Generic venues: researching the impact of science communication in non-traditional locations

This in-depth public engagement research project involved a thorough investigation of best practice in science communication within ‘generic’ venues – locations where audiences naturally congregate and have ‘ownership’ of the site; spaces that are not normally associated with scientific learning.

The research was funded (reference: SFRH/BPD/46840/2008) by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT), a Portuguese governmental institution.

Objectives

To provide first-hand knowledge and understanding of how to devise, manage and deliver science communication activities in ‘non traditional venues’. This was achieved by:

  • Observing and evaluating a series of case studies of existing ‘generic venue’ events and analysing the findings for appropriate opportunities in the Portuguese context.
  • Working in partnership with professional science communicators and active research scientists to develop appropriate activities for public audiences.
  • Delivering ‘generic venue’ event formats, supported by experts from within the Science Communication Unit (SCU).

Evaluation Methodology

A variety of evaluative techniques were employed in order to judge the effectiveness of the activities in the chosen venues. Through the application of multiple complementary methodologies a range of both quantitative and qualitative data was collected. Audience reactions to the hands-on activities were collected in four ways:

  1. Exit survey – the reactions of audience members were investigated using self-completion anonymous questionnaires.
  2. Exit interview – ‘snapshot’ interviews (90 seconds’ duration) took place with members of the audience across the three days of the event. 'Snapshot' interviews are specifically designed to capture short and immediate feedback from participants in busy locations.
  3. Observations – the activities were observed by the evaluator, who took extensive contemporaneous notes on the size, composition and reactions of the audience.
  4. Staff interviews – interviews took place with staff involved in both managing and delivering the activities. Staff members were asked to provide both formal and informal feedback of their impressions of the event.

Case Studies

  1. ‘Physics in the Field’ at the Holker Garden Festival involved members and staff from the Institute of Physics (IoP) performing physics ‘tricks’ (demonstrations) to different festivals throughout the UK to engage families and children with physics. In 2009, the Holker Garden Festival took place in Cartmel, near Grange-over-sands (Cumbria) over the weekend of 29th to 31st May. The festival aims to celebrate the best of gardens countryside and food. The IoP Team set up a ‘stall’ in the Holker Garden Festival showground. View the Holker Garden Festival report.
  2. ‘BioBlitz’ at the Ashton Court Estate – In June 2009, a BioBlitz took place at the Ashton Court Estate in Bristol (organised by the Bristol Natural History Consortium. This BioBlitz was ‘a 30-hour race against the clock event where scientists, naturalists, students, members of public, schools and community groups worked together to find and identify as much wildlife as possible in the Ashton Court Estate’. Ashton Court Estate is historic park with a mansion house, to the west of Bristol. According to Bristol City Council, it is the UK’s third busiest country park, with around 1.6 million visitors every year. View the BioBlitz report.
  3. Guerilla Science at the Latitude Festival – is committed to taking science to music festivals. In July 2009, Guerilla Science hosted seven talks, performances and interactive laboratories in the Literary Salon at the Latitude Festival. Latitude is said to be more similar to continental European festivals; as well as a comprehensive bill of musicians, bands and artists across four stages, the festival comprises elements of theatre, art, comedy, cabaret, poetry, politics and literature. View the Latitude report.
  4. ‘Roaming Robots’ – Roaming Robots took simple physics demonstrations directly to the public via informal 'busking' activities. The venue was the Trafford centre, a large indoor shopping centre located in Greater Manchester. View the Roaming Robots report.
  5. ‘Evolving Communities’ involved a multi-stage engagement between biological scientists and local inner city school students, and culminated in a public display and supporting interactive activities in a shopping centre in Bristol (The Galleries shopping centre).

Results

For more details on the findings from this project please see the recently published paper, Bultitude, K. & Sardo, A.M., 2012. “Leisure and Pleasure: Science events in unusual locations”. International Journal of Science Education, 1-21.

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