From MSc in Science Communication to Media Relations Manager…

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I knew Science Communications was for me when I was doing my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences and preferred talking about my dissertation research, rather than being in the lab doing it. After that, I did some research and found the UWE MSc in Science Communication. I applied immediately. 

The module options on the programme at UWE drew me in as there were a variety on offer, and they each offered practical skills to help me step into a job right away. I knew that I wanted to work while completing my MSc, building up my experience in London, so the 3-day blocks worked perfectly for me. I held a number of internships during my time on the programme, and picked up my first part-time job when our lectures finished.

During the programme, as well as the compulsory modules, I studied Writing Science and Hands-On Science Communication. These modules taught me how to tell compelling stories about science that capture people’s imaginations – on page and in person. While the latter might not seem directly related to my role, it taught me a lot about how to explain something complex verbally. Often I’m speaking to journalists over the phone and have to be able to communicate clearly. It also built my confidence in presenting (it’s something you can’t avoid in this career!) and the modules gave me strong foundations by teaching me how to structure a presentation and deliver it with impact. I was also able to build a strong portfolio of work to take into interviews, which is hugely helpful when you’re starting out.

Armed with the academic and work experience I accrued during the MSc, I knew that I wanted to work in communicating science within a charity when I graduated, so I chose to focus my dissertation on how cancer charities communicate online. The project module is very open, so you can choose whatever you’d like to learn about. I picked something I was really interested in, and it also helped show my awareness in the area in job interviews later. 

Straight out of the MSc, I worked a part-time job in general communications for a medical membership organisation, alongside which I later worked another part-time role with a research laboratory, with a couple of freelance jobs on the side too.

Those times were pretty hectic, but I learnt a lot very quickly and had a wealth of experience after a year, including in time management. I then moved to Cancer Research UK working as a Science Press Officer, which was an incredibly busy, fun and meaningful job to me.

Now, as the Media Relations Manager for The Lancet, I manage our media output – deciding which of our many research papers to promote in the media, and how, to help achieve high profile, quality, international media coverage of the journals. I work in a wider communications team, and manage a Press Officer and freelance writers. While my undergraduate degree is key to help me understand the complex health research, my MSc is crucial in helping me recognise how to tell those stories to journalists and the wider public. The Lancet is strongly driven to use our research to benefit people’s lives, and the stories I help to tell focus on changing people’s perception, changing policy, or changing clinical practice.

A recent example of this is the so-called ‘planetary health diet’ – a huge report which was originally published in The Lancet and gave the first scientific targets for a healthy diet that was environmentally sustainable too. Working with the research funders’ media teams, we devised a comprehensive media strategy to ensure that the story hit the news globally, opening people’s eyes to the impact of food production on the climate and what we can each do to reduce this. The report made a huge public impact, making the ‘planetary health diet’ a globally recognised term, and changing food policy in some countries already. 

Media briefing for ‘planetary health diet’.

I feel incredibly lucky to have had the training I had at UWE, and I must mention the teaching staff on the MSc, who were always exceptional and give up a lot of time to support us and train us so well. Throughout my MSc, they gave me detailed, honest advice on what to expect from various careers, and linked me up to people working in that area when possible so that I could get on-the-ground insights too. They were very nurturing and their advice on those career paths is absolutely accurate. If you’re looking for an MSc in Science Communications, you’re in the right place and their training will be a vital cornerstone that you reflect on frequently in your career. 

Emily Head, MSc Science Communication student at UWE, Bristol

Calling all south-west science communicators!

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Us south-western folk have much to be proud of.  From Cornwall’s glistening beaches and Dartmoor’s breathtaking expanses, through to Bristol’s thriving cultural scene and the gastronomic joys that are Somerset scrumpy and Cheddar cheese (cave-aged and extra-mature, naturally).

And then, of course, we have our industrious science communication sector.

We at the Science Communication Unit (SCU) believe the time is ripe to celebrate the south-west’s diverse science communication expertise. Thus, we are bringing together science communicators from across the region (and beyond) at the first ever Sci Comm South West conference, which takes place on 21st June 2019 at UWE Bristol.

