It’s a central theme to any science communication training – to communicate science effectively you need to know who it is that you’re communicating with. Call them what you will – audience, publics, participants – getting to know those who read, watch or listen to what you create and adapting what you are creating accordingly is of vital importance. Getting to know your audience often involves a two-way exchange – allowing your readers, viewers and listeners to comment on and contribute to what you’ve created in some way.
On the face of it, digital forms of communication such as social media make starting conversations with audiences much easier than ‘traditional’ formats such as newspapers and magazines. After all, these digital platforms allow anyone to like, share and, most importantly, comment on what you write. But as a report on the latest research published as part of the RETHINK science communication research project shows, in practice these conversations between science communicators such as journalists and scientists and their audiences, often don’t happen. In other words, in spite of the mechanisms for conversations that digital media allow, in reality they act as a one-way broadcast media – the audience is very much an audience; playing a passive role in the process.
Insights like this into the connections science communicators have with their audiences came from a series of ‘Rethinkerspace’ meetings that took place across Europe as part of the RETHINK project. These Rethinkerspaces are communities of practice made up of the likes of journalists, bloggers, scientists involved in sci com, academics and university press officers. Typical of the comments in the Rethinkerspace meetings, a member of the UK Rethinkerspace related how they found it difficult to create a conversation with audiences on digital platforms – in turn making it hard know what the audience wants. Similarly a member of the Swedish Rethinkerspace who runs a podcast stated that they face a “lack of time to engage with listeners.” UWE Bristol’s Rethinkerspace was led by Andy Ridgway.
RETHINK, a European Commission-funded research project that involves partners across Europe including VU Amsterdam and Ecsite, is focused on the opportunities and challenges presented by digitization and how to create a closer integration of science with society. So the connections between communicators and their audiences are important.
The same RETHINK report that describes the nature of the connections science communicators have with their audiences also describes who these audiences are. Here the insights came from a questionnaire developed by Elena Milani, Emma Weitkamp and Clare Wilkinson, who all work within UWE Bristol’s Science Communication Unit. What is notable is out of 460 communicators who completed the questionnaire, only seven said their target audiences do not already have an interest in science, technology or health. The majority of respondents (74%) indicated that their audiences are mixed in terms of their level of interested in science – with some interested and others not.
Many of the questionnaire respondents were press officers and communications officers but there were also journalists, researchers and university lecturers and professors, among others. The participants were from the UK, The Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal, Italy, Poland and Serbia. Most of these communicators, 94%, indicated that they aim to reach a ‘non-specialist audience’, indicating that for many, their conception of their audience is quite generalised.
The results of this study prompt some important questions. Not least of which is how meaningful conversations between communicators and audiences can be encouraged on digital platforms such as social media. In part, the answer to this question will depend on where the underlying problem lies. Is it down to a lack of time among those communicating science to engage in discussions? Or is it that many science communicators and institutions communicating science just don’t want a conversation – they still see their role as reporters of new research? Or is it something else entirely?
What do you think? Tweet us at @SciCommsUWE and let’s start a conversation.
Fire engine at the Bristol Robotics Lab after a focus group session with local firefighters
I remember this story as if it was yesterday. It was the summer of 2013. I was laying on my bed, listening to music. All of the sudden, I heard someone screaming louder than my music, and banging on the door of my flat. I quickly took off my headphones, dashed to the door, opened it, and found my neighbour shaking, with her face as pale as chalk. Without any word, she grabbed my arm and pulled me towards her flat. Then, I went into panic. Smoke was coming out of the door! As we entered the flat running, my neighbour quickly managed to explain that the heater above the wooden bathroom door had caught fire while she was giving a bath to the old lady she was caring for. The old lady needed rescuing. Luckily, we both could take the old lady out of the bathroom before the fire developed more. A fire brigade came in a matter of minutes. The bathroom was destroyed, but no-one was injured.
