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Public Engagement at Manchester

Engagement Matters: Telling true, personal stories about science

In this Engagement Matters post, Sheena Cruickshank shares her experience of attending a storytelling workshop and reflects on her own role in communicating science.

As a public engagement practitioner, I passionately believe that the use of storytelling and narrative techniques is an important skill for researchers to develop and use. It helps us more effectively communicate our science and engage with both academic and non-specialist audiences. However, I didn’t fully appreciate how powerful stories could be or how best to craft meaningful stories about science until I had the opportunity to take part in a storytelling workshop held at The University of Manchester Friday 26th October. The workshop was delivered by Liz Neeley (Executive Director) and Erin Barker (Artistic Director) from The Story Collider. Based in the States, this nonprofit organisation have been working with storytellers from both inside and outside science since 2010 to develop true, personal stories about science and share them through a weekly podcast and live shows around the world.

Prof Sheena Cruickshank and Liz Neeley,  Executive Director of The Story Collider

In the workshop we learnt how to build a narrative arc, to bring to life the characters who play key roles within our story, to place the audience in the thick of the action, and to explore those emotions that are shape our science story. It might also seem obvious but we also came to realise the importance of ensuring our stories had a considered beginning, middle and end.

What surprised me was the depth of research evidence presented that highlights how storytelling can connect audiences – not just to you as the storyteller but also to the science you love. We learnt the importance of empathy and how critical that is to help audiences trust you and your science. By listening to examples from The Story Collider podcast (storycolllider.org/podcast) we experienced this in action, which helped to reinforce our learning.

The workshop showed us that the journey is as important as the destination – if not more so. I appreciated that too often we rush to the destination – or story end without considering all the fascinating steps that lead us there. Using reflective and practical exercises throughout the day, we drafted our own short personal stories of science, and performed these to each other in small groups, which offered opportunities for rich personalised feedback, refinements, clarifications and improvement.

The workshop genuinely opened my eyes to finding your own stories and I can now see how I will use storytelling to enhance my science communication practice. I have realised that I hide behind the comfort of talking about my science and feel safer discussing parasites in public than I do me. I now appreciate that if I also introduce my personal stories of science, that the audience will be more open to engaging with my science and in turn me. Stories help connect people to subject matter that may at first seem abstract or irrelevant. Stories help to create meaning, context and shared experience – which is the ethos of high quality public engagement. Even where I may not use a personal story to illustrate science, the tools the workshop provided will enable me to be much more mindful of the narrative arc in my writing (whether grants or papers or blogs) and teaching.

I am delighted that The Story Collider (storycollider.org) is partnering with The University of Manchester to hold a live storytelling show at The Birdcage on 6th December 2018. Please do come along to hear true, personal stories about our science in Manchester.

Tickets are available here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/story-collider-true-stories-about-science-tickets-50389471265

Posted on behalf of Professor Sheena Cruickshank, Academic Lead for Public Engagement, The University of Manchester

Twitter: #EngageMatters | @UoMEngage | @sheencr

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 Matters: Preparing for Table Top Science: tips on what info you will need to consider

In this Engagement Matters post Sheena shares her top tops for the logistics of preparing to deliver table top science activities at public facing events.

We are just in the throes of preparing to do a festival event in which we will have a table top* activity to try and excite a mixed audience of festival visitors with our research into allergy, pollution and infection in our citizen science project called Britain Breathing. We are in the fortunate position of having trialled this activity before so this blog and the one that follows will be focused on not how you create a table top activity but instead the logistics of what you need to prepare to run a table top activity.

  • Ahead of the event you may need to write a summary which can be used to advertise the activity to the public. This needs to be short and without jargon and should indicate what visitors may learn about, see as well as what they will do!
  • Consider whether you need to provide public liability insurance documentation. Often your institution will have this so you are just providing a copy or the link. Perhaps the event has this covered but it’s worth checking. The University of Manchester documentation is here: http://documents.manchester.ac.uk/display.aspx?DocID=1739
  • Consider child protection policy – do you or your volunteers have DBS (disclosure and barring service) accreditation? If not all helpers do then ensure that no one is left alone with children and please make sure that no one is by themselves with a child/student at any point and avoid touching any child/student (within reason). If there are any lost children on the stand, then let the organisers know.
  • Most places will require health and safety information about the activity so get your risk assessment ready!
  • Make a kit list for your activity and check stocks in advance so you know what extra things you may need for the event according to expected numbers at the event. There is nothing worse than being mid-event and running out of stuff! Although don’t panic if that happens – just be flexible and adapt the activity until you can replace the kit.
  • Arrange volunteers to help with the stand and consider length of time the stand will run for and break provision with cover for breaks! Provide helpers with an information pack which should contain the following:
  • Details of the event: Date, times of activity, including set up and take down of the activity
  • Venue: Where it is and how to get there Meals and Refreshments; Where food is available and what you will provide if you are
  • Contact details: Of the people in charge of the activity e.g. who to contact if they have issues getting there. It’s also a good idea to get everyone’s contact details just in case!
  • Activity briefing: what the activities are and purpose of them
  • FAQs: more on this later!
  • Organise a volunteer briefing session ahead of the event to answer any queries and/or demo the activities. Assess their level of experience and confidence and advise and reassure accordingly.
  • You are almost ready to go! The final thing is allow plenty of time for packing up your kit to get there, time for setting up the stall and then taking down the stall at the end of the event. This always takes longer than you think and involves a great deal more lugging of equipment than I ever thought possible!
  • Do quick team debriefs before and after the event – has anything changed that your helpers need to know about and take time afterwards to reflect on what worked well and what did not and how you may change things for e.g the next day.
  • Organise a volunteer briefing session ahead of the event to answer any queries and/or demo the activities. Assess their level of experience and confidence and advise and reassure accordingly.
  • You are almost ready to go! The final thing is allow plenty of time for packing up your kit to get there, time for setting up the stall and then taking down the stall at the end of the event. This always takes longer than you think and involves a great deal more lugging of equipment than I ever thought possible!
  • Do quick team debriefs before and after the event – has anything changed that your helpers need to know about and take time afterwards to reflect on what worked well and what did not and how you may change things for e.g the next day.

Follow these tips to help set up your activity for a hassle free event.

*Table top activity is a term used to require a set of interactive activities on a theme that are portable. It may or may not involve a table or tables but that is often the space constraint you will have.

Dr Sheena Cruickshank, Academic Lead for Public Engagement, The University of Manchester

Twitter: @UoMEngage | @sheencr  | #EngageMatters