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Public Engagement at Manchester

Creating Accessible STEM Outreach Activities

On Wednesday the 19 February, Engagement@Manchester hosted a best practice event centred on creating science outreach activities that are accessible and engaging for young people with sensory impairments.

The session was chaired by Emma Nichols, Public Engagement Manager, Department of Physics and featured guest speakers Robyn Watson, a teacher of the visually-impaired from Thomasson Memorial Sensory Support Service and Sam Tygier from Tactile Collider.

Attendees participated in hands-on activities with some of the tactile resources, explored what makes for accessible science, and found out about opportunities for getting involved with accessible science events planned for summer 2020.

What activities did the attendees try?

Robyn set up some activities so that attendees could step into the shoes of the children with sensory impairments by experiencing everyday tasks blindfolded. Attendees had to slice vegetables, guess what was inside of different tinned goods, match socks and put toothpaste onto a toothbrush. Having had a go at the activities, Robyn challenged attendees to consider how this experience could help shape the development of their own science outreach activities for the visually impaired.

Attendee Dr Naomi Curati said of the activities, “I found the workshop fun and thought-provoking. It has prompted me to think critically about how accessible the engagement activities I am putting together are to people with sensory impairments, and given me some ideas about developing tactile props.

What did Robyn say about creating accessible science outreach activities?

Robyn opened the event by exploring what is needed in creating accessible science outreach activities for children. Her key considerations included:

  • Children with sensory impairments come to science outreach sessions to be excited by science, not just to learn about science. Particularly when working with children with sensory impairments or complex needs, enjoyment is key as this is often not accessible in schools and at events.
  • As a scientist or engagement practitioner, don’t assume any prior knowledge on behalf of the children. Ask questions to gauge their knowledge and experience and think carefully about how you describe research, concepts and activities, without patronising the children.
  • Make sure that demonstrations are simple enough for someone with no prior knowledge or experience with science to understand and keep a steady pace as children with complex or sensory needs can take a longer time to process information.
  • The level of sensory impairment will vary between children as will academic ability so build in time for the children to do the activity to completion – it may take longer than you think.
  • Reflect on how you can adapt your activities by using a range of different sounds and making them visually exciting with use of different colours or bright lights etc. Aim for fireworks – i.e. short bursts of wow!
  • Delivering activities is about how you frame things – you don’t need to have any prior knowledge of science, making topics exciting and accessible is key.

Take a look at more top tips from Robyn in this short film.

What did Sam say about Tactile Collider?

Tactile Collider is a project that aims to teach children with sensory impairments about particle accelerator physics and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Launched by Dr Robert Appleby in the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, the project is also led by Project Managers Dr Chris Edmonds and Robyn Watson. Funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the project attempts to create a new model of scientific communication for the visually impaired and directly tackles the issue of communicating with under-represented audiences about science.

The Tactile Collider project has been the recipient of many awards, including the 2019 European Physics Society (EPS) Outreach Award, the 2019 RNIB See Differently Awards and our own Better World and Making a Difference Awards. The communication frameworks used by Tactile Collider can be used for all audiences and represent an innovative approach to encouraging diversity and outreach in science activities.

Sam detailed how Tactile Collider coordinates its engagement activities:

In performing outreach activities and giving students access to scientists, Tactile Collider aims to inspire students to see physics as a viable career option. Students take part in four participatory workshops which start with particles and magnets, using equipment such as 3D jigsaws with embedded magnets. Students then go on to explore the science behind particle acceleration and the Higgs boson. Tactile Collider also have an embodied learning session where groups of students are given a sentence that they have to act out, such as ‘Protons in the Large Hadron Collider go around the ring at 11,000 times a second’.
Some of the other accessible activities created include the CASSIE model accelerator, where students get to see how different components fit together by feeling a five metre diameter scale model of the accelerator, and the ‘sonic collider’ which allows users to experience, for example, particle collisions and acceleration through sound.

Sam also shared what he has learnt about delivering accessible science:

The biggest surprises that Sam has found in delivering accessible science are making assumptions about a sensory impairment as there are a wide range of them as well as how genuinely excited the children are about physics.

To deliver science outreach, effective communication and clear instructions are key in making activities more accessible as well as building formative evaluation into the process. Also, you have to be prepared to adapt by having backup activities and spare materials as there may be missing people and equipment on the day as well as being prepared to accommodate a range of needs and abilities in your students.

Take a look at more top tips from Sam in this short film.

