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:
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.