After that experience, I knew I wanted to do something useful for firefighters because I had experienced how extremely dangerous it is for them to enter a building covered in smoke to put out a fire. Did I become a firefighter? Not quite. I decided to do a PhD in swarm robotics at the Bristol Robotics Lab to design useful technology for fire brigades. Swarm robotics is the study of hundreds and thousands of robots that collaborate with each other to solve tasks without any leader, just like swarms of ants, bees, fish or even cells in our bodies. Imagine if firefighters could release a swarm of robots at the entrance of a building on fire to create a map of the hazards, source of fire and casualties, so that firefighters don’t waste time searching (which is one of the most dangerous parts of their profession). Swarm robotics could also be applied in other settings. How about if warehouses had a swarm of robots automatically organising the stock so that employees only have to ask the swarm for the products they want? Or what if a swarm of robots could spread all over a bridge to monitor cracks? In my opinion, robot swarms are almost ready to leave the lab and enter the real world. We just need to know the type of robot swarms that potential users need. So, along with co-authors Emma Milner, Julian Hird, Georgios Tzoumas, Paul Vardanega, Mahesh Sooriyabandara, Manuel Giuliani, Alan Winfield and Sabine Hauert, we did three studies where we spoke with 37 professionals from fire brigades, storage organisation and bridge inspection. The results have recently been published in the open access journal Frontiers in Robotics and AI (you can read the paper here).
For the three studies, we followed the framework of mutual shaping. The long-term aim is to create a bidirectional relationship between the users and the technology developers so that we can incorporate societal choices at all stages of the research and development process, as opposed to more traditional methods where users are asked what they care about once the technology has already been designed. In our studies, we first had a discussion with participants to find out about their job, their challenges and their needs, without any introduction to swarm robotics. After listening to their explanation of the art of their profession, we introduced them to swarm robotics, and gave them examples where robot swarms could be useful for them. Finally, we had another discussion around how useful those examples were for them, and challenged them to think about any other scenarios where robot swarms could assist them.
We found very helpful take-home messages. The first one was that participants were open to the idea of using robot swarms in their jobs. That was somewhat surprising, as we were expecting them to focus more on the downsides of the technology, given how robot swarms are frequently portrayed in science fiction. The second point had to do with the particular tasks that participants felt robot swarms could/couldn’t do. This was an extraordinary insight because we identified their priorities, hence the next steps to advance in the swarm robotics research. For example, firefighters said they would highly benefit from robot swarms that could gather information for them very quickly. On the contrary, they wouldn’t like robot swarms extinguishing fires because of the tremendous amount of variables involved in fire extinguishing. That’s exactly the art of their profession – they know how to extinguish fires. In the study with the sector of storage organisation, a participant from a charity shop said that they wouldn’t like robots valuing the items they receive, but robot swarms could be useful for organising the stock more efficiently. Bridge inspectors would rather assess whether there’s damage by themselves, given the information about the bridge that a robot swarm sends them. Finally, most participants brought up concerns to tackle if we want to successfully deploy swarms in the real world. These mainly had to do with transparency, accountability, safety, reliability and usability. Some of the challenges for swarm robotics that were collectively identified in the studies are the following:
How can we really understand what’s happening within a robot swarm?
How can we make safe robot swarms for users?
How can we manufacture robot swarms to be used out of the box without expert training or difficult maintenance?
Personally, what struck me the most in my study was that almost three quarters of the participants from fire brigades expressed that they would like to be included in the research and development process from the very beginning. So, engaging with them through mutual shaping was a good choice because it opened up the relationship that they apparently want to have. And that’s really inspiring! I hope our research opens up exciting paths to explore in the future. Paths that will take swarm robotics a step closer to making robot swarms useful for society.
Daniel Carrillo-Zapata, PhD in swarm robotics and self-organisation, Bristol Robotics Laboratory
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
There are around 5,000 former metal mines in England and Wales, and many hundreds of thousands globally. Many of these mines have a legacy of highly polluted wastes, which can pose a risk to water quality and human health. As metal supplies diminish and new sources of metals are needed, especially for use in smart technologies, the potential to extract metals from these mine wastes is being examined. However, they often support important habitats and species assemblages, or are important for their historical significance. For example, around 20% of former metal mines are associated with Sites of Special Scientific Interest, around 14% are protected by European designations including in the lead mining areas in the Pennines and North Wales, and the tin-copper mines of Cornwall. Around 15% of former metal mines in England are in a World Heritage Site including the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape (Sinnett, 2018).
