and traffic congestion are among the main causes of poor urban living and have sparked
rising concerns about the negative impact that transport has on people’s health
and wellbeing in urban areas. According to the European Environment Agency, air
pollution caused 400,000 premature European deaths in 2016. As several European cities in Europe embark on
bold action to improve local transport and promote the use of alternative and
clean modes of transport, citizens are now mobilising to have their voice heard
and to actively participate in local transport policy development.
WeCount (Citizens Observing UrbaN Transport), a new
Horizon 2020 funded project, aims to empower citizens in five European cities
to take a leading role in the production of the data, evidence and knowledge
that is generated around mobility in their own communities. Five cities: Madrid, Ljubljana,
Dublin, Cardiff and Leuven are coming together to mobilise 1,500 citizens throughout
the coming year (2020) by following participatory citizen science methods to co-create
road traffic counting sensors based on the popular Telraam experience in Flanders.
A number of low-cost, automated, road traffic counting sensors (Telraams) will be mounted on each participating household’s window facing a road, which will allow authorities to determine the number and speeds of cars, large vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. Furthermore, it will generate scientific knowledge in the field of mobility and environmental pollution and encourage the development of co-designed, informed solutions to tackle a variety of road transport challenges.
intends to establish a multi-stakeholder engagement mechanism to gather data in
these five pilot cities. Data will then be used to formulate informed solutions
to tackle a variety of road transport challenges, thus improving quality of life
at the neighborhood level. WeCount aims to break down technological and
societal silos, by putting citizens at the heart of the innovation process. The
project is the perfect vehicle to not only generate data but also promote and
support citizen advocacy to work towards cleaner and healthier cities.
UWE is one
of seven knowledge partners involved in the WeCount project, a list which
includes SMEs, academic institutions and non-profit organisations. UWE is participating
alongside Transport & Mobility Leuven, Ideas for Change, University College
Dublin, University of Ljubljana, Polis and Mobiel 21.
WeCount operates under the Research and Innovation Actions funding scheme, as facilitated by Horizon 2020 and the ‘Science with and for Society’ programme. WeCount will run until November 2021 and has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No 872743.
Details of the project were also featured in a recent UWE Bristol press release.
We spent the
morning with Isla Gladstone, a senior curator at Bristol Museum, learning about
the museum’s action plan and ambitions. In the morning, we were given a group
exercise to pick an audience and create a science communication led activity
based on the taxidermy animal we were given. The groups were given a kiwi bird
(Apteryx mantelli), a shrew (Soricidae), a couple of toads (Bufonidae),
and an Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius). Through this exercise we
found out that Eurasian jays are as sociable as dolphins and kiwi birds have
enormous eggs! Seriously, google it.
You often see big doors in museums saying ‘private’ and it leaves you wondering what sort of wonders could be behind those doors… Well believe you me, it’s everything you could have dreamed of. Think ‘Night in the Museum’ with Ben Stiller. We met Geology curator Deborah Hutchinson, who led us down into the basement via a public floor of the museum, but not before we were warned of the low oxygen density and potential to faint in such conditions. These air settings are under high control to manage the artefacts’ quality.
It was very exciting indeed, one step into the basement of wonders and I noticed my first gulp of air was tighter than usual. It felt like the air I was breathing couldn’t reach the bottom of my lungs unless I took a longer, deeper breath. This must be how people faint! Soon this feeling evaporated and we were left in awe of the countless, brilliant objects in the Geology stores. I say countless, but there is a margin of a million objects in there… Drawers and drawers and drawers of ‘Jurassic’ labels, skulls and bones of pre-existing dinosaurs strewn near and wide. So many incredible fossils, minerals and stories to be told including Bristol diamonds, which are in fact none other than quartz!
After our tour in the Geology store, we were led to the Natural History store. Immediately you were met with a cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) holding its prey just above your eye level. Led by Natural Sciences curator Rhian Rowson, we were guided through the narrow hallways, walking single file, listening intently to some of the stories behind the collection. There were a couple of house sparrows (Passer domesticus) pulled out of their drawer, one was darker than the other, and to our shock it was due to the coal in the air during the industrial revolution. Researchers can use the darker house sparrow as an indicator of the extent of air pollution during this time.
What really amazed and humbled me were the personal touches within both collections. The hand written labels, hand thrown plastic covers over the odd elephant skeleton in the room… it felt very homely. There wasn’t a need to present the spaces as squeaky clean galleries, which you see so often. I did however, walk backwards into a deer, which between me and the deer, I’m not sure who was more startled. There was a feeling of genuine character, care and comfort of stepping into these narrow hallways and oxygen thin walkways. For someone like myself, with a keen interest in geology and natural history, this trip was a massive privilege, and I’m very fortunate to take my camera along with me.
Chloe Russell, MSc Science Communication student, UWE Bristol
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.
