Public Engagement at Bath

Supporting researchers to engage the public with their research

Topic: Uncategorised

Small-scale public engagement projects reach conclusion

📥  Uncategorised

Across the 2016-2017 academic year, we have funded 10 small-scale public engagement projects. Read on for links to blogs capturing the progress of these projects. With thanks to Marina Vissaridis for writing the project blogs.

Aimed at supporting those researchers new to, or with little experience of, public engagement, the Public Engagement Unit's seed fund call in autumn 2016 saw 10 public engagement projects funded, a total grant of just under £5000. Grants were awarded to researchers from across the faculties and the School of Management.

The projects span from more traditional public engagement forms - e.g. dialogue events, citizen science and outreach activities - to the more innovative and creative - e.g. eliciting research data through making puppets and making pizza!

You can read short blogs about each of the funded projects here:

Not so wild about seagulls in cities (Caroline Hickman (Social & Policy Sciences))
GameTale 2017 (Daniela De Angeli (Computer Science))
Threshold concepts, social justice & the use of multi-platform storytelling (Dr Matthew Alford (Politics, Languages & International Studies)
Reducing animal use in cancer research (Bailu Xie, Faye Monk, Dr Paul De Bank (Pharmacy & Pharmacology))
Antibiotic resistance: Public engagement & risk assessment (Dr Susanne Gebhard (Biology & Biochemistry)
The human library (Meike Scheller & Tayfyn Essenkaya (Psychology), Daniel Finnegan (Computer Science))
Using food to illuminate the tensions experienced within a community enterprise (Sarah Bloomfield, School of Management)
How animals find medicine in nature: A citizen science display (Dr Nick Priest, Biology & Biochemistry)
Plankton: What lives in a drop of water? (Russell Arnott, Architecture & Civil Engineering)
A tiny solution to a big problem? Public acceptance of using yeast and microalgae to make deforestation-free consumer products (Dr Sophie Parsons, Mechanical Engineering)

 

A tiny solution to a big problem? Public acceptance of using yeast and microalgae to make deforestation-free consumer products

📥  Uncategorised

Dr Sophie Parsons (Mechanical Engineering) was awarded £500 to run a dialogue event on microbial biotechnology.

Sophie used her grant to hold an event at the Watershed in Bristol on 15th June 2017. The event was about microbial biotechnology, in which she began with a 25 minute presentation to give an introduction to the area. This included background on sustainability challenges the technology could contribute towards addressing, along with potential applications, benefits and concerns.

After the presentation, the audience were asked to write down the one or two words that they feel represent her talk on microbial biotechnology, or based on what they already knew about the technology. Most of those words were positive or neutral terminology, such as “green”, “good”, “innovation”, “health benefits”, “low impact”, “ethical”, and “post scarcity”. Some people highlighted negative concerns, such as with the effectiveness of the technology, and the ability to address waste issues and issues with patenting.

The participants were then separated into two groups. There were 13 people altogether, which mostly consisted of students and councillors from the Bristol City Council in the age range of 20-30 years old. The two groups were given post-it notes that contained prompts for positive and negative words within three different product application areas for the technology – food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. They were asked to rank the various words relating to these products applications, and they were able to add more positive or negative words if they came up with any of their own.

Overall, the participants associated most of the important positive benefits of the technology with food. These positives included an improvement in food security, a potential reduction in global warming impacts, and a reduction in deforestation and biodiversity loss. The groups all highlighted the cost of using the technology as a key concern for all the product categories. Both cosmetics and pharmaceuticals had important concerns relating to morality and unintended consequences to both people and the environment.

There were many interesting and engaging discussions during the event, and several of the participants were from a biology background so they understood most of the technical aspects relating to genetic modification. If she was to do this event again, Sophie would want to expand into more detail for her introductory presentation due to the audience’s advanced knowledge. Sophie hopes to hold a similar event on a larger scale further into the project, which would be focused on having a larger audience and a wider use of networks (i.e. not just local Bristol).

Contact Sophie (s.c.parsons@bath.ac.uk) for further information about her project.