Much of the research and policy concerned with the management of abandoned mine wastes is focussed on environmental protection, landscape quality and the need to balance this with the conservation of nature and, to a lesser extent, heritage. In recent years there have also be a number of studies examining the motivation and preferences of those visiting restored mineral extraction sites.
However, there has been very little research on how local residents value their mining heritage and their preferences for its long-term management. This is important as it is ultimately local people who are affected by both the positive and negative impacts of this legacy, as well as any changes to the status quo. It is also essential to ensure that local people are supportive of any plans for the management of the sites. Understanding their preferences and concerns can inform this process.
We undertook some research with residents of former mining areas to address this gap in our understanding. Specifically, we explored the following questions: how do those living in former metal mining landscapes value them in terms of aesthetic appearance, role in preserving cultural heritage, nature conservation and tourism? What are the preferred options for managing abandoned metal mines?
We used the Q Method to examine the preferences of those living in six areas of metal mining in England and Wales. Q Method allows participants to ‘sort’ a series of statements based on the degree to which the statement represents their perspective on a subject. We selected a set of statements from the academic literature, policy and articles in local press. They covered a range of opinions and options on the mining legacy and its management.
Our analysis revealed five perspectives:
Preservationists want to maintain the status quo, and recognise the value of the mining landscape for its industrial heritage and nature conservation. They want former mine sites to be left alone, and protected, primarily for their heritage value.
Environmentalists are more motivated by water quality and pollution mitigation. They feel that that mine wastes would benefit from vegetation establishment and recognise their contribution to nature conservation. They value the role of experts.
Industry supporters prioritise the local economy and are the most supportive of mineral extraction in general and the reworking of mine wastes, feeling that it would create jobs and bring in new people.
Nature enthusiasts prioritise vegetation establishment on mine sites. They recognise the contribution mine sites make, or could make, to nature conservation. They want to see the sites restored, feeling they should not be left as they are.
Landscape lovers are focussed on improving the aesthetic appearance of the mine wastes. They are most concerned with the impact of mines on the landscape, but are open to the idea of reworking the mines to aid the local economy.
There were also several areas of agreement:
All residents prioritised water quality to some degree, with environmentalists and landscape lovers in particular feeling very strongly that this should take precedence over heritage features and nature conservation.
They also felt that the preference of the people living locally should take be a priority in deciding the future of the post-mining landscape, with most disagreeing that the future management of mine waste should be expert-led.
In summary, we found that most residents view their mining heritage positively for the cultural and ecological benefits that it provides, but they are concerned about the adverse impact on water quality and the lack of vegetation on many sites. There may be some support for metal recovery from abandoned mines if it is combined with high quality restoration that mitigates water pollution and revegetates the sites, whilst preserving their cultural heritage. Residents must be part of the process – too many feel that landscape decisions are taken out of the hands of local communities and do not benefit them.
Sinnett, D. (2019) Going to waste? The potential impacts on nature conservation and cultural heritage from resource recovery on former mineral extraction sites in England and Wales. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 62(7), 1227-1248. Available from https://uwe-repository.worktribe.com/output/852458.
On 21st June UWE Bristol welcomed over 100 science-communication practitioners from the South West, the culmination of over five months of planning, organising and orchestrating, with a small team of five women at the helm. All throughout, attention was given to making the event inclusive. These are some of our learnings…
We made time at the beginning to think through what might
exclude people from our conference, and make adjustments to include them. We
pooled our knowledge from events we’d attended, and looked at what others had
been saying on blogs,
online guides (here
We chose the Business School for its facilities and
location; it is fully equipped with gender neutral toilets, seating areas with
high backs for privacy/quiet and, thanks to a recent student campaign, free
sanitary products in toilets. Outdoors, there is ample disabled parking and
inside there are wheelchair-accessible lifts. It’s the little things that
really make a difference when aiming to be inclusive; for most people, it is
relatively easy to get to by public transport.
