Our motivation was to push the boundaries of public engagement with science – too often ‘public engagement with science’ activities adopt the same format and attract the same audiences. We wanted to engage people outside the ‘traditional’ audience in order to develop more multidisciplinary methods of engagement to push ourselves and the scientists we collaborated with to work in new ways. The festival and arts environments we worked within this year facilitated this greatly.
Our overarching motivation behind this project was to embed science into culture.
Summary of activity:
We created a programme of events inspired by science along three festival oriented themes: music, the mind, and escape. These were integrated into a wider festival or arts and cultural context. Most of our activities involved fitting into a pre-existing theme set by the festival organisers. We used a variety of formats to engage a target audience aged 18-60 with elements of science. Our highlights video here (http://guerillascience.co.uk/archives/1331) will give you an idea of the range of the activities we delivered.
In addition to self-assessment of event development, audience experience and event delivery, we worked with an independent evaluator to discover how successful certain elements of the project were and what we could do better.
Key findings as follows in terms of:
1) Development – Our program raised the awareness of science and provided engaging activities for the audience. The informality of the sessions worked well, as did the choice of topics and activities. This is due to the fact that we developed the topics and formats to suit our target audience and built on our previous experience of programming science events at festivals to really match the environment that surrounded us. By doing this we added value to the festivals and larger events we were a part of.
2) Delivery – The number of people attending our activities was high, with the majority of audiences being between the age of 16-35 and of White British origin. The overwhelming majority were not scientists and had little knowledge of science. They did not expect to encounter science at a festival, and had come across our activities by chance. Many revisited us, indicating a high level of interest. The delivery of our program was hampered slightly by the late opening of the entire venue at the Lovebox and Secret Garden Party festivals. The presence and location of some of our activities also sometimes made it difficult for the events to gain larger audiences. Finally, there was often confusion for audience members wandering across our events as to what exactly they had come across, namely whether it was science or art. Nonetheless, we succeeded in providing learning opportunities for scientist participants and audience members.
3) Dissemination – We have circulated the findings from this year in an evaluation report amongst the team, our advisory group, funders and participants who requested it. We will make it available to other science communication organisations etc. who are interested in the report.
What went well:
Our choice of program themes and activities helped link science to audiences’ festival experiences and their everyday life. This helped us to deliver engaging activities. Undoubtedly, the audiences enjoyed them: they were described as being ‘surprising’ and ‘provocative,’ and the diverse range of formats on offer was appreciated. This allowed them to experience science in a variety of ways which helped dispel preconceptions of science being ‘dry,’ ‘dull’ or ‘boring’.
We provided learning opportunities for both audience members and scientist participants, with lively discussions being a feature of many events and audience members spontaneously noting they had learnt something new, were inspired to think, and would like to learn more. This also helped us to broaden peoples’ perceptions of science. As a result of the opportunities for involvement we offered to participating scientists, their perceptions of science were also expanded.
Our activities enriched the cultural offer of the festival and events we were part of, which implied that we placed science within a cultural framework that enabled people to change their perspective on science.
What was learned:
Clear definitions of what we expect of everyone were essential for the development and delivery of our program. This applied to festivals, team members, scientists etc. In future we would seek to outline roles and responsibilities more clearly in order to maintain a high standard of delivery as well as accountability. We would probably draw up informal contracts more often to achieve this.
A lot of planning, time, and effort is needed to ensure smooth execution and delivery. In future we would seek to collaborate with individuals of a theatrical or production background, to free up energy for programming and research.
Expectations of scientists involved need to be carefully managed as our activities place them in situations or contexts that are new and unfamiliar. A clear system of feedback and evaluation of their experience helped both us and them to learn from the collaboration. We would seek to work more closely with scientists as our events and activities become more complex and narrative based.
In future we would seek to meet with any participating scientists in person rather just speaking to them over the phone to assess / brief/ prepare them for the festival environment during the planning stages.
Top tips and advice for others
Be prepared to be flexible, and ensure all participants / scientists appreciate the need for flexibility in the circumstances and environment of your activities.
Be prepared to put a lot of work into logistics and managing expectations of participants (both scientists and audiences).
Clear communication between team members and between the delivery team and scientists is essential.
Work with scientists who are willing to be flexible.
Pick your festivals carefully: every festival has a different way of working – some are more organised than others.
Be aware of your own capacity, it is better to do less at a higher standard than spread yourself too thin. You will have more impact this way.
Be aware of what you want out of doing particular events or collaborating with particular partners. This will help assess the value of whether something is worth doing in terms of time / money.