Public Engagement Case Studies

Oriel Science

Oriel Science is a unique, innovative public-facing exhibition gallery showcasing Swansea University's STEMM research. We house rolling thematic science-based exhibitions based on our University's science research aimed at two target audiences: school students and the wider public. Our exhibitions are accessible, informative and interactive, focusing on the work and collaborations of the University's STEMM community. Oriel Science also hosts schools workshops in parallel with each exhibition. We take visitors on a journey through a scientific theme, ignite their curiosity to explore that theme, and leave a lasting legacy in their imagination. We inspire younger visitors to choose STEM subjects at school leading to STEM degrees in University, and further develop the science capital and scientific literacy of older visitors.‌

Oriel  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oriel Science is the only exhibition space run by a UK University which showcases its research to the community.

What was your project aiming to achieve? What were your intentions?

Enhance science capital in the general public and increase uptake of STEM subjects in GCSE, A-level and University courses. We are particularly targeting communities whose A-level and University participation rates are low. We do this by (i) our location (in the city centre shopping mall); (ii) our exhibitions (we have an enticing DeLorean sports car in the venue window) (iii) hosting school visits from areas with multiple deprivation indices.

Who were the intended audience of the engagement activity?

(i) General public (!) i.e. passers-by, particularly those with no connection to the University. 60% of our visitors have never set foot on either Swansea University campus.

(ii) Students on organised school trips. These have ranged in age from Year 3 to A-level.

 What was the motivation for starting the project? What were your first steps?

Wait till the movie comes out!

 Please outline any partnerships that were key to the project. Please give details of how these partnerships were established, and what practical measures you took to maintain them.

(i) Swansea University Science for Schools Scheme (S4). Without S4, Oriel Science would not have happened. We rely on S4 for financial support, student ambassador support and moral support.

(ii) Welsh National Science Academy

(iii) CoS. We are part of the Science 2020 programme

(iv) STFC (we have been awarded a PE grant)

(v) EPSRC (Impact Acceleration Account)

(vi) CHERISH-DE

(vii) QuarkNet Cymru (a Cardiff based schools outreach programme)

(viii) Swansea BiD

(ix) Swansea Museum

(x) City and County of Swansea

Very shortly we will receive funding from:

(xi) Colleges of Engineering, Health and Human Sciences, Medicine

(xii) Swansea University (central pool)

What did you do? What was your activity? What public engagement methods/techniques did you use?

We opened a pop-up Science Exhibition Centre

Evaluation. What did you get out of the public engagement activity; would you do it again / was it worth the effort, has it led to any follow up activities, what would you say to others thinking about PE; what methods did you use to evaluate your project? What were some of the findings (good and bad) and what did you change as a result of this feedback?

Oriel Science has had 12,000 public visitors and 750 school student visitors since we were open. It has received at least £107k in funding so far. We survey our visitors using Generic Learning Outcomes. More than 90% have learned more about science as a result of their visit, and more than 90% would recommend us to a friend. We have lots more metrics as well.

Top tips for making it work. What would be your top tips for running a successful engagement activity? What worked really well for you? What advice would you offer others thinking of running a similar activity?

Enthusiastic people who won't take "no" for an answer.

How has or can this public engagement lead to impact? Impact is defined as an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia’ (HEFCE et al 2012a).You’ll need to consider what difference this public engagement activity/output/outcome has had on others and how far reaching that could be.

Via:

(i) changes in science capital in visitors (as measured by GLO's)

(ii) increased STEM uptake in GCSE, A-level and University courses

Contact - Chris Allton c.allton@swan.ac.uk

Breastfeeding Uncovered: Who really decides how we feed our babies?

