Knowledge is power?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 thoughts on “Knowledge is power?”

    1. Hi Liz,
      The Brain Day event included many more activities than just lectures, so the data compared lectures, discussions, community expo, lab experiments and ‘day out’ activities. From those, the lectures were the most popular. You can find out more information on how the research was conducted in the article from Science Communication 37 if you would like to know more.
      Best Corra Boushel (SCU Project Coordinator)

  1. Hi Liz, the conclusion is that this sample preferred lectures over all other formats – regardless of age, education, or gender. However, in the journal article I discuss limitations, such as the festival topic attracting already interested audiences, and the need to replicate as it was conducted at an NZ science festival. So while we need other formats to diversify experiences and audiences, we also shouldn’t discount lectures as a science communication format. Thanks, Laura

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