Looking back at UKSFN21

On 19 January, organisers of science festivals and science events convened on Hopin, an online events platform, for the fourth UK Science Festivals Network conference.

Following a chaotic year, in which COVID-19 brought the sector face-to-face with extraordinary challenges, it’s never felt more important to get together (albeit virtually) to share experiences and spark inspiration in one another.

While we missed being able to gather in person, our first endeavour into the world of online conferencing provided the opportunity to welcome more people than ever before – from 11 different countries around the world! Being mindful of “Zoom fatigue”, we were determined to carve out opportunities for attendees to continue the conversation with speakers and other attendees informally, as well as engaging in a few fun and light-hearted activities. We hosted desk-based yoga sessions and even a virtual petting zoo with some very cute goats.

It also enabled attendees to easily engage with as much of the content as suited their needs, building their conference experience around caring responsibilities and the inevitable Wi-Fi glitches!

In terms of content, the effects of a global pandemic on festivals were (unsurprisingly) high on the agenda – particularly with the rise of remote culture and combatting misinformation. Conversations also considered
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) journeys and listening to communities.

Here are some reflections and take-home messages from each session. You can also check out #UKSFN21 to see what attendees were saying on Twitter throughout the day!

SOS: state of the sector

Panel: Laura Melissa Williams (Designer), Kathrine Bancroft (UK Research and Innovation) and Farrah Nazir (Wellcome TrustChair: Ivvet Abdullah-Modinou (UK Science Festivals Network/British Science Association)

It felt important to kick off the day on an optimistic and hopeful note, by celebrating what festivals across the Network have achieved throughout 2020, despite so much uncertainty, as shown in the infographic below.

The panellists considered where we, as science festivals, find ourselves at the beginning of a new year and how organisers of such events can move forward.

  • Laura Melissa Williams explored the challenges and opportunities for science festivals that she observed whilst exploring what the sector might look like in 2030. She challenged attendees to think carefully about their role in bridging the gap between research and the general public in an age of misinformation.
  • Kathrine Bancroft provided a perspective from a major funder of science engagement activities, reflecting on the opportunities to innovate and reach audiences in new, creative and community-led ways.
  • Farrah Nazir considered the likely national and global crises we are likely to face in a post-COVID world, reflecting that “our ability to build and maintain trust in this new world is what’s going to be our saviour.” The key to gaining this trust will lie in relevancy, adaptability and accountability.

Hindsight is 2020: running a festival in a pandemic       

Debbie McNeill (Glasgow Science Festival) and Maddie Smart (ArtReachChair: Julie Fooshee (University of Edinburgh)

Julie kicked off this session by asking “So, what happened!? to festival organisers at the forefront of rolling out large-scale events during the pandemic.

Debbie took us on Glasgow Science Festival’s journey of transforming their initial programme into an exciting digital offering (in only seven weeks!). ‘Science on the Sofa’ comprised 650 activities including live-streamed events, as well as self-directed content for audiences to experience at their leisure. Similarly, Maddie Smart explained how arts festival Journeys Festival International went ahead as a 21-day-long online extravaganza, working with 60 artists to showcase performances and artworks.

Both considered the challenges of having to digitally rethink ways of working in community spaces and facilitating safe, yet sometimes polarising, conversations. Another recurring theme was the heart-warming, overwhelmingly positive response from partners when re-invited to take part in a totally different programme, despite grappling with their own pandemic woes!

Looking ahead to the coming months, an interesting challenge for large-scale events will be how to make the return to live events, whilst making the most of the digital upskilling and learnings from 2020.

Stories of grassroots engagement

Speakers: Arun Bector (BME Housing Consortium) and Marsha Fisher (Sutton African and Caribbean Cultural OrganisationChair: Anna Woolman (British Science Association)

Throughout the pandemic, grassroots organisations have played a vital and resourceful role in responding to the immediate needs of their users. In 2020, the BSA partnered with UKRI to enable community groups to run projects in the latter half of the year, trialling new approaches to engage their audiences with science.