Breastfeeding protects maternal and infant health but the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. Although physical impediments to breastfeeding exist, the environment in which women attempt to breastfeed in plays a significant role. Issues with poor understanding of how breastfeeding works, family attitudes, negative social encounters and skewed expectations of infant behaviour can all damage attitudes and ability to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding Uncovered seeks to change this by raising awareness about how breastfeeding works and normal infant behaviour. Given the importance of attitudes of partners, family and the general public in affecting breastfeeding success, it uses a wide social media approach to not only reach the mother but those around her too. The aim is to raise public knowledge, acceptance and understanding of why breastfeeding is important and how best to support breastfeeding mothers. The project therefore uses a range of approaches including engagement with the media, blog writing, a website and social media platforms to disseminate information in an engaging way. Central to this are digital innovations including the development of research animations and a breastfeeding advert.

What was your project aiming to achieve? What were your intentions?

The project aims to change public knowledge, acceptance and support for breastfeeding, particularly around understanding how breastfeeding works and normal baby behaviour. Ultimately if these are raised mothers will feel more confident and enabled to breastfeed as they will be better supported by those around them

Who were the intended audience of the engagement activity?

Everyone! Ability to breastfeed is shaped by the experiences a woman has. These include the attitudes of her partner, own mother, friends, the general public, health professionals and policy makers. Therefore the project seeks to reach all who could affect her.

What was the motivation for starting the project? What were your first steps? Who was involved?

Motivation for the project came from wanting to understand how our breastfeeding rates can be so low in the UK. As a psychologist I am interested in understanding behaviour and developing ways to help people make healthier behaviours. My own experiences as a mother also showed me the significant impact public attitudes and knowledge were having on breastfeeding, so I sought to research and change that.

Please outline any partnerships that were key to the project. Please give details of how these partnerships were established, and what practical measures you took to maintain them.

I work closely with professionals and policy makers across the field of maternal and infant health. These partnerships are vital in helping share my messages and improve outcomes for mothers and babies. I work particularly closely with health boards who are using the research animations in antenatal education and staff training. Engagement with public health, government, breastfeeding organisations and organisations such as the Baby Friendly initiative is crucial to the project.

What did you do? What was your activity? What public engagement methods/techniques did you use?

I use social media to engage with the general public and change attitudes and understanding. Central to this is developing tools such as blogs, research animations, a book and a website to share key messages and stimulate debate.

Evaluation. What did you get out of the public engagement activity; would you do it again / was it worth the effort, has it led to any follow up activities, what would you say to others thinking about PE; what methods did you use to evaluate your project? What were some of the findings (good and bad) and what did you change as a result of this feedback?

Public engagement is the reason I do research. To me, the core aim of research is to make a difference to the world in some way. I get a significant amount of personal reward and value knowing that my engagement makes a difference to women's lives. Feedback directly from professionals, policy makers and families themselves is central to this.

The project is ongoing and I am collating the work on a project website that I hope will evolve into an established public health and educational tool for parents but also policy makers, health professionals and the general public too.

Evaluation is also ongoing. Reach is phenomenal and I estimate my engagement with the media and social media is over 500 million. I collate engagement comments and reactions from social media (shares, comments, likes). I am also conducting a more formal research evaluation asking those who have accessed my tools (parents, professionals, policy makers) to rate their impact and examining their impact on maternal knowledge and confidence.

Top tips for making it work. What would be your top tips for running a successful engagement activity?

Recognise you are engaging with others and as a consequence they will engage with you! You will get feedback; some positive, some negative and a minority deliberately hurtful. See the bigger picture; focus on the positive and constructive and understand the motivation of some to derail.

Also, public engagement must be valued as a central part of the project, not simply an add on. It cannot be rushed in a few hours; you need to immerse yourself in it and carefully consider the messages you are giving.

How has or can this public engagement lead to impact? Impact is defined as an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia’ (HEFCE et al 2012a).You’ll need to consider what difference this public engagement activity/output/outcome has had on others and how far reaching that could be.

Feedback on the project is showing a positive impact upon the attitudes, knowledge and behaviour of mothers and health professionals. Formal evaluation is now needed to show this impact.

