Projects

Project picture

Meet the Scientist - Ideas Workshop

Location
Manchester

Project Summary

Scientists took part in an Ideas Workshop to support the  delivery of a “Meet the Scientist” event for the Manchester Science Festival.

 

Project Partners

Name:
Nowgen
Role:
Project Leader
Name:
Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) The University of Manchester
Name:
Central Manchester University Hospitals Foundation Trust
Name:
The Manchester Museum of Science and Industry

Benefits & Impact

The scientists participating in the public engagement training provided very positive feedback regarding the workshop. They evidently enjoyed it and felt it would help them prepare for the Meet the Scientist event. They found the opportunity to share ideas very helpful and particularly appreciated to activity exploring appropriate language. Many had not appreciated the language level required and really benefited from explaining their research in lay terms to each other.

Nowgen has also benefited a great deal from the project. It has reinforced links between the University, the Hospital Trust and the BRC and demonstrated the considerable public engagement expertise of Nowgen as an organisation. It has provided an opportunity to foster links with local scientists many of whom are keen to work with Nowgen on similar projects in the future. The project has also enabled Nowgen to develop an effective and enjoyable public engagement workshop which can be delivered to support further events and which can be built on to develop a programme of support for Manchester researchers.

Quotes

The course provided... “good ideas of simple ways to convey complex science”... “It got me thinking outside the box...” Research scientist

Lessons Learnt

  • The Nowgen team were able to build on their past experience of running informal public engagement events and better meet the needs of research scientists.
  • The format of the Ideas Workshop can be shared and adapted for different audiences across the Beacon partnership. The workshop received positive feedback and attendees reported that it helped them prepare for the Meet the Scientist events.
  • Working with an independent evaluator helped Nowgen plan and measure the impact of the project. The turnaround time between the initial survey and the training workshop made it difficult to incorporate the findings of the research into the workshop, but best efforts were made to meet the needs of the attendees.
  • The Nowgen team involved were able to develop their understanding of which strategies are most effective in supporting scientists involved in public engagement in informal settings. 

Background

Nowgen as an organisation has extensive experience in public engagement and is a regular contributor to events such as Manchester Science Festival. Nowgen wished to support and showcase medical research in Manchester and therefore planned to hold Meet the Scientist events for Manchester Science Festival. Plans were made to develop a public engagement workshop for Manchester medical researchers, thereby utilising and building on our expertise. This workshop would form a suite of resources including a bank of tried and tested activities. It would also support a specific event – Meet the Scientist at the Manchester Science Festival - and feed into future events. Funding was required to support this project and was sought from the Manchester Beacon for Public Engagement.

Aims & Objectives

To equip researchers with the skills to enhance their confidence in discussing their work informally with the public.

  • To showcase medical research being carried out in Manchester
  • To work with researchers to devise fun, practical activities and create props that enables them to interact and inform the public about university research.
  • To share good practice with others interested in public engagement with science.
  • To explore the training needs and confidence levels of participating scientists both prior and subsequent to the training intervention.
  • To create a resource bank of engaging informal science activities for informal public engagement events.

Approach

Our first step was to carry out a recruitment exercise to find researchers willing to take part in public engagement activities for the Manchester Science Festival (MSF). An advert was distributed through research and public engagement networks in the University, the Manchester Biomedical Research Centre and the Central Manchester Hospital Trust. A large response was received with around 30 scientists responding to the initial recruitment.

Scientists responding to the call for volunteers were given further information on the planned Meet the Scientist event and the training planned to support it. It was not compulsory for all scientists taking part in MSF to receive training, but they were strongly encouraged to do so. Most of those who did take part did also attend the training and 15 scientists took part in the half day workshop on the 14 October 2009. Shortly prior to the workshop these scientists were surveyed to establish their skill and confidence levels before the training and the MSF event. They were surveyed again after the Meet the Scientist event to ascertain the impact of the workshop and their experience of the public engagement activity.

The training workshop provided a short introduction to public engagement in science exploring what it is and what makes it effective. The following themes were covered:

  • Understanding audiences
  • Using objects to engage and explain
  • Using questions to explore and understand
  • The importance of language: How to talk to a public audience

The participating scientists were also given the opportunity to experience examples of effective and engaging activities for informal events. The workshop culminated in a brainstorming activity where the participants shared ideas, problem solved and planned their activities for the day.

Following recruitment, the researchers were asked to provide descriptions of their planned activities. These were used to create risk assessments and were developed to provide a catalogue of ideas. The logistics of the event were considered, public indemnity insurance arranged and a timetable for the day arranged. The Meet the Scientist event was held over the 30 and 31 Oct 2009 and over 1,000 members of the public engaged with the researchers. About 24 scientists took part in the event running 2 hour slots minimum each day. The event was held in a ground floor exhibition space in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry and a member of the Nowgen team was in attendance throughout. This space was shared with other organisations including CBBC. The atmosphere was lively, informal and fun and the scientist volunteers reported that they enjoyed the event and most said they would be keen to take part in similar events in the future.