  • Sutton African and Caribbean Cultural Organisation’s project inspired their users with an intergenerational, hands-on, family learning workshop focussed on Mae Jemison, the first black female astronaut, and her journey of overcoming adversity to achieve her dreams. By sending out fun-filled activity packs to users, audiences were able to join in whilst safe at home.
  • BME Housing Consortium set out to engage their users, including Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, refugees, people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties with their project ‘SARS WARS’, which aimed to combat COVID-19 misinformation in these communities.

Both Marsha and Arun reflected on novel opportunities to increase the reach of their projects through creative methods of remote engagement, The established trust that both groups held within these communities afforded them an open dialogue with users when discussing sensitive issues such as COVID-19.

Many of the points raised in this session focus on the importance of building relationships with communities, further explored in the later session ‘What should we be talking about today?’

A workplace inclusion journey

Speakers: Katherine Mathieson (British Science Association) and Tinu Cornish (SEA-Change Consultancy)

The BSA has undertaken an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) journey over the last few years, with support from SEA-Change Consultancy.

The road to becoming an organisation that listens to diverse voices both internally and externally has come with varied successes and challenges. Tinu and Katherine’s reflections from this process include:

  • Borrow and adapt resources wherever you can, crediting the source – there is so much work to be done, why reinvent to the wheel?
  • There is no finish line or endpoint, we evolve and our challenges change as we move forwards.
  • Collaborate with and create bodies who offer the right balance of support and challenge (e.g. consultants, boards)
  • Tackling difficult and emotionally charged conversations in a professional context isn’t always easy but it’s valuable. As Tinu puts it, “we need to understand that, because of unconscious bias, we can be part of systems that are oppressive, and wanting to talk about this doesn’t make us bad people.”

The shift to remote culture 

Speaker: Matt Locke (Storythings)

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the way we consume content, prompting a shift towards rich, immersive video experiences that can be consumed from our living rooms (Tiger King, anyone?). Many organisations have been quick to develop digital content over the last year with varying degrees of success, but has this approach really been the best way forward?

Matt Locke delved into the rise of remote culture, which stretches far beyond the digital world even though it doesn’t always seem that way. Matt rightly explained that replicating a physical experience online shouldn’t necessarily be the goal – we should instead begin designing formats by considering where our audiences are, how they consume content and what they are doing with their time. It’s about getting creative within the constraints!

COP26: Who’s doing what?

Speaker: Penny Fidler (Association of Science and Discovery Centres) and Emma Woodham (Glasgow Science Centre)

This session invited attendees to share their own organisation’s ideas and plans for COP26. A range of exciting plans are already in motion across the science engagement sector!

If you didn’t attend this session but are keen to get involved, find out more here or get in touch with COP26info@cabinetoffice.gov.uk for more information.

How to approach diversity & inclusion strategically

Speaker: Lenna Cumberbatch (Diversity and Inclusion Strategist)

With a strong practical focus, this session provided a space for attendees to explore questions about their own approaches to EDI, drawing on Lenna’s expertise.

A key theme was that communication is critical throughout our journeys. From open discussions with relevant stakeholders from the outset, alongside bring the right people into the room, it becomes possible to set realistic goals and identify missteps quickly. We need to be conscious of power dynamics, setting clear boundaries around communicating respectfully when involving others in conversations. To learn and move forward, we shouldn’t hesitate to acknowledge our mistakes and apologise, whilst also being quick to forgive.

Lenna reinforced that seeing a change requires goal setting and a commitment to the legwork. Change should be driven by data to understand where the gaps are in existing strategies.

Remember that there are major differences between positive discrimination (illegal) and positive action (legal), which can be a valuable tool on your journey.

How design changed my mindset

Speakers: Savita Willmott (Bristol Natural History Consortium), Elisa Valarani (Design Council)

In 2020, Bristol Festival of Nature’s undertook a project to build design thinking onto their practice as part of a partnership between the UKSFN and the Design council.