What can we, as a collective, do to foster a brighter future for the research and practice of science communication… and for society? How does our regional hub fit within the global picture of science communication, and local, on-the-ground action?

These are some of the questions addressed by the day’s innovative mix of interactive workshops and presentations delivered by an eclectic set of science communicators from organisations including the Eden Project, We the Curious and the Met Office.

And just as science communication is not limited to the south-west, nor are our guests. We are very excited to welcome Carla Almeida from Rio de Janeiro as our keynote speaker. Carla will be sharing her experiences of how the Museum of Life, an interactive science centre, has engaged with local, socially vulnerable communities – to shape the identity of the museum itself.

The event has another important goal: to catalyse a network of science communicators from the south-west. What might a SciCommSW network look like? Come take part in discussions to help shape this new network for the region and ensure it best serves the needs of its members.

We are planning a warm and welcoming day, which provides ample opportunity to learn, have fun and meet fellow science communicators. For further information, the programme (draft) and to register please go to our conference page.

We look forward to seeing you there!

You can also follow developments at @SciCommsUWE #scicommsw19

From MSc in Science Communication to Science Writer…

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When deciding where to study a Master’s degree, employability was a huge factor for me. I was keen to study somewhere that would teach me how to get stuck straight into the world of Science Communication. From day one in the Science Communication Unit (SCU) at UWE Bristol, we were treated like professionals and encouraged to present ourselves as so to the rest of the sci-comm community.

Since graduating, I have taken on regular freelance writing projects which have been a great way to practice the skills I learned at UWE Bristol. I have also recently started a full time job as a Science Writer for a small company in mid Wales who specialise in Cellular Pathology. My day job now includes writing articles for pathologists about new research and developing ideas to create multimedia content for our website.

I was already interested in Science Writing when I started the course so was grateful to learn a lot about this topic whilst studying and to meet several industry professionals. One of the key skills I am now using on a daily basis is learning how to filter through academic papers- as a communicator you may need to sort through huge quantities of research to fully understand an issue. I’ve also learned how to write more concisely. This really helps with sticking to word counts. My interview skills also developed very quickly on the course, something I’d never done before. I now use these skills to interview customers, researchers and colleagues both face to face and over the phone. Unsurprisingly, one of my favourite modules on the course was Writing Science and I still have the “Top Tips” we were given during the course and refer to them regularly for a refresher.

As much as I loved gaining the practical writing skills I now use in my full time job, I am also really glad I had the opportunity to learn more about the theory and history of the field as well. It has definitely broadened my horizons about more types of communication and how different media can be used to encourage science communication in a format accessible to everyone. Some of the other practical skills I gained through the course served to be valuable life lessons in team work, compromise and self-confidence. For example, I can proudly say I was part of a team to record an “as-live” radio show at the BBC- that’s a pretty memorable experience!

Finally, the teaching staff and my course mates from UWE Bristol have become invaluable sources of professional advice and encouragement as we all continue to support each other and celebrate our successes. Amongst my course mates we have shared a whole range of achievements including further study, international travel for fieldwork, BBC credits, conference attending and journal publication.

To find out more about the MSc Science Communication please visit our Postgraduate taught courses page.

Siobhan Fairgreaves, UWE Bristol MSc Science Communication student 2016/17

How to write a research synthesis report (or how I conquered my batteries mountain!)

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The words on the screen are drifting in and out of focus… lithium-ion and sodium-ion, redox flow and redox couples… and, errrrrm, what does ‘roundtrip efficiency’ mean?

It’s April 2018.  I have just returned to work after a sleepless year on maternity leave and been tasked with writing a report on battery technologies and their environmental impacts.

It’s an honour to write about such an important topic – batteries are critical to renewable energy systems and e-mobility – and I am excited about the job ahead.

However, faced with this seemingly insurmountable, not to mention impenetrable, pile of scientific papers upon which to base the report, it’s also easy to feel a little daunted.

