We (the Institute of Physics) wanted to reach people in the socio-economic groups C2DE who wouldn’t normally seek out physics or science activities, i.e. they wouldn’t go to science centres or similar. We also wanted to work in partnership so as to create a sustainable activity that wasn’t reliant on IOP staff for continued delivery. Working with Butlins allowed us access to the audience we wanted to reach and also a delivery mechanism that is sustainable and works well for both partners.
Summary of activity:
Spooky Science is a science show that combines physics and entertainment to produce a science show that appeals to a family audience on holiday. The show was developed by members of the Physics in Society team at the Institute of Physics and entertainment staff at Butlins. The show is performed by Redcoats (Butlins staff) after training by the IOP.
The show is backed up by content on our website (www.physics.org/spooky-science). All attendees were given a sticker with the web address on and prompted by the Redcoats to visit the site to find out more about what they’d seen.
During the first run in October 2008, an independent evaluation was carried out to see what worked, what could be improved and what messages the audience were taking away with them. The following is an extract from the evaluation report’s executive summary (full evaluation report available on request):
“People who attended the Spooky Science activities were unanimously positive and made comments such as:
• ‘Excellent – superb.’
• ‘Loved it.’
• ‘Really good for the kids.’
• ‘Kids loved it.’
• ‘Fabulous. Very educational. Lovely to see something educational for a change.’
It encouraged families to talk about the activities immediately after the events. 68% of people responding to an online survey a few weeks later said they had continued to discuss Spooky Science. People talked about very specific science (cognitive or content and knowledge) aspects of the show, ‘My kids enjoyed watching the man’s head getting bigger after focusing on the spinning wheal [sic] they talked about it on the journey home’ as well as the more general (affective or attitudinal) aspects of the experience, ‘We loved all of the experiments’.
The Spooky Science activities motivated people to follow up their interest both within families, ‘We have looked at a diagram of a Van de Graaff generator in one of my Physics books’ and in the wider context of their children’s education, ‘She told her teacher about it at school’.”
The evaluation made a series of recommendations which were implemented before the second run in 2009.
Informal evaluation over the course of the project has shown that both Butlins and the Institute of Physics have gained from the project as well as audience members. IOP has been able to reach large numbers of a specific audience in a sustainable way that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to and Butlins are keen to be associated with a learned society and have something in their entertainment programme that can be seen as being ‘educational’. The continuing feedback from the audience is that they enjoy the show and appreciate having an activity that is not just about singing or dancing.
What went well:
Sharing the development of the show and each partner playing to their strengths. IOP know about physics and how to explain things clearly. Butlins know what their audience likes and how to make things entertaining for them.
The show itself is a success and works well in the context of Butlins. The show played to full houses showing there is a demand for this sort of activity
What was learned:
Working in partnership, especially with a commercial organisation can be time consuming and needs compromise and flexibility. We are continuing to work with Butlins and are developing a new show for the 2011 holiday season. We have learnt to be very clear about deadlines and who is doing what. We are also clear in our own minds where we are willing to compromise and what is non-negotiable (in the case of Spooky Science we refused to have the Redcoats dress up in lab coats and glasses like mad scientists).
Top tips and advice for others
Don’t be afraid to approach an organisation you’d like to work with. The press office is often a good place to start if you don’t know who to talk to.
Have a clear idea of what you can offer and what you want to achieve, but be prepared to be flexible to accommodate the other partner’s agenda.
Take advice from people who know your target audience well.
Spend time at the venue, watching what the audience react well to and finding out what they expect.
Commercial organisations can be very last minute and expect things to be done NOW. If you don’t/can’t work like that, be clear about your deadlines and what you need when. Chase for information/replies to emails etc and don’t be afraid to say no.