Some of their biggest takeaways from this process included:

  • Spend time asking big questions to get to the heart of what you are trying to solve.
  • Authentic audience insights are well worth the time and investment and putting the legwork into going out and conducting interviews usually pays off.
  • Festival organisers are creatives at heart but often end up spending time on operations and admin. The design process can give those creative muscles a much-needed stretch!

Some tools and techniques that were particularly valuable throughout the process included Padlet and Rose, thorn, bud. (We would also recommend Miro!)

Introducing the Ideas Fund

Speaker: Chris Manion (British Science Association)

Attendees at this session had a sneak preview into The Ideas Fund, a novel, Wellcome-funded grants programme that will provide funding and, crucially, support to communities to explore ideas around mental wellbeing by working with researchers.

Chris took us through this exciting new programme, from its inception through a rigorous co-design progress, all the way to the launch. This opportunity is currently open to groups operating within communities in Hull, Oldham, North West Northern Ireland and the Highlands & Islands of Scotland. To find out if you’re eligible or for more information about this innovative new programme, check out The Ideas Fund website.

What should we be talking about today?

Speakers: Daniel Aguirre (Science Festival Accelerator), Ben Wiehe (US Science Festival Alliance)

When was the last time you attended a meeting that started with this genuine invitation? To be fully authentic, totally present and listen sincerely as we practice community engagement, we must be prepared to put our agendas to one side.

Ben and Daniel openly and frankly shared their reflections from the Science Festival Alliance’s Community Listening project. This initiative set out to amplify community voices, creating a brave and safe space to understand their on-the-ground realities and priorities. This challenging session drove home the huge importance of meeting communities where they are, and building trust so that science event organisers can be invited into community spaces, rather than expecting communities to engage first.

There were so many profound and insightful take-home messages from this session. Many reflections from attendees can be seen on Twitter using #UKSFN21 (a few are copied here). We encourage you to find out more about this project by listening to the project recordings, which can be found in the previous link.

Relational meetings 101

Speaker: Froi Legaspi (CitizensUK)

This session provided a brilliant introduction to this powerful tool for community organising. By demoing a one-on-one meeting with the BSA’s own Anna Woolman, attendees gained solid, practical guidance on building a public relationship based on mutual interests.

These meetings are designed to be intentional, focussed on interests, a two-way conversation (not a therapy session!) and last about as long as it takes a cup of tea to get cold. As Froi brilliantly summarised, the only rule is to be curious about the person in front of you and ask open questions!

COVID and conspiracy theories

Speaker: Joe Pierre (University of California, Los Angeles)

This session challenged science festival and event organisers to consider our roles and responsibilities towards tackling the COVID-19 ‘infodemic’. ‘Fake news’ surrounding the pandemic can seem overwhelming at times, but Joe Pierre’s research focusses on why these theories are so incredibly prevalent, and how the divide between science and conspiracy theories can be bridged.

When toxic divisiveness is endemic in society, Joe reflects that a considerate, nuanced approach to engagement is crucial as we advocate for trust in scientific knowledge going forward.

Check out Joe’s blog for a deep dive into these and other questions.

YARA + DAVINA: our artistic response to 2020

Speakers: Yara El-Sherbini and Davina Drummond (YARA + DAVINA)

Wrapping up the conference on a positive and thought-provoking note, artistic duo YARA + DAVINA discussed learnings from their interactive artwork, Arrivals + Departures, and how they responded to COVID-19 as creative problem solvers.

The installation, based on the familiar imagery of travel departure and arrival boards, was intended to provide a site to acknowledge meaningful moments and significant people. The artwork has been proven to be adaptable, not just to changing government guidance and regulations, but also to the needs of the public. It also facilitated an outlet for grief as people weren’t as able to mourn death in typical ways.

YARA + DAVINA’s work also touches on politics and the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2020 the public started to consciously name the unnamed, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, whilst also deciding to end the historic memorialisation of some controversial figures by toppling statues. Arrivals + Departures gives everyone the power to decide who gets commemorated.

YARA + DAVINA concluded that art provides a vital function to help people deal with lockdowns and the aftermath of a global pandemic, as well as highlighting longstanding questions around social and climate justice. There is a significant need for art to act as a catalyst for these conversations that are equally relevant to anyone who works to engage the public with science.