I pull myself together. I know that I can do this because I’ve been here before, having successfully delivered reports on a diverse set of topics, from green finance to fish farming – as baffling as some of these topics may have seemed at first.

And sure enough, six months later, Towards the Battery of the Future (as the finished report is now titled) is being handed out to warm approval at high-level international conferences and EU meetings, deemed worthy of attention by top-tier policymakers and captains of industry.

With a glow of satisfaction, I pat myself on the back for having mastered a topic that, initially, I knew very little about. I’m also chuffed to have played a role in sharing the science with wider society.

Research syntheses

Towards the Battery of the Future is one of a number of reports I have worked on for Science for Environment Policy over the past 8 years. It is an example of a research synthesis – a publication which weaves together research, often from multiple disciplines, to support or influence policy.

In Science for Environment Policy’s case, we distill research to help policymakers protect and enhance our environment.

I can tell you from my time on these reports that producing a research synthesis is a tricky business. I am just starting work on a new report which explores the wonders of pollinators, and it feels a good time to reflect upon how best to go about a research synthesis.

An increasing body of scholarly work is assessing the role and impact of research syntheses, and various techniques for creating them1. This has yielded some interesting principles and frameworks, which provide valuable food for thought and guidelines for action.

This blog post is my nuts-and-bolts contribution to the discussion and, below, we have a handful of pointers, drawn from personal experience. These helped me take the batteries report, and those before it, on the journey from a mystifying blur of pixels to a bona fide publication, and one which may just make the world a better place.

1. Talk to real people

A chat with a well-selected expert can clarify more about a topic than days of scouring through research papers (and certainly more than could ever be gleaned from Wikipedia).

Work on the batteries report really got going after some enlightening conversations with the commissioning policy officer in Brussels and my trusty scientific advisor in Germany. Both helped define what we really need to focus on.

Where does the weight of evidence sit? What are the big debates and unknowns? And, seriously, what does roundtrip efficiency actually mean?

Thanks these chats, the words on my screen start to snap into focus, and, armed with a list of useful keywords, I feel ready to take on the research databases and build this report.

(And, turns out roundtrip efficiency is really a very simple concept. Need to know: you don’t want your batteries to leak too much energy when recharging).

2. And talk to lots of different types of people

I lost count of how many people contributed to and reviewed the batteries report. These helpful souls not only offered useful details, but also balance with their diverse backgrounds, from transport to chemicals.

And it’s not just scientists and policymakers who can help. Businesses, consultants and community groups, for example, are all a treasure trove of information and perspective.

I have been transported from my desk in a grey suburb of Bristol to tropical forests of Central America and windswept fish farms of the Baltic Sea, courtesy of telephone conversations with astonishingly obliging contributors.

With my tabula rasa outset for each report, I do often feel a little ignorant during these chats.  I’ve not quite forgiven the guy who actually shouted at me for asking the wrong questions (owing to my ignorance on the particular topic of the report at the time), but I did come out of that conversation much more knowledgeable than when I went in.

A caveat: the more people involved in a report, the longer it takes – and the risk of missing publication in time for key policy events increases, diminishing the report’s potential impact. In practice, synthesis writers are often faced with the challenge of finding the best way to produce robust content within short timeframes (see also: limited budgets).

3. Your reference manager is your best friend

I’ve seen many a writer get in a twist attempting to manually manage the reams of references that make up a report. Problems often arise as a report continually shifts in form throughout its development; citations get lost, bibliographies get muddled.

I’ve adopted Mendeley to overcome these issues, and do all the awkward formatting for me. It’s not perfect, and I’m always keen to know how others deal with their references, but it sure makes life a lot easier.

4. Keep on truckin’

It is the research that goes into developing a report, and not the actual writing, that drains the most time and energy. A day spent filtering and reading papers can amount to just two or three short paragraphs of text. Producing a research synthesis report is, at times, frustratingly arduous.

However, as Towards the Battery of the Future gradually morphed into a rounded product, I was reminded of why I went into science communication in the first place: it’s the perfect excuse to learn new things. The process of translating between the languages of science and the ‘lay person’ is also something I find undeniably satisfying.

