrate. Keep an eye on their social media to find out when @ShapeOurCity

For more information about the project visit: bit.ly/OurCityOurHealth, or contact Sophie on Sophie.laggan@uwe.ac.uk

 

 

Shape our City creative consultation is launched!

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Living in cities impacts on our health and the health of the planet. If you were able to develop your city to prioritise health, what would you change first?

The SCU team have just launched Shape Our City, a creative, online consultation that allows you to step into the shoes of a city decision maker, weigh up the evidence and have your say on the health of our city. Working within a realistically limited budget, you will have to make trade-offs between types of investment and the scale at which you invest. Do you think it’s more urgent to improve the quality of buildings, to make roads safer, to increase the number of cycle paths or amount of green space, or to improve access to healthy food?

Developed by the Our City, Our Health project at UWE Bristol, along with web designers Soto, artist Andy Council and with the input of local communities in Bristol, the consultation uses estimates of how much money could really be saved – by the NHS, by employers, and by people – by making healthier changes to our urban environment. The crucial research on health savings has been rigorously produced by the UPSTREAM urban health project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, and formed of a collaboration between researchers from UWE (in public health and built environment), University of Bath, Daniel Black and Associates, Gabriel Scally Public Health, University of Geneva and
University of Washington.

Shape Our City is part of a project encouraging citizens to take a more active role in urban decision-making concerning their health – and the health of future city residents. Luke Jerram’s Inhale diesel soot particle sculpture, 3 million times larger than the real size of a diesel soot particle and designed to start conversations about the invisible health risks of air pollution, is another part of the project, and, in Bristol, Shape Our City will be gathering citizen preferences until November 2018.

What you choose to prioritise will be used to inform city developers and future research on designing cities for people and planetary health: so make sure you invest wisely!

Sophie Laggan, Project Coordinator of Our City, Our Health in SCU says: “We have gathered the latest evidence on the links between the built environment and our health and also quantified the health costs and savings from how cities are developed. Our consultation reveals these savings so, for the first time, we can make visible the positive benefits to be gained from prioritising our health in urban decision-making – and find out what is most important to you. It’s all quite exciting!”

Ruth Larbey

Baby-led, puree, Annabel Karmel and me? When science impacts on the choices we make in parenting

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How we make choices as consumers, patients, parents and members of the public has, of course, long been of interest to science communicators, and topics like immunisation can continue to raise differences in perspectives, as well as media interest. A few years ago we started to think about the sometimes challenging process of weaning a baby. Ruth had recently had two young children herself, whilst completing her MSc Science Communication with us, and I’d been doing some research with parents and caregivers in community groups, so we knew weaning was a topic that was being discussed. But what about the parents who might not be out there in these social spaces, what was happening online? We asked the question ‘how do people on Mumsnet frame media coverage of weaning?’

As our starting point we considered a review of scientific evidence published in the British Medical Journal in 2011. This work, by Fewtrell and colleagues, suggested the period of exclusive breastfeeding recommended by the World Health Organisation be reduced from six months to four. Unsurprisingly the study attracted media attention, particularly in ‘quality’ newspapers like The Times, The Guardian, and especially, The Telegraph, and was frequently reported on by specialist health and science correspondents. They tended to talk about ‘risk’ but rarely contextualised that with further information on the study itself.

On Mumsnet it was clear that a vibrant community was keen to discuss the issue of weaning, and we located 112 comments that directly referred to the Fewtrell example and its media coverage. What were people most wanting to talk about? The inaccuracy of media coverage really stood out in their comments, as well as frustration that it was returning to the breast vs. bottle aspects of the debate. And the forum discussions often presented more context, nuances around the question of ‘risk’ and the details of the study itself. Of course, they had more room to do so, but it was interesting to see these types of details being discussed.

What does this tell us about science, the media and how it’s discussed online? Well it suggests that at least amongst this very small sample of Mumsnet users there is some awareness of the weaknesses that can be present in science and health reporting, but also that people often use scientific and personal information in transitionary means, embellishing some of the deficiencies of media coverage in interesting and new ways. As people become more and more reliant on social media sources for information, further work is needed on how this is supplementing and challenging our relationships with scientific and medical expertise but also how we use our social networks to support decision making. You can find out more about this work in a recent Journalism article or at:

http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/27843/3/The_Worries_of_Weaning_paper_10_10_15%20-%20Copy.pdf

Clare Wilkinson and Ruth Knowles

Knowledge is power?

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Research shows that audiences at a health science festival prefer lectures.

We all know the debates about deficit versus dialogue, but what do audiences prefer? This was the central research question in my recent study looking at a health science festival in New Zealand.

Science festivals offer an interesting environment to explore preferences for format design, as they usually feature a huge variety of different event styles. The science festival in question was held in Auckland, New Zealand, and focussed on health science research around the brain and psychology. Held as part of international Brain Awareness Week, ‘Brain Day’ attracts over 3000 people to this free one-day annual event- not an insignificant number in a country of just 4.5 million people!

The festival formats under question were lectures, discussions, a community expo, laboratory experiments and a general good day out. Festival entrants were handed a questionnaire to fill in, and could return it anonymously to a drop-box at the exits, with a prize draw incentive. The experiment was repeated over three years, and in total we reached a sample of 661 people.

So which format did they prefer? Overwhelmingly, this sample significantly preferred lectures; with 76% ranking them the main attraction, 89% attending them, and 84% stating lectures were the most useful. This was irrespective of age, gender, education, or the year the festival was run. In open response questions participants described their reasons – stating that ‘knowledge is power’. Participants were attending the festival to learn something new, and lectures presented a good way to hear about research and expert opinion.

But wait – don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! We conclude that all formats have a part to play in the science communication landscape. Over two-thirds of the sample visited more than one format, and indeed, laboratory experiments were the second choice for family visitors. Yet however you look at it, the much derided format of lectures is still clearly popular with audiences.

Laura Fogg-Rogers is a Research Fellow in the SCU at UWE.
@laurafoggrogers

This post was originally published in the STEM Communicators Network newsletter Issue 32.The research article it is based on is available in Science Communication 37 (4).