There was so much inspiration to be gained from #UKSFN21, arguably, the biggest take away for many was the sense of pride in being a part of a community that has continued to listen to and innovate for our audiences, during the most challenging of times.

A huge thanks from the UKSFN team and to everyone who joined us on the day, both speakers and delegates. We can’t wait to come back together next year, whether online or face-to-face, to once again celebrate a sector that is going from strength to strength and shows no signs of stopping.

UKSFN learning curves #3: How can we help?

By Emma Slater, Public Engagement Producer, Imperial College London

It’s the beginning of February 2021 and I’ve just hit ‘leave meeting’. I’m making the face I make when something I’ve just been a part of feels so meaningful that I might burst. We’ve just finished our first workshop with 10 of the most vulnerable young people in our local community. One young person, who has chatted with a researcher for 45 minutes says “I think about things like this all the time, but don’t have anyone to talk to about them with”. Heart full – it’s all worth it.

Rewind to December 2020 and we’ve just changed, replanned and postponed our ‘UKRI/UKSFN: Bringing young people and researchers together’ project for about the third time. The events of the past year have exhausted our community partner who is trying to make sure his young people have enough food to eat. He’s worried about the rise in the number of mental health-related issues he’s seeing in his group.

Rewind even further. It’s the Summer of 2020 and we’re about to get our planned series of music-based workshops rolling. Over a series of sessions, we’ll be exploring ‘futures’ with young people, Imperial College London researchers and rapper, Consensus. We’re excited about this creative melting pot and celebrating what had been created with everyone involved at the end.

Sadly, our music project didn’t happen in the way we had planned over the autumn. Our main challenge was an (understandable) reluctance from young people for online participation in any format, which worsened over time. Our community partner reported that their group felt self-conscious and fed up.

We caught up with our community partner on the phone regularly, just to chat about this and that. Aside from finding it really useful to understand how youth clubs work and their challenges, I wanted them to understand that we really cared, and that we’d still want to chat even if we weren’t actively running a project.

It was in one of these chats that they mentioned an art session they’d recently run for some of their most vulnerable young people. This was a version of a young person led, entrepreneurial project we’d talked about a while before: young people working with local artists, to design, customise and then re-sell trainers. The project was being cut for financial reasons, but they wanted to continue it to help those struggling with their mental wellbeing.

Our aim was always for our commitment to these young people to be long term, and it was important that we were there to help when it was needed. Together we came up with a way to run the project and remotely include Imperial researchers in these COVID-secure, in-person workshops. Now, throughout February, Imperial researchers will be chatting with the group about science, inspiring the creation of trainers customised with their work and conversations in mind. We’re only one session in, and I’m sure there will be unexpected challenges and things we might need to change, but I’m still really proud that we’ve managed to get this off the ground.

I’m really grateful for the British Science Association’s support throughout this fairly dramatic (and last minute!) pivot in another direction. As a result, 20-30 of the most vulnerable young people in our community are joining us for conversations and creativity with researchers, and our community partners are better able to support their user’s mental health.

So, back to the end of that first session I mentioned at the start. That ‘heart full’ moment was an accumulation of important reminders: how important it is to work with underrepresented and underserved young people, how resilient and joyful our community is, how essential it is to take the time and have a chat, and for me personally, why I do this job.

A six-year Engagement (journey)

In the second of her reflections as our (outgoing) Head of Engagement, Ivvet Abdullah-Modinou highlights the incredible progress made as a result of the partnerships between community groups and the British Science Association. Using science as a tool to engage, stimulate and encourage people across the UK is at the core of the BSA’s purpose, mission and values. Here, she writes of just some of the projects that have been part of her journey.

This week I will be leaving the BSA and, as is to be expected, I have been doing some reflecting on the things I am most proud of. Having written about the UK Science Festivals Network, I now turn my attention to our community engagement portfolio, which the Engagement team has had the pleasure of building and leading over the last six years.