Tactile Universe and Emma’s tips for creating accessible science:

Finally, Emma introduced us to some of the 3d-printed galaxy models from Tactile Universe – an award-winning project at the University of Portsmouth Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation to engage the visually impaired community with astrophysics research.

Think about different ways you could explain your topic – those pretty space pictures in your talk might be lovely to look at but are they really crucial? Robyn and I put together an event last year for a small group of children with visual impairments, and my brief asked for no Powerpoint presentations, worksheets or information handouts, but lots of hands-on activities and things that engaged different senses. Rather than those constraints limiting people, the activities they came back with were really varied and brilliant, and would have been great with any schools group.”

An opportunity…

Emma and Robyn have been awarded funding from STFC Wonder Match, which provides opportunities for community organisations and researchers to meet together and develop ideas for engagement activities. As part of their award, they are planning to deliver engagement activities for primary and secondary school pupils with sensory impairments in June.

If you are interested in finding out more about this opportunity and/or would like to take part in a workshop run by Emma and Robyn in April/May to help you craft your own accessible science activity, then get in touch with Emma at emma.nichols@manchester.ac.uk

Engagement@Manchester – 26 June 2019, 1-2pm with Ellen Dowell, creative producer of science engagement

Join us for our next Engagement@Manchester session with Ellen Dowell, creative producer of science engagement, as we explore Einstein’s Garden: Reflections on Creative Engagement with Science.

26 June 2019, 1-2pm, Michael Smith Building (lecture theatre at entrance), followed by light refreshments and informal networking.

In 2015, the Green Man Festival’s Einstein’s Garden began a Wellcome funded Society Award to experiment with new approaches to creative science engagement. At the end of this award, 12 projects have been produced in partnership with four universities, involving dozens of researchers and in collaboration with creative practitioners including sand sculptors, performers, sound designers, textile artists, architects and puppeteers. These 12 projects have engaged audiences at the Green Man and in many other cultural contexts, including a playground, a city farm, a beach, a market, a beer festival, a book festival and an agricultural show.

This session is an opportunity to discover what learning came out of the Einstein’s Garden Society Award and to inspire your own ideas about creative engagement with science.

Ellen Dowell is a creative producer of science engagement. She works part-time for Imperial College’s National Heart and Lung Institute where she produces a creative engagement programme called The Curious Act. From 2009 until March this year, she worked for the Green Man Festival, establishing, managing, curating and producing Einstein’s Garden, the science, nature and environment area of the festival.

All welcome to this best practice session. No registration required.

Do get in touch if you have any queries.

Dee-Ann Johnson, Public Engagement Manager, Office for Social Responsibility, The University of Manchester, 0161 306 3231, Twitter: @uomengage

Engagement@Manchester – 15 May 2019, 1.00-2.30pm with Dr Emily Dawson, UCL

Engagement@Manchester – 15 May 2019, 1.00-2.30pm, Michael Smith Building (lecture theatre at entrance)

Increasingly as public engagement practitioners we are asked to look at ways we might engage with more diverse audiences. But what do we know about who, how and why people do (or do not engage) with science.

In our next Engagement@Manchester best practice session, our special guest: Dr Emily Dawson, UCL, will present on the topic of “Equity, Exclusion & Everyday Science Learning”.

Emily’s work focuses on how people learn about and engage with science, with an emphasis on equity and social justice. Her research and teaching explore how some science education practices across the formal and informal education sectors (i.e. from schools, to museums, to watching TV at home) set certain kinds of people up to be successful when they engage with science, while other people are set up to fail.

Seeing Emily talk and hearing about her research really challenged me about my work and inspired me to think differently about how I do public engagement. Her work is relevant for anyone wanting to do public engagement no matter what discipline you are in.” – Prof Sheena Cruickshank, Academic Lead for Public Engagement

All welcome to this best practice session. No registration required.

Do get in touch if you have any queries.

Dee-Ann Johnson
Public Engagement Manager | Office for Social Responsibility | The University of Manchester | 0161 306 3231 |Twitter: @uomengage

Impact and research partnerships: E@M lunchtime session, 7 Feb 2018, 13.00 drop-in

We are delighted to announce that the next Engagement@Manchester lunchtime share session will take place on Wednesday 7 February 2018.

Drop-in and listen to colleagues who share their experiences of impact and research partnerships. Join a discussion on the current context on public engagement and REF2021 and discover what expertise and support is available to build research partnerships.