 

Using food to illuminate the tensions experienced within a community enterprise

📥  Uncategorised

Sarah Bloomfield (School of Management) was awarded £500 to trial a creative research method technique - a pizza-making workshop designed to elicit participants' reflections on a ‘community’ village shop versus a ‘commercial’ village shop.

Sarah’s research is looking at ‘hybrid organisations’, i.e. organisations that try and do more than one thing at once. A social enterprise, like the Big Issue, is an example of a hybrid organisation, as it tries to achieve social good through commercial means. Sarah was keen to use creative techniques to further understand how people are feeling rather than relying on common research methods such as interviews. She knows the people who run the village shop and café in her local community area, so she decided to place her experiment there.

In this pilot project, Sarah worked with the staff and ten local volunteers to create pizzas and talk about them. She gave them pizza bases and asked them to use toppings to produce two pizzas: one that they felt represented a ‘community’ village shop and one that represented a ‘commercial’ village shop. The idea was to generate a reflective space and use the pizzas as a way of increasing engagement and talking about issues. The data collected was taken from the volunteers’ explanations of their creations that indirectly showed their emotions towards the two enterprises and the discussions around them. Some words that arose included: “exciting”, “care”, “mundane”, and “boring”.


One of the pizzas created at Sarah's workshop

Sarah was initially unsure about whether the method would work, but she feels that pizza worked well in this context and it made her feel more comfortable being involved in the research setting. The workshop taught her a lot about using creative techniques, combining them with more traditional techniques, and the importance of matching research questions to techniques. Sarah has now run the workshop twice in two different contexts and it has been requested for a third time due to its success.

Her original plan was to do a theatre workshop. Sarah’s aim was to generate data from actors’ portrayal of participants’ stories. However, she found that it would be too expensive to pay for the actors’ time, so she decided on the pizza workshop instead. This was because she felt it would allow her to generate emotional data, and it was inclusive (all participants were over 50 years old).

She has presented talks on her project at conferences with a focus on her use of creative techniques as a research method. These have taken place for the academic audiences at the School of Management PhD conference at the University of Bath, as well as a conference in Spain which was funded by Erasmus+ where they were trial running a new Masters course around how creative arts based methods can be used for gathering empirical material.

Contact Sarah (s.bloomfield@bath.ac.uk) for further information about her project.

 

Plankton: What lives in a drop of water?

📥  Uncategorised

Russell Arnott (Architecture & Civil Engineering) was awarded £461.48 to develop school-based public engagement activities and to support members of the Water, Environment & Infrastructure Resilience (WEIR) centre to develop their public engagement skills.

Russell is a postgraduate researcher in the Water, Environment and Infrastructure Resilience (WEIR) research centre. The centre studies water in all its capacities and it has grown a considerable amount in numbers since it started in 2013. They have coastal engineers studying how to protect our coasts; limnologists trying to make our reservoirs cleaner; computer modellers trying to understand how floods occur; and microbiologists studying the diseases found in water.

The project was designed to get people thinking about the importance of water and the processing that goes on in order for us to be able to turn on tap and drink the water. Clean water is something we take for granted in the UK so it’s important to be aware that almost half of the world’s population doesn’t share that luxury.

For the project, Russell gathered seven colleagues from WEIR to raise their confidence and aspirations when engaging different audiences with their research. They took part in a seminar where Russell, who used to be a teacher, coached them through the language and approaches they should use when talking to non-specialists. They all had to present their research to a class of children using only one slide and then answer questions. He trialled some activities and the presentations with them and offered constructive feedback. The aim of the event was to raise awareness about the importance of water; to increase researchers’ confidence when engaging with non-specialists; and to help children realise that science isn’t done by white men in lab coats (most of the researchers that took part were female).

The team also went to schools to teach the children about the importance of water quality by carrying out activities with them, including identifying animals from dirty pond water and learning how to filter dirty water. The children were given muddy water that they mixed in with other substances, such as glitter, to represent diseases and other contamination. At the end, the water was filtered and the solids were recovered and put in the bin. Russell found it a fun experience to be teaching again, and everyone from the department was grateful for the opportunity and found it helpful to gain experience in talking to non-academics. Russell enjoyed seeing his colleagues, who were initially nervous about going to the schools due to their lack of experience with children, relax into it and interact with them.