How it came about

What began as a pilot to enable more people to run events in British Science Week has grown into a programme of work that now supports hundreds of community groups each year, and underpins our approach to community partnerships. Since 2015, we have given out over 800 microgrants to community groups, supported by UK Research and Innovation.

The heart of our approach is “getting out of the way” and letting communities decide how best to structure, develop, and execute their engagement with science. We provide support, signposting and access to our networks if they want it, but we believe that people, who may also have no formal science background, can and should be in the driving seat.

This work also made us look at ourselves, as an organisation, differently. If this approach was to succeed, we had to start handing over control to communities, whether around content, brand or voice. Any organisation that wants to follow this example will need to accept that this is part of the process.

Implementing the community-first approach

I’m not going to pretend it was easy, it was tough at the start; these communities didn’t know us, and we hadn’t earnt their trust yet. How many organisations have helicoptered into their communities with promises only to leave after the project is over? Back at the start, a lot of our conversations were around breaking down the stereotypes around science and showing local people we were ultimately interested in supporting their long-term ambitions for their community, rather than them producing a one-off event for our benefit. But as the old saying goes, “don’t tell me, show me”. This work took time and it was well worth it; here are some great case studies highlighting some of the fantastic work from the communities we have had the pleasure of working with along the way.

The next question for our community engagement work was, how do we go beyond a transactional relationship? Sure, giving out grants is nice, but could we be doing more? Our community grant recipients led us to create our Community Leaders programme and we were lucky enough to work with some brilliant and inspiring people. If you’d like to connect with your local community partners, the Community Leaders programme page includes a list of superstars who have taught me so much over the years.

Earlier this year we partnered with the Local Trust. We listened to community groups in Boston, Lincolnshire – an area of the UK we had identified as one with little traditional science engagement provision – asking what we could do to support science engagement in their town. They said the biggest barrier was language, so we created British Science Week activity packs in Polish and Russian.

Listening to our communities further, we noticed there was some hesitancy around contacting researchers directly. The most memorable bit of feedback I heard was, “they are solving cancer, why would they want to come and speak to us?” Considering such comments, we rebuilt Science Live to begin to help broker those connections on a local level.

Finding a scientist online is all well and good, but how do we create lasting human relationships between researchers and communities? So was born our Community Buddies scheme and, working with Froi Legaspi from Citizens UK, we were able to borrow community organising tools to help. This programme is a work in progress but I’m a big believer of showing the working out. Watch this space.

We also wanted to begin to address power imbalances in science engagement; could we create a new format to help people solve real-world problems in their communities using research skills? Working in partnership with FoAM Kernow, we created AccessLab – from a kernel of an idea, through to an academic paper.

Applying “community-first” to existing BSA work

We were eager to embed this community engagement approach in some of our other programmes, so we launched the British Science Festival Community Grants which allowed us to work more closely with communities in the Festival’s host city. This enabled us to meet some truly talented people, and also allowed them to feel part of the Festival on their own terms. For example, Christine Eade who shared her contacts with us so generously in Coventry and opened up new partnerships in the city, through to the team at The Warren in Hull who are doing brilliant work with young people and who we were lucky enough to partner with.

And what about COVID-19? When the pandemic struck, a lot of the communities we work with switched to frontline services. Some turned themselves into food banks, some were supporting migrant parents who had to become teachers overnight, and some were rallying together to provide social contact for the lonely. We listened, and tried to respond, without jumping to a solution straight away. During the early days of the pandemic, I would regularly ask myself, “are we just trying to carry on doing our job, or are we actually trying to help?” This allowed us to stay honest and on course with supporting communities in the ways they needed. We rolled out a series of Community Innovation Grants to support through this time and here are a series of blogs about the stellar achievements from communities around the UK.

I have spent a lot of my time at the BSA travelling around the UK and meeting different communities, which I have loved. From Penzance to Orkney, and Belfast to Eastbourne, there are incredible people doing the hard work to bring about real change. Of course, they are not always driven by the science content; they care about their communities and they go to work every day to tackle a host of challenges like social isolation, improving literacy or just to give young people something to do. But they have taught me that science engagement can have a role to play, if done in true partnership.

