Science Communication Conference 2011
How do we measure impact on policy? When is public engagement good value for money? Can we evaluate long term impact? These are some of the questions that evaluators (try to) deal with on a regular basis and we were happy to share our insights and challenges with the 100+ delegates that attended our session. Laura drew on recent work for the Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious programme and the BBSRC/EPSRC Synthetic Biology dialogue to illustrate approaches to long term evaluation, which often raises more questions than it answers. The tricky questions that conference participants posed as part of the session will be captured in the conference report, which will be published soon on the British Science Association website.
vinspired students: National Campaigns workshop
The day formed part of the participatory work that has been really important in the evaluation of vinspired students. Over the two years that the project has been trying to ‘galvanise a step change in the quality, quantity and diversity of student volunteering’, there have been enormous changes in the way that universities and volunteering support organisations are funded and run. As we move in to the final stages of this evaluation, our challenge is to unpick what success looks like for the project in this uncertain environment.
Exploring the Boundaries evaluation report published
The dialogue was commissioned by the Academy of Medical Sciences with support from the Sciencewise-ERC, and delivered by a consortium led by Ipsos MORI. As suggested by the title, the dialogue aimed to identify where the boundaries of acceptability might be for research on animals containing human material. The results of the dialogue and the evaluation are fascinating – the evaluation report and a link to the dialogue report are available on our ‘resources’ page.
Clare’s first week
Clare has joined us this week and we’re really excited to welcome her on board. She has a wealth of research experience from her previous work at NFER and SchoolZone, including programme and policy evaluations. More about Clare coming to the site soon!
Our new home
We’ve been brushing up our flatpack furniture assembly skills to kit out our new office, at the top of an old fire station. Please note that we also have new phone numbers – they’re on the ‘contact us’ page of the site.
BSA Science Communication Conference
Highlights included opportunities for the science communication community to discuss the recent Science and Society Consultation and a session on Audience Segmentation, which looked at how visitor surveys can be used to help communication with different publics. Notes and findings from the conference sessions will be available from the BSA shortly.
Cranfield communications training
A training workshop was run over two days, incorporating working with the media, presentation skills training, planning public engagement initiatives and applying for public engagement funding. The workshop included a visit to the Science Museum and Q&A with Y-Touring’s Nigel Townsend.
Engagement across Scotland
Understanding the culture and nature of public engagement in different academic and research institutions is part of our evaluation work for the Edinburgh Beltane Beacon of Public Engagement http://www.edinburghbeltane.net. This year Bella to the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso, and visited six different Edinburgh institutions to find out more about how they are involving the public in academic research.
UWE MSc in Science Communication
The students were asked to come up with a proposal for the evaluation of one of our clients’ projects. They did a great job, and we hope it will be valuable experience when they are commissioning evaluations of their own projects in the future…
Festival of Robotics report
The project was the final flagship for the walking with Robots network. The full evaluation of the network is being written up at the moment – so check back for the full report soon!
Climate Change Schools Project evaluation report published
The project supported a group of Lead Schools to develop curriculum materials on Climate Change. They also helped us distribute a before-and-after electronic survey and visit their schools to conduct focus groups. The results were fascinating – download the full report from our resources section.
Festival of Robotics
As the evaluators for the EPSRC-funded Walking with Robots Network we had the pleasurable task of attending as many robotics events as humanly possible in four days. Now we just need a few intelligent robots to help us compile all the feedback we have collected through questionnaires, audio and video vox pops, quote cards and interviews…
More inspirational science
The day gave everyone a chance to see what each of the four Inspiring Science projects had achieved over the previous year and to whet their appetite for the forthcoming evaluation report. Presentations were also given by some of the teachers, scientists and young people who had participated in the schemes, and lunch provided plenty of opportunity to talk about how the Inspiring Science project can be developed in future years.