Think about the room
Round tables, lots of
natural light, and a relatively easy-to-use AV system, as standard in most of
the rooms, made for a pleasant and relaxed setting for both the speakers and
delegates. In more interactive sessions, ‘think-pair-share’ was
used to allow everyone to participate in discussions. In future events we’d additionally
invite questions during discussions from groups that may not have had the floor
(e.g. young female, or BME).
We designated one room as a quiet zone, in case people
needed time out from social interaction. It ended up being used as a rehearsal
space, but such a room has been successful at other events.
Are there other perspectives we’re not including? Keep reflecting on this. It was identified early on that our suggested panel didn’t have a community representative, so we made contact with someone known locally for their grassroots activism. We did a similar exercise for the presenters once our call for proposals was announced – it’s okay to invite in people from marginalised groups; they’re often interested in getting involved and are a valuable source of information .
We had someone to coordinate the whole event, someone to
manage the registrations and social media, someone to recruit and manage
volunteers and managers to invite panellists and compere the day. Divide up
tasks and seek volunteer help (e.g. from students) to lighten the load and
allow you to support more people on the day. Several volunteers wore
identifiable shirts so people knew they could approach them if they were lost
or had any questions.
One barrier to participation is financial constraint, so we
offered bursary places.. Offering to pay for transport or to cover the cost of
childcare was another option.
We made sure our ticket price was kept low, at £25 for
concessions and £50 full-price, with early-bird options also. Many commented on
how fair our costing was and that it enabled them to attend.
Check your language
You’d be surprised how easily jargon or images can put off
your target audience. If the public’s only picture of the event is of white men
in a room, then that is what they’ll expect and might feel “I don’t belong here”.
Similarly, if the event includes or is for “experts” then the rest of us feel
like “non-experts”, which can be interpreted as “lacking in sufficient
knowledge”. We were careful to avoid these traps… and it is such a common
problem that one of our sessions at the conference was all about the use of
such language in public engagement.
To indicate that we would not tolerate harassment at the
conference, we included a Code of Conduct in our programme. Several people
commented that they really appreciated this extra effort!
Let people identify
We’ve been to several
events before where people get to design their own name badges, so we followed
suit. It breaks the ice, is low cost and is fun! But on a deeper level,
people’s identity is important to them. Let them define it!
Stay refreshed and
come up for air
Breaks facilitate networking and problem-solving, and allow
people time to digest what they have heard – so have lots of them! We had three
refreshment breaks, if you include lunch, with additional coffee and teas at
registration and an optional alcoholic and soft drinks reception at the end.
Food was vegan as standard, with gluten free options available – this was a
health and environmental choice. We worked with our caterers to offer oat milk,
as it is more sustainable and popular than their usual soy/almond alternative,
and to reduce single-use plastics. We knew our audience would appreciate this
and we asked them in the registration survey what they required..
During lunch, the site’s Grounds Manager led a nature walk so
people could stretch their legs and unwind from what can often be an
overwhelming morning of knowledge harvesting. We tied in what we were
discussing inside with the outdoor stroll by highlighting what UWE is doing to
improve biodiversity in the city and engage students to become ecosystem
stewards. Many people commented that the walk was their highlight!
Remember this is an
Capture photos, videos, blogs, demographic data and people’s
thoughts and feelings about how the conference went to make things better next
time. But do remember to ask people’s permission first!
The adage ‘you can’t please everyone’ is worth remembering
when designing events and conferences because, let’s face it, we all have
different needs and preferences. However, we can strive to make events as inclusive
as possible within our given constraints, so there is no excuse for not trying!
Here are just a few questions you could ask yourself in the
planning of your next event. Add to and refine the list after each event you
Does your team reflect the diversity you want to
see at the conference?
Does the panel represent the diversity you want
Have you reached out to under-served communities
and asked them why they may not attend? (e.g. could hiring a translator or
interpreter take away language barriers?)
Is your language in plain English, without
jargon or exclusionary terms? Not sure? Ask your intended audience.