A team of Science Communication Unit researchers was selected by the Royal Institution (Ri) to explore ways to continue modernising the Christmas Lectures, an iconic series that has run since 1825. Margarida Sardo, Hannah Little and Laura Fogg Rogers conducted research to explore strengths and opportunities for improving the series, created for children and televised annually for the past 50 years fronted by presenters including David Attenborough and Carl Sagan.
A centrepiece of the
national conversation about the place of science in our lives, the lectures
were started by scientist Michael Faraday in 1825 and are now designed to be
engaging and mind-expanding viewing for people of all ages but particularly
children. A series of three on a single topic, the lectures are filmed in
London in mid-December every year then broadcast on three consecutive days
during the Christmas period. In 2018, biological anthropologist, author and TV
presenter Alice Roberts and genetics expert Aoife McLysaght brought the
evolutionary story to life in a series called ‘Who Am I?’
with children attending the 2017 and 2018 events, a social media analysis of
the 2018 broadcasts and survey of science enthusiasts, researchers found the
lectures were cherished by audiences of all ages but format changes could help
broaden their appeal among young people, as well as older audiences. They
recommended exploring ways that the channel and time of the broadcasts
(currently BBC4 at 8pm) could be made more suitable for a younger audience,
including cutting the lectures down into short clips for social media to
reflect changing viewing habits.
The research team noted
that some adult viewers believed the lectures were so focused on a younger
audience that they lacked appeal for older viewers. To continue to attract a
significant adult audience, they recommended creating a companion lecture aimed
at older science fans.
Researchers also found
audience members enjoyed the live shows, particularly the engaging, interactive
and high-quality demonstrations. TV viewers valued the televised shows and many
remarked that watching with relatives had become a family tradition. But some
science enthusiasts suggested the Ri needed to re-evaluate its target audience
and questioned whether the needs of a live lecture and a TV programme were
being confused. Viewers were roundly supportive of female scientists presenting
the show, with particular praise reserved for the performance of Alice Roberts
and Aoife McLysaght in 2018.
The Christmas Lectures branding includes the prestigious Christmas
Lectures broadcast on BBC, as well as live shows, a Schools Conference, the Ri
Advent Calendar and “I’m a Scientist… get me out of here” – most of which were
covered by the evaluation.
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.
During my undergraduate degree in biochemistry I spent a year studying abroad in Grenoble in the French Alps. I studied in the university for some of the time, and also did a 5 month placement in a research lab. Although interesting, it was enough to show me that a career in research was perhaps not for me, so I spent much of time gazing dreamily at the mountains wondering what else I could do.
I liked working in the laboratory, but I realised I really
wanted to be on the outside, telling people about all of the exciting things
that were going on inside. So when I came back for my final year I persuaded my
supervisors to let me do a science communication project for my final project,
rather than a bench research project, and I was hooked!
The UWE Bristol MSc Science Communication programme gave me an opportunity to work part time at Science Oxford – a small but influential charity that works to encourage the pursuit of science and enterprise. I was delivering workshops and shows to schools and the public, and also ran the regional STEM Ambassador programme, finding and training scientists and engineers across the region to work with schools too.
I always wanted to work in a museum or a science centre, so when
I took the MSc I was keen to focus on the modules relating to delivering
science communication face to face. I remember being inspired by people from
the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Royal Society, at-Bristol (as it was then known)
who we met during the course, and they all motivated me to use my wide range of
interests – art, music, family learning as well as science – to tell stories
and create conversations.
I also loved the Science on Air and Screen module, some of
which took place at the BBC. At the time I would listen to a lot of radio
(before the days of podcasts which now feature heavily in my down time!) and I
loved working in a small team to produce both a short radio show about
‘progress’, including a poet as a live guest, and a short TV piece about
Healthy Living Day. Although I haven’t gone on to work in broadcast media the
lessons on how to sum up coherently yet colloquially have come in handy when I’ve
been interviewed for radio or TV, including for BBC Stargazing Live and local
My Masters project was an evaluation of a set of touchable exhibits at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Finally a chance to do some work in a museum setting! I devised and piloted a series of protocols to help the museum evaluate how families were using their new exhibition. I now use these skills every day in my job as Public Engagement Development Manager for the Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC), one of the UK research councils. A key component of my job has involved producing an evaluation framework for a complex programme of work. As STFC is a funder as well as a delivery body, we aim to measure and evaluate events and activities run by around 40 partners a year reaching in excess of 500,000 people face to face, and a further 2.5 million via online and broadcast media to better report, improve and celebrate what we do.
favourite part of the job has got to be working with scientists and engineers
who love what they do and who are really keen to share their enthusiasm with
others. I work with them to help them to do so in a way that is engaging, will
genuinely appeal to the audience they are wishing to engage – ensuring they
have thought about who that is! – and then hear all their brilliant creative
ideas for how to communicate their area of research to others!
