Science Live – new transatlantic pilot study to research what makes a public science event tick

Issue date: 08 January 2015

The Festival of Nature, British Science Week and Bristol Food Connections are just some of the popular science events that engage approximately half of the UK population each year. Now in a bid to catalogue and research the impact of live science events in the UK and US, a new transatlantic pilot study, Science Live has been announced.

The study brings together researchers from Cornell University and UWE Bristol, working with science festival managers at MIT and the University of Cambridge to explore the differences between the huge varieties of live science events and to develop research questions about how they affect their audiences.

From intimate science cafes to massive science festivals, the public science events sector encompasses an enormous diversity of activity involving a huge range of practitioners and target audiences on a grand scale in both the US and UK. As unique as each event is, public science events are all live, in-person programs, designed to engage the public with science in a social context that is at least as meaningful as the content and messages delivered.

Science Live, is a first significant step forward in a long-term effort to widen access to the beneficial impacts of public science events, better understand these impacts and how they are produced, and uncover new opportunities for engaging society with science.

Ben Wiehe from the Science Festival Alliance office at the MIT Museum said, “We know that millions of people are participating in live public science events every year in both the US and UK, but the contributions of these events are only just coming to be acknowledged as distinct, and there is little overall tracking of or advocacy for such activity. The organizers of these events are often not aware of each other's efforts. We have a lot to learn from each other, but right now there is no straightforward way to share findings with the full range of event practitioners.”

The Science Live, pilot study, is funded by the Science Learning+ initiative of the Wellcome Trust, the US-based National Science Foundation, and the UK-based Economic and Social Research Council. It aims to lead to a longer term effort to establish how a set of key facts from a diverse range of providers of live science activities, and might use those facts to build a coherent narrative explaining the role that live events play in the larger science learning ecosystem.

Laura Fogg Rogers, Science Communication Research Fellow at UWE Bristol said, “This is an exciting time to drill down and find out what works best in communicating research to benefit society. This consortium has access to some of the best networks of public science events, including science festival networks in the UK and US, grass-roots activities, and government level initiatives. The potential to make an impact on the researcher and practitioner landscape is massive.”

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