BIG event 2009
Laura and Bella were both involved in delivering sessions. The ‘Pimp my Evaluation’ session, which we designed with three other evaluators, has led to some interesting ideas for creative approaches to evaluation using informal approaches, social media and highlighting audiences’ voices. We’ll be supporting BIG members to take these forward over the next year, along with colleagues from the Visitor Studies Group.
We also enjoyed sessions about corporate social responsibility, creativity in science communication and Ian Simmons’ flaming bacon lance which won the best demo competition. The event group blog is at http://scicombobulated.com/big09/
Inspiring Science in the North East
The Science Learning Centre North East runs several programmes designed to give students and teachers insights into how science is applied. A variety of projects were aimed at students of different ages and backgrounds, either providing access to equipment or giving the schools direct links to a scientist. All those invovled discussed their projects with enthusiasm; teachers, students and the scientists themselves feeling that they had learned a great deal though the initiatives.
Bella’s tour of Scotland
She met with 25 academics, public engagement practitioners, policy makers and other representatives of the Scottish Beacon for Public Engagement’s 19 partner organisations. As well as exploring Edinburgh thoroughly, she also visited Elgin and Inverness to speak with staff from the UHI Millennium Institute. The preliminary findings make really interesting reading, but all of the interviews will now be transcribed ready for a full analysis using a qualitative software package.
The workshop was delivered in partnership with Sarah Jenkins of Jenesys Associates, for 42 of the British Council’s International Climate Champions from India and Sri Lanka. The champions are exceptional young people who are raising awareness and delivering projects to mitigate the effects of climate change. The workshop involved team building activities, project planning, communication skills sessions, climate speed dating and networking bingo. We survived a 12 hour bus journey from Delhi to reach our workshop venue in the beautiful foothills of the Himalayas, a perfect setting to inspire action on climate change.
Girls into Physics reports published
Laura collaborated with Karen Bultitude (UWE, Bristol) and Angie Daly (Edge Hill University) on the research aspect of this project, which involved 100 teachers from across England making a simple change in their classrooms and schools to get more girls interested in physics. The research took place around courses that were developed by the Institute of Physics and the Science Learning Centres Network, funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The reports are available in our Resources section – click on the link above.
Edinburgh Beltane – Beacon for Public Engagement
Laura and Bella have spent the week in Edinburgh getting started on the evaluation of the Edinburgh Beltane – Beacon for Public Engagement. The Beltane gets its name from a Celtic Festival that brings communities together. We have met with the steering group and ran a workshop session to develop a logic model for the programme’s vision, goals and intended outcomes. We have also been meeting with academics and representatives from partners organisations for a series of in-depth interviews about public engagement.
In whom do we trust?
Over the past few months the students have examined the potential impacts of storing medical data electronically, compilation and use of the data in research and the associated security and privacy issues. With support from Bella and Laura the students designed and carried out social research projects to explore attitudes within their own communities.
On Tuesday 14th April they took a day out from their Easter holidays to present their findings to an advisory group at the Royal Academy of Engineering.
The student presentations form part of a wider project on informed and uniformed attitudes to the use of electronic patient records in research. As well as giving valuable insights to the expert group, the student researchers’ work will also help to inform a play exploring key issues on this topic, and contribute to the findings of the main project report in early 2010.
Aimhigher Alumni Research Project
This innovative research project, commissioned by Aimhigher Greater Merseyside, will work with first and second year undergraduates that participated in the Aimhigher programme while at school and college. The goal is to explore what influenced their decisions and what part Aimhigher had to play. Focusing on the four HEIs in Greater Merseyside, we will survey a large sample of students and identify clusters of students who will share their experiences face-to-face and on the web over two years. Laura Grant Associates is part of a consortium led by Edge Hill University that was successful in tendering for this contract. Laura will be working with Angie Daly on the survey design and qualitative research aspects of the study.
Climate Champions workshop
Laura Grant Associates was commissioned by the British Council to design and deliver a week long workshop for the champions, who will run climate-related projects and work with other young people in their home countries. Laura collaborated with Sarah Jenkins and Jonathan Sanderson and the programme covered project planning, teamworking, communication and web reporting… as well as field trips and networking bingo! A particular highlight of the week was visiting the Scottish Parliament building and meeting the Minister for climate change, Stewart Stevenson.