I’ll also be using all of these skills in a new large project coming up called Wonder. The launch of Wonder marks a long-term commitment by STFC public engagement to move our focus towards audience-driven public engagement with under-served communities in the most socioeconomically-deprived areas of the UK. We want more working with people, and less delivering to people. The project is still in early days, but it means that I’ve been able to feed in ideas right from the start and use many of the skills I learned on the MSc – from reading lots of publications and reports that others have written to be sure we are using current good practice, to writing a brief for an external evaluation consultant.
Jo Lewis, MSc Science Communication student at UWE Bristol.
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
The Sci Comm South West Conference 2019 attracted over 100 practitioners and researchers based across the south-west (very loosely defined!). The success of the conference and the energy in the room proved that there is a huge appetite for a ‘devolution’ of the London-centric science communication network. After all, so much happens outside of the M25!
Delegates were given the opportunity to explore what a network of science communicators in the south west of the UK might look like in a session led by Angela Cassidy, chair of the UK-wide Science in Public Research Network.
questions were posed: what is the benefit of a regional south-west network? How
do you bound ‘the region’ (someone suggested North Wales as a part of the
south-west) and ‘science communication’? What is the preferred format? Who will
take the lead?
with discussing the value of creating a professional network. Everyone in the
room understood the importance of shifting the attention (and bidding
capability) from London, but how do you define a region? How far can people
travel? What places do they identify with? How to deal with unequal dynamics
between cities and countryside?
we deliberated the purpose of the network. In the most pragmatic sense, there
is a great benefit to being ‘bid ready’ – having a space to discuss ideas and
form teams before the calls are being
announced. However, would running a purely funding-oriented network compromise
its potential to create truly innovative ideas?
about an hour mapping the relevant events, organisations and places. With the
wide geographical spread, broad understanding of ‘science’ and multiple
thematic networks-within-a network, what is the real value of a south-west
network? While we haven’t reached a conclusion, two ideas we flagged up were:
Studying part-time and working full-time is challenging to say the least. But now that I’ve finished, I can honestly say it is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. The blood (tonsillectomy a few months before project deadline), sweat (hobbling around UWE on crutches is exhausting) and tears (both happy and stress induced) were all worth it now that I can see the findings of my MSc project being used in the real world.
Over the past (nearly) five years, I have worked at the Centre for Environmental Data Analysis (CEDA) – a data centre and supercomputer facility geared towards supporting the UK’s atmospheric and earth observation science communities. We are a small team that provides services for over 50,000 users (including scientists/students/private companies/general science enthusiasts/etc.). In the past year alone, users have downloaded over 775 Terabytes of data – that’s equivalent to more than 175 million photos! We increasingly need to justify our role in funding applications in order to continue providing these services. However, providing evidence of what users are using our services for is not easy information to collate – which is where my MSc project comes in.
My project entitled ‘Community-led ideas for collecting impact stories from CEDA service users’ sprung from this funder requirement of evidencing our services impact and was supervised by Dr Clare Wilkinson. The term ‘impact’ has many different meanings depending on who you ask about it. For my project, we defined impact as: ‘‘Beneficial changes that occur in the real world (beyond the world of researchers) as a result of research that relied upon CEDA services for its success’. This is the information we need to provide as evidence to our funders; but if it’s tricky to define impact, it’s even more difficult trying to measure and collect it – especially when the impact is ‘once removed’ as with our situation.
The project was undertaken in Summer 2018 with an online survey (520 responses) and a series of focus groups (26 attendees) at conferences and meetings that our key user communities were attending. The findings were generally positive and constructive – our users were keen to help us! However, there were disagreements as to how the impact information should be collected. Key recommendations from the research included;
Be transparent about why collecting impact information is necessary
Emphasise why it is beneficial to the user personally and for the service provider
One process will not fit all users. Think about the purpose of collecting the impact stories, and tailor the process accordingly
Provide a simple process that avoids wasting users’ time by;
Not asking for information too frequently
Collecting information via existing processes where possible
Asking for basic information first, later followed up (for more details) if the information is relevant and the user is willing
Providing support when writing impact stories
As these findings were ‘the answers’ to how we could collect impact information, it has meant we have been able to implement and act upon them. In January 2019, we targeted a section of our user community with a short survey asking them for basic information about the impactful science our services have enabled them to carry out. Over 50 responses were submitted, of which approximately 80% were suitable for use as a more detailed impact story – meaning we now have access to ~40 stories that CEDA can use as evidence when applying for funding.
We are hoping to share some of the stories with our user communities soon, however as we received more stories than we expected it’s taking some time… it’s just me working on this!
The MSc Science Communication at UWE Bristol has allowed me to steer my career path where I want it to be, and I am now CEDA’s (first) Communications Manager. I don’t believe this would have been possible without studying at UWE.