Have you offered bursary places?
Is your cost affordable to as many people as
Have you asked about access and dietary
requirements and permissions (e.g. for photos, recordings, etc.) upon
Is the venue easily accessible by public
Does it have the technology you require? (e.g.
hearing loop, wifi)
Is there space to move around, walk around the
building safely and places to rest?
Is the venue breastfeeding friendly?
Are there disabled and non-binary toilets
available? Do the toilets have freely available sanitary products?
Have you advertised to multiple groups through
mediums that suit them (e.g. flyers in local community centres; speaking at a
local event; sharing event through mailing lists and newsletters)?
Are you sure the event does not clash with a
religious festival, national holiday or other important event?
If the event is held in the evening will people
need support with childcare?
Do you have a code of conduct?
Will there be food and beverages that can cater
to most needs? (Suggest ‘bring a dish’ or ‘bring your own’ if needed).
Is there a mixture of styles of sessions and
content to attract a wide audience?
If you have worked your way through this extensive but not
exhaustive list, the how should fall into place. Keep things fun and light and
be open to feedback.
What language can we use to create inclusive environments in
science communication? How might letting go of expert knowledge benefit underserved
audiences? Delegates attending the Sci Comm South West 2019 conference at UWE
Bristol were asked to crowdsource solutions to these issues at the ‘Letting go
of what is not serving us’ session. Both questions generated animated group
discussions resulting in several potential solutions.
What is in a word?
Kate Baker and Silvia Bortoli, University of Exeter
Science communicators have learned the hard way that
labelling groups of people is difficult and, more often than not, inaccurate. Language
can be very powerful in setting the scene and defining the foundations of
relationships, particularly when carrying out research.
During this first part of the session, participants were
asked to consider the word ‘non-academic’.
A seemingly innocuous word which is actually quite value-laden. It hides the
expertise that exists outside universities and research centres and highlights
what people ‘are not’ rather than the skills and knowledge that they may have.
It has the potential to alienate.
So what advice did our science communicators have?
There was an overall recognition that the term ‘academic’ is
problematic, with a suggestion that should be replaced with ‘researcher’ as
this is more active and more accurately describes what they do. Some suggested
alternatives for ‘non-academic’ were:
Community – this could represent a large or
small group of people, including those online
Contributor – this is a more active term,
showing that they are not passive recipients
Collaborator – although this is seen as being
neutral and actively involved it may suggest a level of participation which is
Stakeholder – this is seen as active, but may be
more suitable for a community group or charity
Partner – this may be more suitable for an
organisation rather than an individual.
It was generally agreed that it is important not to call a
group by what they cannot do or what they are not, but rather identify what
they can do or what they are. The overall advice suggested asking the group
what they would like to be called as early on in the process as possible and
sticking with it.
Stengler, SUNY Oneonta, New York
As science communicators we are acutely aware of the
importance of knowing your audience. When developing public engagement or
outreach programmes, science communicators may be asked to liaise between
scientists and organisations who work closely with the audience. These
organisations can include charities, schools and community groups. In these
cases it is important to recognise that specialist organisations know their
audiences extremely well and are often best placed to tailor a public
engagement activity. Scientists and researchers are often reluctant to allow
individuals and organisations, with little or no prior knowledge of the science,
to plan or deliver the public engagement activity.
In light of this issue the second part of the session asked:
How can we help scientists let go of
their science and allow experts in the audience to run an outreach or public
So what are the top tips from Sci Comm South West delegates?
Identify any concerns the scientists may have early
on in the project
Clearly define the role of the scientists in the
Make sure priorities are understood between the scientist
and audience expert groups
Co-develop the project, with the experts in
science planning with the experts in audience
Make sure everyone understands why they are
collaborating and where the various expertise lies
Provide training to enable transition to take
place smoothly between the experts in science and the experts in audience
Develop longer term relationships between the
scientist and audience experts.
Alongside these recommendations, all delegate groups
recognised the importance of trust between scientists and audience experts, and
that the best way to achieve this was though collaboration and building