TITLE: Impact and research partnerships

WHEN: 7 February, 13.00-14.30

WHERE: Room 3-210, University Place


  • Dr Sarah Marie Hall (School of Social Sciences) – Everyday Austerity project (winner of the inaugural Jo Cox Prize for Public Service and Active Citizenship)
  • Dr Emmanuel Pinteaux (Division of Neuroscience & Experimental Psychology) – Stroke, Self and Brain workshops in partnership with The Stroke Association

Followed by discussion and information concerning:

  • Current context around impact and public engagement – UOM and REF2021
  • Internal expertise and support to build research partnerships.

All welcome!

Judith Gracey & Rachel Kenyon, Research & Business Engagement Support Services

Engagement Matters: Evaluating your public engagement

In this Engagement Matters post, Suzanne Spicer shares her top tips for evaluating the success of your public engagement activities.

Evaluation can be perceived as a daunting task but when used correctly, it is an effective tool to reflect on and improve your public engagement activities, and to determine the value and worth of evidenced impact.

How to start: Whenever possible you should plan your evaluation when you are planning your public engagement activity. Begin by considering why you are undertaking the evaluation. It is important to be clear of your purpose right from the start.

Write an evaluation plan: To keep focused have an evaluation plan, a step-by-step guide which summarises what you are going to do and how you will undertake the process.
Top tip: keep things simple.

Include the following in your evaluation plan:

1. Aims and objectives
Your aims are what you want to achieve overall and your objectives are how you will achieve your aims. It is important to keep them SMART so ask yourself:
Specific: do they state what will you do and with whom?
Measurable: can you measure their success?
Achievable: do you have enough time and resources to achieve them?
Relevant: do they meet your aims?
Time-bound: do they include timescales?
Top tip: only have one or two aims and up to five objectives.

2. Audience and stakeholders
It is important to identify who will be involved in your evaluation and what challenges may arise when engaging with them.
Top tip: if appropriate, involve the public in your planning.

3. Evaluation questions
These are the questions you want answers to. They should not only measure outputs (the results of your activity) but also outcomes (eg. an increase in awareness, the development of skills or a change in behaviour/practice).
Top tip: have between 2-6 questions and ensure they relate to the evidence you can collect.

4. Collecting evidence
Think creatively about how you will gather your data and how you might build it into your activity, so that it is easy for you to collect, and your public want to engage. There are a variety of methods you can use from the more traditional such as questionnaires to more creative methods such as graffiti walls or using a voting app. You do not have to evaluate everyone and everything – you can sample. Also remember to capture perspectives from everyone involved (including yourself). And if you are measuring impact then it is important to create a baseline from which you can evidence any change.
Top tip: if you are engaging with a new audience, look for advice from other sectors.

Whichever method you use, you will have to ask questions. Use a mixture of open (ask for open-ended responses) or closed questions (give a series of options for the participant to select) and ensure your questions are clear and easy to understand. Check that none are leading or biased and try to avoid asking people to predict their behaviour too far into the future. Also avoid asking multiple questions in one.
Top tip: test your questions out beforehand.

5. Analysing your evaluation data
Decide how much data you want to collect and how much time and capacity you will have available to analyse it. With quantitative data (numbers) you can use a spreadsheet to analyse your data. With qualitative data (words and images) you can group similar responses into categories that can then be counted and reported or expressed as a percentage.
Top tip: you can use audience quotes to illustrate points but check they are representative and give a balanced perspective.

6. Using your findings
Once you have analysed your data then you should interpret what you have found. List your key findings both positive and negative and link them to your evaluation questions and critically reflect on what you have learned.

7. Sharing your learning
Finally, think about how you will use and share your findings. Identify your key audience and who else might be interested and which formats you might use, such as a report or an infographic. Whatever platform you use, be clear about your key messages and share what you have learnt, both the positive and negative.

Some useful resources
You can find some useful evaluation links and resources here.

See also: Suzanne Spicer, The nuts and bolts of evaluating science communication activities, Seminars in Cell & Developmental Biology, Volume 70, October 2017, pp. 17-25 available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1084952117304494

Posted on behalf of Suzanne Spicer FRSA, Social Responsibility Manager, Office for Social Responsibility, The University of Manchester

Twitter: @UoMEngage | @csusies | #EngageMatters

Engagement Matters: Top Tips for short talk format research presentations

In this Engagement Matters post, Ceri Harrop shares her top tips for the ever-popular short talk format for presenting research in three minutes.

Researchers of all disciplines often work and study in a communication bubble, where the people around them know and understand the same world, and acronyms and technical jargon become everyday words and concepts. It is only when you are asked, perhaps by a family member, ‘what is it you do?’ and their expression glazes over as you share the details of your research project that it may make you think that perhaps your communications skills need a little refining.