Initially, it was challenging for Russell to find a way to co-ordinate people because there are a lot of people in WEIR and he wanted to give them all equal opportunity to take part. Although Russell feels that the activities were only loosely related to his research-themes, they were important because they resulted in members of WEIR being more able to communicate ideas effectively to a non-academic audience. To encourage people to do public engagement, having someone within the department to mobilise, support and coordinate it is key.

Originally, the group were going to attend the NCCPE conference in Bristol, but unfortunately they were unable to attend it due to timings. However, they held a public engagement talk about their research at the Bath Taps in Science event this year, which Andrew Ross helped them to organise. Russell thinks it is very important to have a culture of public engagement. He believes that if you are an academic, you should incorporate public engagement in research, as it’s hugely useful and valuable.

Contact Russell (r.n.arnott@bath.ac.uk) for further information about his project.

 

How animals find medicine in nature: A citizen science display

📥  Uncategorised

Dr Nick Priest (Biology & Biochemistry) was awarded £500 to design and deliver a citizen science display that enabled members of the public to collect data from experiments.

Nick’s public engagement project aims to raise appreciation for evolution by having members of the public collect data from experiments that are set up and run live. Although his experiments are focused on the topic of how animals find medicine in nature, they are designed to provoke questions about the evolution of complex behaviours and how humans should medicate in order to avoid the evolution of antimicrobial resistance. The main evidence his lab has found so far suggests that drinking alcohol confers resistance to sexually transmitted infections and it does so through a novel “non-immunological” mechanism.

Nick and his team carried out an experiment at the University of Bath’s 50th Anniversary Festival focused around the question: “How much alcohol do fruit flies drink?” For this, the public used digital callipers to quantify the consumption of alcohol from individual flies. There were 43 participants involved in the data collection and 25 of these engaged in in-depth conversations with the Priest lab. Some questions arose during the data collection that served as useful prompts to explain evidence the lab has already collected. Questions such as, “How useful is the fruit fly model?”, “How can this help humans?” and “Doesn’t drinking lead to STIs, not the other way around?” were easy lead-ins to justify discussions of the results and approaches used in the Priest lab. However other questions posed by the public have led to additional experiments. The question, “If it protects them, then do flies drink alcohol before sex?” led a team of undergraduates to test whether the call of a male stimulates female fruit flies to mate. They found that virgin females placed in a sound chamber with mating calls from conspecific males drank more alcohol that females played the wrong call or females placed in a silent chamber.


Nick's citizen science stand at the University's 50th anniversary festival

The Priest lab also trialled an experiment at the Festival of Nature in Bath. The experiment involved placing virgin female flies that had been medicated either with alcohol or not into tubes with virgin males and scoring for sexual congress (i.e. whether "pre-drinking" encourages sex). The public witnessed the setup of the experiment and added measurements to the table at the stall throughout the day, which collated the data. Most of the participants were primary school children and they showed a strong interest in the experiment. Several children returned to the stall 3-4 times throughout the day to take part in the data collection. There were 120 participants involved in the data collection and 45 of them engaged in in-depth conversations with Nick and his team about the research. In the coming months, Nick hopes to address a question from the public about ketones (a common product of human consumption of alcohol and driver of liver damage), by measuring ketone levels in the urine/waste of flies.

On 4th July, Nick ran experiments on food choice at a summer school event for budding scientists. After a full day of experiments, one of the 9 pupils stated that fly research was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

At the Festival of Nature event, Nick was invited to give a talk at the Royal Entomological Society Conference, 3 local primary schools and a private secondary school. One of his long-term goals is to expand the scope of his public engagement by presenting multiple tables of experiments at a national festival (i.e. outside of Bath). Ideally, this would be at the Green Man Festival in the Brecon Beacons, Wales because they have science fields that attract a family audience. He would also like to compile the data he’s collected so far and have it published as a Citizen Science paper.

Contact Nick (n.priest@bath.ac.uk) for further information about his project.