Supporting comments from mothers, health professionals and policy makers highlight that the work is helping increase understanding of how breastfeeding works and normal baby behaviour - helping to reassure new parents and build confidence. It is believed that this is supporting new mothers to breastfeed for longer. This in turn will impact upon population health. A more detailed evaluation is now needed.

This has the potential to be rolled out on a global scale; engagement with the tools is already reaching every populated continent and being used in training across the USA, Australia and Canada. Tools have been translated into numerous languages. Again, the impact of this needs to be formally assessed. 

Contact - Amy Brown a.e.brown@swansea.ac.uk

Research as Art

Research as Art is less about the stunning picture, and more about the story. It’s about what goes on behind the research; what it means to be a researcher. The most compelling submissions aren’t an image that was lying unappreciated on a lab hard drive for years, or a beautiful false-coloured electron microscopy image. They are the submissions that describe the years of failure in the laboratory, the imposter-syndrome and the way you question yourself daily. Submissions can be very personal.

Project aims. What was your project aiming to achieve? What were your intentions?

Initially I aimed to foster collaborative research by breaking down barriers between different fields. This then moved on to developing researchers' engagement skills, and catalysing discussion around research, the people who do it, and what it means to do research.

Who were the intended audience of the engagement activity? 

A research-engaged public, but also via the more expansive reach, the general public ages 14 and up.

What was the motivation for starting the project? What were your first steps? Who was involved?

I began Research as Art in 2008, with the first competition running in 2009. The initial aim was to create a novel interface for collaboration between researchers in different disciplines. It was supported by SURF in the early years.

Please outline any partnerships that were key to the project. Please give details of how these partnerships were established, and what practical measures you took to maintain them.

I brought in judges from prestigious external bodies who had indicated an interest in science, art, stories, and engagement. These included Wellcome Trust, STFC, The Royal Academy of Arts, The Royal Institution (Ri), Nature, New Scientist. External exhibitions at the Ri, The Grand Theatre, Oriel, UT Austin (USA), Centre for Life (Newcastle), and many others.

What did you do? What was your activity? What public engagement methods/techniques did you use?

Conveying research through image and narrative. Researchers submitted pieces, and exhibitions held at external locations. Held events to initiate dialogue around the submissions.

Evaluation. What did you get out of the public engagement activity; would you do it again / was it worth the effort, has it led to any follow up activities, what would you say to others thinking about PE; what methods did you use to evaluate your project? What were some of the findings (good and bad) and what did you change as a result of this feedback?

Eager to develop and grow Research as Art, making the most of opportunities to engage with different audiences, and to take Swansea research to diverse locations. Lots of follow-up activities including exhibitions, radio interviews, huge number of press interviews and articles, contributors receiving invites, I've been invited to international conferences to talk about the project.

I'd say to others, if you have an idea, it's worth trying it. You can hone it and develop the project over time, via two-way engagement.

The direction of R as A has changed over the years, with the focus on the humanity and narrative around the research, rather than the image. We've also put a large emphasis on development of the researchers in addition to the external engagement.

Top tips for making it work. What would be your top tips for running a successful engagement activity?

Try to secure funding!

Engaging with experienced and eminent people outside of Swansea.

Try to ensure your line manager, and College/Uni senior management are on board and support the activity.

How has or can this public engagement lead to impact? Impact is defined as an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia’ (HEFCE et al 2012a).You’ll need to consider what difference this public engagement activity/output/outcome has had on others and how far reaching that could be.

This project has developed the engagement skills of some of the researchers, and changed the way they approach their research and also their wider engagement activities.

The impacts on the wider publics are harder to track, but we have had feedback about some aspects with the 'general public'.

To have a major impact, I would like to roll the project out to other institutions.

Contact - Richard Johnston r.johnston@swansea.ac.uk

 

Swansea University Science for Schools Scheme (S4)

S4 is a science outreach project. We work with pupils from Key Stages 2 through 4, offering hands on science workshops either in their schools or via visits onto Swansea's Singleton Campus. Our workshops are aligned to the National Curriculum and pupils can expect to be in a laboratory environment. We generally offer curriculum in Bioscience, Chemistry, Geography and Geoscience, Physics and Maths. We are also able to tailor our workshops and talks for a general public audience. For more information, please contact us at S4science@swansea.ac.uk . Our workshops are free and we can often help out with transport and teacher cover costs.