With this in mind, it is little wonder that the popularity of short talk competitions have become significant. Famelab and 3MT, to name but two, are both examples of internationally renowned, short talk competitions with significant prizes and opportunities up for grabs. Prizes and glory aside, the skills gleaned from such an experience are hugely beneficial and applicable to your research career too. Being able to confidently and concisely explain why your research matters is crucial for conference talks, networking, funding bids and job interviews.

So what is it all about? You have just three minutes to present a research concept or idea in an accessible manner. Your audience is non-specialist, and live (meaning they will listen, laugh or yawn accordingly!) You have just you, your voice and the stage. Famelab allows a prop, 3MT allows a single, non-animated PowerPoint slide, but really it all about you and your story.

So where do you start? First of all, forget what you know about giving a scientific presentation. Don’t introduce yourself, don’t acknowledge funders or work colleagues or collaborators. This is about your research and where it fits in the bigger picture. So start with thinking about the answer to ‘why’: Why does your research matter (to you and the world); why should anyone else care? You absolutely have to make it relevant to the audience.

But what else do you need to consider?

The Hook: In just three minutes, you need to hook your audience into the topic immediately. How will you start? What will you use to grab the attention of the audience: a controversial statement, a shocking statistic, a big question. Think of a hook to get you started.

Stories connect us: Telling stories helps to reach peoples hearts and minds. Stories stimulate and engage the human brain, helping the speaker connect with the audience and making it much more likely that the audience will follow you. Think about stories you remember. There are usually one or more key characters. These give audiences something to relate to or care about (or, if used in the opposite way, to dislike). In any case, your audience will want to know what happens to the character so try and include this concept when planning your talk. Make sure you have a beginning, a middle and an end.

Teach something new: The human brain loves novelty. Your research is after all, new. So include an unfamiliar, unusual, or unexpected fact in your talk to offer the audience a new way of looking at your topic.

Bring it to life: Analogies can be a great tool, but make sure everyone can identify with it, or you might just end up complicating the situation. Keep it simple. Use imagery, not measurements. If you want to describe the size of bacteria, don’t use micrometres. Instead, say that a million of them could fit on a pinhead.

Voice is key: You need to sound interested in the topic, or else why would the audience be? Confidence is the one sticking point for almost everyone attempting to do any type of public speaking. In fact, people are more scared of public speaking than dying! Really it about practice, practice, practice. This will make you more confident in yourself, the content of your talk and the sound of your own voice out loud.

Dare I say it, but have fun! It is a great opportunity to share your research with a new audience and develop new skills. Go for it!

Posted on behalf of Ceri Harrop, Public Programmes Manager, Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, The University of Manchester

Twitter: @UoMEngage | @sheencr  | #EngageMatters

Engagement@Manchester – Partnerships for research collaborations – 29 March 2017, 1:00 -2:30pm, Simon Building, 4.38

In our next Engagement@Manchster session we explore the diversity of research collaborations and engagement across different commercial, service, and third sector organisations. Our academics will highlight the challenges of the developing and managing such partnerships and the opportunities for pathways to impact.

When & Where: Partnerships for research collaborations – 29 March 2017, 1:00 -2:30pm, Simon Building, 4.38


  • Dr Cath O’Neil, School of Biological Science
  • Dr Rebecca Tipton, School of Arts Languages & Cultures
  • Dr Carl Diver, School of Mechanical, Aerospace & Civil Engineering

All welcome. Tea, coffee and biscuits on offer.

Missed out on our last session?

We explored how “public engagement can lead to impact” with guest presenter Paul Manners, Director NCCPE. Catch up on the video, slides, reports, and more here.

Dee-Ann Johnson, FSE Researcher Development and Rachel Kenyon, Hums, Business Engagement 

Public engagement can lead to impact – E@M session with Paul Manners from NCCPE – 25 Jan 1-2.30pm

Public engagement can lead to impact with Paul Manners, National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement

25 January 2017 1.00-2.30pm, Kanaris Lecture Theatre, Manchester Museum

Join us for this month’s Engagement@Manchester lunchtime learn and share meeting when we are pleased to welcome Paul Manners, Director of the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement.

Over the last year, the NCCPE has completed a major review of how public engagement fared in REF 2014. During this excellent opportunity, Paul will share the headlines and explore the implications for REF 2021.

All welcome.

Suzanne Spicer, Social Responsibility Manager, Office for Social Responsibility, The University of Manchester
Tel: +44 (0)161 306 3047
Email: suzanne.spicer@manchester.ac.uk