 

The human library

📥  Uncategorised

Daniel Finnegan (Computer Science), Tayfun Essenkaya (Psychology) & Meike Scheller (Psychology) were awarded £500 to pilot a Human Library initiative in Bath, a framework for conversations that challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue.

This project initially aimed to raise awareness of people with sensory impairments and mental illnesses. It has now been extended to people from all types of minority groups, as well as anyone with a story to tell. The purpose is to create an opportunity for these people to come together with the general public and share their stories with each other without any judgements. It aims to challenge and decrease prejudice by speaking out and sharing each other’s experiences and viewpoints.

It is a modern day problem that people don’t talk to each other very much, leading to a hardening of beliefs about “others” – especially minority groups. Meike is trying to reduce this by encouraging people to talk to each other about what makes them who they are in the Human Library. Exchanging stories allows others to put their firmly held ideas about certain groups into perspective and to embrace diversity through understanding “others”. Understanding others facilitates acceptance and this can only be achieved through engagement with one another.

Meike found out about the Human Library project through her colleague and co-organiser, Tayfun, who was involved in a Human Library in Turkey some years ago. She felt it would be useful for her public engagement work because it gives a better understanding of what makes humans special and important details that are often not included in lab-based experiments. The Human Library is a place where people are the “books” to read. It is designed to provide a safe and positive environment for people to verbally share ideas and opinions that can challenge stereotypes and prejudice. Meike, Dan and Tayfun had the idea to pair the participants with researchers, and ideally pair up people who know each other to make them more comfortable. The aim is to have small tables of 4-5 “book pairs” to tell their stories.

The project team has had a large amount of interest in the subject, but not enough people have been willing enough to commit to participating. Meike wanted to have the event at the University of Bath festival this year, but due to not having commitment from people, it had to be postponed and reorganised at another venue. The Human Library event took place on 7th July in the Bath Central Library meeting room. Meike decided to look into places in Bath city centre due to the idea that the location of the University might enforce a perceived ‘(physical) hierarchy’ and could put people off from travelling up to it. It was hoped a more relaxed environment in an open room would encourage people to come along.

Meike identified some researchers who would like to be involved with the event, and matched them with suitable partners. Meike has learned through the planning process that targeting single people directly gives more positive responses than releasing an open request to a group of people. She believes the event was a good opportunity for making connections with new people for the future.

Contact Meike (m.scheller@bath.ac.uk) for further information about the project.

 

Threshold concepts, social justice and the use of multi-platform storytelling

📥  Uncategorised

Dr Matthew Alford (Politics, Languages & International Studies) was awarded £500 to develop his experience of performance techniques as a means of public engagement.

Matt is trying to connect three practical areas in his project: storytelling, teaching, and public engagement. The project builds on Matt’s longstanding scholarly research into the relationship between Hollywood, the military and security services, and ideology. To this end, Matt spent a year giving regular readings from his book ‘The Writer with No Hands’, including at the university's 50th anniversary celebrations, and will finish recording the audio book with musical accompaniment in front of a small audience next academic year. During the final session, Matt will seek focus group feedback to inform a written piece on the role of entertainment in public and academic pedagogy, considering for instance how key concepts can be made relatable and easy to follow.

Matt has recently appeared several times on Bristol Community FM (BCFM) for Andrew Parsonage’s ‘Stood Up’ show to talk about his research and stage experiences. While at BCFM, Matt was also asked to talk about the late actor, Roger Moore, who famously played the character, James Bond. Matt helped celebrate his life by participating in a discussion about Moore’s funniest lines in films. Matt also drew an analogy that related Noam Chomsky's media theory to making a cup of coffee.

To develop skills and ideas, Matt tried stand-up comedy with the Bright Club in Bristol and has started an improvisation course this summer. Matt is interested in developing a solo set but acknowledges that integrating ideas about Hollywood and ideology may not be easy. Martin Curtis, Senior Lecturer in Performing Arts at the University of Lincoln, has recently offered to serve as dramaturge on a stage project with Matt that develops these roots more theatrically. In the meantime, Matt is appearing on a variety of public forums and hopes this will have a positive impact on his ability to help audiences enjoy critically engaging with political doctrine.