Project aims. What was your project aiming to achieve? What were your intentions?

S4 aims to promote scientific curiosity and ultimately to increase the numbers of pupils and particularly female pupils taking science subjects at GCSE and A Level. We use hands on science workshops to inspire scientific curiosity and promote the sciences, particularly to those socio economic demographics poorly represented in science education and careers. We aim to promote gender equality in science and showcase female scientists in our workshop events.

Audience. Who were the intended audience of the engagement activity?

We work with school pupils in KS2 to 4, young people not in education, employment or training and interested adult groups.

What was the motivation for starting the project? What were your first steps? Who was involved?

S4 was designed to tackle the poor gender and socio economic balances in science education in Wales. Our intentions are targeted to increasing the take up of science subjects by female students and those socio economics demographics poorly represented in higher education and in science subject areas. We have been funded by the Welsh National Science Academy since 2012 and have worked with over 6000 young people in that time.

Please outline any partnerships that were key to the project. Please give details of how these partnerships were established, and what practical measures you took to maintain them.

We forged critical partnerships with schools in the region who find particular challenges with getting pupils in to science subject areas and in to higher and further education. We approached several key schools, including a schools federation, to develop an ongoing programme of science interventions with their pupils. These partnerships were critical to identifying those groups who could benefit the most from interventions. In recent years we have run, as well as summer schools and a workshop programme, transition summer schools working with pupils in the summer between primary and secondary school.

What did you do? What was your activity? What public engagement methods/techniques did you use?

We use hands on science workshops to inspire scientific curiosity and promote the sciences, particularly to those socio-economic demographics poorly represented in science education and careers. We aim to promote gender equality in science and showcase female scientists in our workshop events. Workshops and summer schools included events such as "hunting for exoplanets", in our optics labs, and "myth busting climate change", which involves bench based lab work. We also offer live dissections to accompany biological science programmes.

Evaluation. What did you get out of the public engagement activity; would you do it again / was it worth the effort, has it led to any follow up activities, what would you say to others thinking about PE; what methods did you use to evaluate your project? What were some of the findings (good and bad) and what did you change as a result of this feedback?

We carry out extensive evaluation of all our programme activities, targeting educational impact, decision making impact and ultimately whether pupils who participated in an S4 intervention were more likely to consider a science based education pathway and more likely to consider going on to higher or further education. In both cases our findings were strongly supportive with pupils from lower socio economic demographics being particularly positively impacted by the science interventions. We are in the process of publishing our evaluations and are applying for grant income to radically expand S4 over the left three years,

Top tips for making it work. What would be your top tips for running a successful engagement activity? What worked really well for you? What advice would you offer others thinking of running a similar activity?

There are now good pre REF guidelines about what questions to ask when planning a public engagement activity where there may be an interest in forming an impact case study. An excellent summary of the recommendations is available here https://blog.bham.ac.uk/thinkresearch/2016/10/wheres-our-ambition/

"The credibility of the impacts delivered by PE appeared to hinge on the ability of the narrative to address the following:

What? Why should we care about the research, what was distinctive in its potential?

Where? What was the external context that motivated the engagement?

Why? What was purposeful about the engagement?

Who? Were publics/stakeholders clearly identified and involvement rationalized?

When? Was timing linked to the purpose and differentiated by research phase?

How? The methods / pathways to impact and the engagement ‘mix’

What impact? Type of impact achieved and outcomes realized (credible evidence)"

How has or can this public engagement lead to impact? Impact is defined as an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia’ (HEFCE et al 2012a).

You will need to consider what difference this public engagement activity/output/outcome has had on others and how far reaching that could be.

Contact - Dr Mary Gagen m.h.gagen@swansea.ac.uk