Indeed, as I submit the final draft, I’m wishing I could make my own efficient roundtrip – to go back and do it all again.

Michelle Kilfoyle, Science Writer, Science for Environment Policy

  1. Some recent examples:

The Royal Society & the Academy of Medical Sciences (2018) Evidence synthesis for policy: a statement of principles. https://royalsociety.org/~/media/policy/projects/evidence-synthesis/evidence-synthesis-statement-principles.pdf

Wyborn et al. (2018) Understanding the Impacts of Research Synthesis. Environmental Science & Policy. 86: 72–84. DOI:10.1016/J.ENVSCI.2018.04.013

Making an award winning podcast: podcasts can be a great way to do science communication and have a lot of fun!

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You hear a lot of advice from people when you are thinking of setting up a podcast. People have all sorts of opinions about how long episodes should be, what you should talk about, how you should talk, how often you should release episodes.  I’m not sure any of them are right. Think about the podcasts you listen to. Are they all the same length as each other? All the same format? All series or all regular? I doubt it.

I’m the host of The Cosmic Shed podcast which was recently named as one of the Guardian’s favourite podcasts of 2018. It’s recorded in the crumbling garden shed at the bottom of my garden, somewhere in suburban Bristol. It really is an awful shed but guests on the podcast include Tim Peake, Alice Roberts, Benedict Cumberbatch, Nichelle Nichols and Chris Hadfield. We discuss science fact, science fiction and everything in between. Occasionally we take the podcast on the road for live events, like our takeover of Bristol’s planetarium with Andy Weir, the author of The Martian.

Podcasts are what the hosts make them to be. If you’re thinking of setting one up, think about what your favourite podcast are and why you like them. The thing that the best all have in common is that the people hosting and presenting them have a huge passion for their topics. That passion is infectious and vital for the listener but it takes many forms. My favourite podcasts are a mixture of scripted, well researched shows like Caliphate and RadioLab and the more relaxed, informal formats like Spooktator and The Adam Buxton podcast.

The idea for The Cosmic Shed came to me while I was studying for the MSc in Science Communication at UWE. I had recently moved to Bristol and bought a house which needed a lot of work. A lot of work. Water came up through the floor and down through the ceiling. The waste pipe from the toilet went out onto the roof. That’s the end of that sentence but I would add that this part of the roof did not leak. In the garden stood a shed. A truly awful, rotting shed with more holes than the house and half the floor missing. “That looks like a great place to record a podcast”, I thought.

Several years later, The Cosmic Shed podcast has over 100 episodes, won awards and, yet, the shed still looks awful from the outside.

There are a cohort of co-hosts for the Cosmic Shed. We have a nanoscientist Dr Maddy Nichols, an aerospace engineer Dr Steve Bullock, a film nerd (understatement) Timon Singh and more regular guest/hosts like Tushna Commisariat (Physics World) and Achintya Rao (CERN). We all have our own expertise and our own loves of science fiction.

Achtinya Rao and Tushna Commissariat in the shed to discuss October Sky.

We get a fair amount of correspondence from people who tell us that we are like friends to them. They look forward to our episodes and feel like they are sitting in the shed with us as they listen. If you think of your favourite podcasts, I suspect you’ll find most of them have regular hosts who you get to know and like. It’s one of the main reasons why people like podcasts. Not that that is deliberate from our point of view. I believe that it’s just a natural consequence of the way we record the podcast.

The Guardian newspaper described us as a “light-hearted, curious and nerdy listen” and I think that’s what you get if you put a group of friends in a terrible shed, watch a bit of science fiction and record the conversation.

Wildlife presenters Sophie Pavelle and Dr Ben Garrod joined us to talk about Planet of the Apes

Your podcast should be as long as you want it to be, as often as you want it to be and about what you want to it be about. That way, you’ll enjoy doing it as much as your listeners love listening to it.

If you are a podcaster or you are thinking of becoming one, do feel free to get in touch. I’d be delighted to have a chat with you but beware. The first question anyone asks me is how we get such brilliant guests. I never answer it.