Contact Matt (m.alford@bath.ac.uk) for further information about his project.

 

Antibiotic resistance: Public engagement and risk assessment

📥  Uncategorised

Professor Ed Feil and Dr Susanne Gebhard (Biology & Biochemistry) was awarded £500 to develop and deliver public engagement activities that examined the extent to which the public are receptive to the extensive media coverage of antibiotic resistance, identifying the key messages that needed clarifying and the most effective approaches for doing so.

This project involved developing and assessing different public engagement activities to highlight the issues of antibiotic resistance. The activities were used on university UCAS open days and during the Bath Taps into Science event on 17 March 2017. For these events, a stand was designed and developed by five undergraduate students as part of their final year projects, supervised by Susanne. The stand presenters consisted of five PhD students from the Infection & Immunity research theme in the Department of Biology & Biochemistry, and the target audience were children visiting the Bath Taps into Science School Fair.

The stand included three interactive activities, including “Spin the wheel”, “Which antibiotic?” and “Build a bacterium”. “Spin the wheel” proved to be the most popular with the students, as the explanation of lab equipment was quick and hands-on and the microbe samples attracted the students. “Which antibiotic?” was successful as 90% of the students chose the correct antibiotic straight away. However, the youngest students didn’t engage with this activity because the concept was too difficult for them. “Build a bacterium” attracted students due to the puzzle they could help to assemble. Most of them understood the principle of antibiotic resistance, but the activity took up a lot of space and was difficult to explain to those who didn’t know what a bacterium is. The older students didn’t enjoy this activity because it was too simple.

In total, there were 306 interactions from children aged 7-13. The project team used survey-based approaches both prior to and during the events to gain data about the key knowledge gaps and level of interest/concern. The children’s background knowledge was minimal, but the parents and teachers commented that the stand was a unique opportunity for the children to learn about microbiology and laboratory research, as it’s not possible to teach this at schools due to limited funds and equipment. The evaluation found there was a risk of bias in the activities due to possible peer-pressure from other children or parents, and an inability to participate in their first choice activity due to stands being so busy. However, the presentation at Bath Taps was successful and provided the team with confidence to give more public engagement projects to undergraduate students. Involvement of PhD students improved networking within the research theme, which should create more interest for the PhD students to use public engagement with their research.

Contact Susanne (s.gebhard@bath.ac.uk) for further information about her project.

 

GameTale 2017

📥  Uncategorised

Daniela De Angeli (Computer Science) was awarded £500 to deliver GameTale, a two-day game-focused event during which participants develop a game based on objects from museums.

GameTale is a free two day game-focused event held in Bath, where participants work to develop either a video game, a board game, or a card game. There are a series of objects that participants can use as a base for their game, so that a narrative will develop around the object in the game. The objects are either virtual or physical reproductions of artefacts at museums. They can include weapons, fossils, statues, furniture, etc. There are 3D models and 3D printed copies of all the objects provided during the event. So essentially, participants pick an object, design a game, and tell a story. The event is open to everyone.

The event ran for the first time last year when it was sponsored by the Centre for Digital Entertainment. It was hosted by the University of Bath and there were 9 teams made up of 30 participants who each developed a game over the two days. The schedule for the days started at 10am and went on late into the evening, with regular breaks throughout. The first day began with breakfast, followed by a short introduction to GameTale, and then the setup of the teams. After this, they began to look at the tools offered to choose the ones they wanted to use, which included Oculus Rift, Epson Moverio, Arduinos, and many more. After a lunch break, the teams began to design the games. In the evening, each team gave a short presentation about the games they had designed. Some of the ‘GameTellers’ decided to work through the entire night, and others turned up earlier in the morning than scheduled to continue working. The game development continued throughout the second day and by the evening, the teams were polishing their games and then each gave a final presentation on what they had achieved.

There were a total of five game objects and reproductions of museum artefacts offered by the National Trust (NT) and the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (BRLSI). The NT offered an antique Urn from Dyrham Park. BRLSI offered a sculpture from Gahna, a Leopard and a drum; a Romano British bronze brooch; the tooth of a giant ichthyosaur; and the complete skull of Pelagosaurus typus. Following the weekend, there was a showcase held in the Elwin room at the BRLSI where the teams presented the games they had produced.