Climate change focus groups
The students were from primary and secondary schools across the North East region. The focus group discussions explored their views about the activities they had taken part in, their attitudes towards climate change and whether they felt more motivated to behave in a climate friendly way, for example by recycling. Another round of focus groups will be convened in April 2009 to complement a before-and-after electronic survey of student attitudes.
Electronic Patient Records: research skills workshop
Volunteers participating in the Electronic Patient Records Project sacrificed their Saturdays to participate in a social science research skills workshop, which ran at the Y-Touring offices in Kings Cross on 24th January. The session was attended by one group of patient representatives and three groups of young people from schools in different London communities. During the workshop they considered which aspects of the issue they would focus on and how they would collect and analyse information on people’s opinions.
This session followed a previous workshop, which took place in November 2008, where the researchers were introduced to the topic and presented with several strong and often opposing expert opinions. All the participants in this project have been given plenty to think about in discussing this complex and controversial topic which is a subject of current policy debate. Having addressed the surrounding issues in detail, each group now considered their own research questions and methods. The workshop allowed the groups to discuss key issues further, think about questionnaire-writing and practice interview techniques.
The sessions included a keynote address, Science Education on the Small Screen, which told the story of the Big Experiment series she co-presented on the Discovery Channel and the science education issues it highlighted. Clips from the series went down well, especially a quote from one of the students: ‘the bits of science I find hard are chemistry, biology and physics…’
There was a strand on informal learning at this year’s conference, led by Paul McCrory of Think Differently, which raised some interesting questions about how the formal and informal communities can work together. While in Reading she also enjoyed the Wellcome Trust’s Beagle cocktail, mixed in honour of Darwin’s 200th Birthday, an inflatable planetarium show, physics demos performed by the team from Physics Education and the rather nice red wine at the conference dinner.
Our Planet – Our Future (revisited)
On 11 December Laura and long-time collaborator (and friend) Karen Bultitude dusted off their demo lecturer hats for a one-off performance of Our Planet – Our Future at Swansea University. We’re both really proud of the lecture, which we developed together for the Institute of Physics schools and colleges lecture tour in 2005 – International Year of Physics. One of our first pilot shows was at Swansea University, so we were keen to go back and showcase the final version. We researched six topics related to sustainability for the show, and the audience choose the three they want to listen to. Yesterday these were generating electricity from poo, biofuels and earthquakes.
Despite a couple of technical hitches the show was very well received; the hydrogen balloons and mexican wave earthquake demonstrations went down particularly well, but for ‘wow factor’ they couldn’t beat the show’s finale: the flame tornado. For some reason the teenagers really liked it when we set stuff on fire…
New website goes live
What do you think of our shiny new website? It’s the product of lots of hard work (mostly by the web designers) and we’re really proud of it. As well as being able to share what we do with the world, we will also use this site to publish as many of our project, evaluation and research reports as possible. Have a look at the resources section for our existing back catalogue of work, including Laura’s PhD thesis (!)
Most of our work is funded through our clients, so of course we can’t publish anything here without their permission. So we are really happy that the organisations we work with were so keen to share the outcomes of their evaluations. Feel free to drop us a line with your feedback email@example.com
We’re delighted to welcome Bella Williams as our new Research Associate. Bella’s scientific background includes a degree in pharmacology and a PhD in neuroscience. Her public engagement expertise is in science policy and science writing, especially around medical research, and she has also worked as programme manager for Brighton Science Festival.
Initially Bella will be focusing on supporting young people and patients to conduct social science projects on the use of electronic patient records for medical research as part of our collaborative project with Y Touring and the Royal Academy of Engineering, supported by the Wellcome Trust. She’s also getting stuck into some ergonomics engagement, working with Laura on the audience research for the EPSRC-funded Real World Design project with Brunel University and the Design Museum. We look forward to working with her!