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.

Location anywhere: New postgraduate programme launched by the Science Communication Unit

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As 2018 draws to a close, it’s over 15 years since we launched our first postgraduate programme in Science Communication. Today, we’re delighted to be launching our latest offering, designed to meet the needs of students wherever they are based. As our MSc Science Communication and Postgraduate Certificate in Practical Science Communication grow in numbers year on year, we’ve become more and more conscious that science communication is a growing field, both in the UK and internationally, but not everyone who would like to develop their expertise is able to travel to Bristol to study with us.

Over the last three years we’ve provided two, entirely online, CPD courses in science communication, which have provided training to over 100 students around the globe. Drawing on the learning we’ve gained from delivering these courses, we are pleased to offer the next generation of science communication students the chance to study for a Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Science Communication, without ever visiting our campus here in Bristol.

The programme has been designed to provide students with an applied and practical introduction to the science communication field, alongside the opportunity to develop their understanding of science communication research and techniques. The programme is intended to appeal to students with interests in face-to-face science communication (such as festivals and museums), science communication in digital environments, as well as the written form. A final research skills and project module will also equip students with key skills in science communication research and evaluation techniques. Students will leave the programme with all of the skills necessary to both convey and communicate scientific concepts, and assess the impact of that communication.  Thus, the programme will appeal to recent graduates and those already working in the field alike.

One unique aspect of this programme, for UWE Bristol, is its entirely online delivery format. This will allow students, wherever they are based, and alongside other commitments, to undertake a UK science communication qualification. Students will also be able to direct their learning towards topics and examples of relevance to them, in their home and working environments, as well as cultural contexts, and even though it’s online, we’ll be using the latest techniques to help them to network with our staff, as well as each other.

In developing this new programme we’ve worked with staff throughout our team, as well as having input and insights from our current postgraduate students and stakeholders who are working in the field. The stakeholders we spoke to, many of whom are already employing some of our past graduate students, commented on the contemporary relevance of the programme, the connection of assessments to real situations students will face in their employment contexts, and the opportunities for students to build portfolios and practice in a varied way.

We’re now recruiting students who would like to start this programme in January 2019, you can contact Jane.Wooster@uwe.ac.uk for further information and find out more on the programme here. We are also able to offer discounts to students who have previously studied an online CPD course with us.

Emma Weitkamp & Clare Wilkinson, Co-Directors of the Science Communication Unit

Engineering Our Future – Event videos!

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If you were an engineer, what would you do?

2712 children from across the South West answered this question with their designs to solve real-world problems.

The Leaders Awards is organised by Primary Engineer, helping children to meet real-life engineers. Led by the SCU’s Laura Fogg Rogers, UWE Bristol is an official sponsor, in partnership with Defence Equipment and Support (the procurement arm of the Ministry of Defence).

The shortlisted entries were showcased at a public exhibition in June 2018, bringing together 19 winners and their parents in a celebration with engineers from across the South West.

Children from Reception through to Year 10 were recognised for their efforts. Designs ranged from rotating bunk beds to bird-identifier binoculars. Students from UWE Bristol’s EngWest Studio will make one of the winning entries as part of their studies.

The future of engineering is here!

 

Ready to engineer your future?

Following International Women in Engineering Day on 23rd June, 135 female students in Years 9-11 from across the South West had the chance to participate in hands-on activities, demonstrating the ways in which engineering careers impact many aspects of society.

Each zone focused on a different contribution to society, with the ultimate challenge of designing and building a city of the future. The girls got involved in bridge building, urban design, smart technologies, and sustainable solutions. All these courses are taught in the Faculty of Environment and Technology at UWE Bristol.

The event aimed to challenge traditional perceptions that engineering is mainly for men, in order to tackle a lack of diversity in the profession. Laura Fogg Rogers, who helped to organise it, has also recently initiated the Women Like Me project at UWE Bristol, which aims to further encourage and support girls and women to enter and remain in engineering professions.

 

Original posts by Laura Hobbs on the UWE Bristol ‘Engineering Our Future‘ blog.

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