In 2017, GameTale will be running on 14-15 October. A room has been booked at the University of Bath, and the event is also being sponsored by the University this year. Registration through the website is now open and will close on 30 September. The registration includes answering questions on personal interest in video games, board games, card games, and museums. The museum objects for the event will be revealed at the beginning of October and the schedule over the two days will follow a similar pattern to last year. On 17 October, there will be a showcase of the games produced over the weekend held at the Bath Digital Festival. Daniela hopes for a bigger showcase this year with more feedback provided from the visitors who will play the games. There will also be an international speaker coming along to talk about the topics of history and games.

Daniela has sometimes found it difficult to secure objects and digital artefacts for the GameTale event, particularly with local museums due to their lack of available time. She has one object confirmed so far from the National Trust and she is awaiting confirmation for another two. However, Daniela has found that her experience from last year has helped her with the organisation this year and showed her ways she can improve her data collection, the advertisement for the showcase and the analysis of games that are produced. She wants to look deeper into the ways the objects are interpreted and how they are used in game production. Daniela is also looking to publish the games online, which she found too complicated to do last year as some games needed specific devices such as Leap Motion’s hand tracking and Google’s Tango to be played. She hopes to upload them in a way that doesn’t require any special tool to play them and to make the games more easily shared online.

Contact Daniela (d.de.angeli@bath.ac.uk) for further information about GameTale.

 

Not so wild about seagulls in cities

📥  Uncategorised

Caroline Hickman (Social & Policy Sciences) was awarded £500 to measure the attitudes of the children towards seagulls and to educate them about the risks seagulls are facing.

This public engagement project has been successful in meeting its objectives, but also been a lot of fun. The project collaborated with the Young Carers' Centre in Bath, aiming to measure the attitudes of the children towards seagulls and educate them about the risks seagulls are facing. There was a strong desire to approach the project in a creative and interesting way, engaging the children in both the subject and also the research project. Their attitudes towards seagulls were measured at the beginning and again at the end of the workshop to compare any differences.

There is a tension in urban environments between people and seagulls as they move into cities, partly as a result of climate change. Due to the water in our oceans becoming warmer, fish have to swim deeper to find the right living temperature, meaning they are more difficult for seagulls to reach. This has forced seagulls to migrate more inland, which then causes tension with residents and local councils because they can be seen as loud, aggressive, and disruptive to live alongside. As we still see less obvious signs of climate change in the West, it is important in exploring social attitudes to climate change to include children in these discussions, and to help them to become aware of the signs that are visible, as this could help prepare them to deal with the future changes we all need to make to deal with the impact of climate change.


A melange of children and seagull puppets!

Most of the funding for the project was used to employ a puppet maker who came into workshops to help the children make seagull puppets. This included paying for his time and all the materials needed to make the puppets such as newspaper, sticky tape, glue, feathers, and pipe cleaners. He worked really well with the children, engaging and inspiring them to create their own individual puppets. The children then named their seagull puppets and created characters and stories for them. We are making a short film of the children talking about the seagull puppet workshops, as well as animated conversations between the puppets filmed against a green screen background. The Young Carers Project will have a copy of the film to show parents and funders.

Dr Chris Pawson, Head of Psychology at the University of the West of England, worked with Caroline to set up the project and first year undergraduate social work students attended the workshops and worked alongside the children, giving them valuable practical experience for their studies. The intention was to run three workshops, but due to its success, they have held four workshops and there is a fifth planned. There has already been a commitment for another joint project in January as it has gone so well this year.

Caroline also had seagull postcards to hand out to adults who attended the University of Bath’s 50th anniversary festival. The postcards contained three questions: “Where do you live?”, “What is your age?”, and “What is your opinion of seagulls?” She had approximately 300 completed cards returned and she is planning to compare the results to the children’s results from the workshops to extend the data on public attitudes to Gulls.

Contact Caroline (c.l.hickman@bath.ac.uk) for further information about her project.