If you represent a community-based group or organisation that works directly with audiences who are traditionally underrepresented in science, please do join our Community Engagement Network.

Building back stronger – the outlook for science festivals

As part of her role as Head of Engagement and Director of the British Science Festival, Ivvet Abdullah-Modinou has chaired the UK Science Festivals Network since 2014. Over the past six years the UKSFN has grown to become the voice, and bold advocate, of supporting the sector. As she prepares to leave her role, Ivvet shares her thoughts on the core strengths and future opportunities for science festivals, despite the challenges of 2020.

Another pillar of the UKSFN’s work is their annual conference. This will take place 19 January 2021. For more details, visit the event website.

The UK Science Festivals Network (UKSFN) is a community of practice which aims to improve and expand the science festival landscape in the UK. At the end of 2019, the UKSFN, with support from Wellcome, began a strategic journey to explore what the science festival sector could look like in 10 years. We wanted to embrace the design methodology we had been encouraging festivals to use in their work to take a closer look at the purpose and value we bring to the communities we serve. I was personally excited at the prospect of this work as festival organisers often have little opportunity to reflect or develop their practice due to the cyclical nature of planning festivals.

How we carried out the work

We sought the help of a professional speculative designer, Laura Melissa Williams, whose role was to ask hard questions, share insights from other sectors and help us to articulate how the UKSFN could further support festivals. Laura’s energy, focus and experience has been instrumental in the success of this project.

And so, with all the pieces in place, our first task was to understand how people view festivals and the work being done in towns and cities across the country. We kicked off by carrying out interviews with our festival community, stakeholders, funders, community leaders and wider cultural practitioners from beyond our sector. But of course, 2020 had other plans.

The pandemic left festivals, like most events and arts organisations, in chaos. We paused to ask ourselves – was this the right time to be thinking about festivals of the future when there were more pressing, immediate needs? The focus for many was simply survival, not their long-term strategy. However, we saw this as an opportunity.

While the pandemic meant we had to slow down and reflect, we would eventually be rebuilding, and this work could help frame what festivals focus on going forward. For me, this wasn’t just about rebuilding what we do; it supports how we think about change and how we learn to embrace that.

And so we continued, with an aim to highlight the good work already happening and act as a critical friend for festivals in their time of need, wherever they were on their journey to taking a more audience-first approach.

What we found

Our work found five key strengths and opportunity areas that festivals should continue to build on in a post-COVID world. Excelling at just one is not enough; the work at the intersection of all of these is what makes festivals relevant and enduring in their communities…

Place-based, space agnostic

This phrase was coined by Farrah Nazir, our partner at Wellcome, and it really resonated with us as one of the main strengths of festivals. Without large buildings to heat and run they can be fully responsive to their audiences, going where they are needed and where they have been invited. As we have seen, yet be really targeted with their approach, whether that is popping up in a city park, independent cinema or local hair salon.

How festivals integrate with other community initiatives will become increasingly important in a post-pandemic world. For example, how might festivals help a local council realise its ambitions for the city? Could they collaborate with the tourism board? By exploring these types of questions and building new partnerships in response, festivals can be more than a ‘nice to have’ event in the city calendar, instead beginning to meet local priorities and delivering lasting, audience-led outcomes.

Informational and educational

The most common response from attendees on why they visit festivals was their view that they are a trusted source of information, and provide educational benefits, to them and their families.

Exploring their reasons further, audiences also said that highlighting the various careers in STEM, complementing classroom learning and building confidence with science were a strength of festivals. This is brilliant for our existing audiences but what about those we don’t engage with?

Turning complex science into clear and engaging content is the bread and butter of science festivals, and in fact, most of the wider science communication sector. But what is the role of a science festival in a ‘fake news’ world, where it sometimes feels people are more interested in who is speaking rather than what they are saying? How might festivals build trust with new audiences, and help to question, challenge and navigate the vast array of information, given their credibility in communicating science? Trust is the key word here. It must be earned, and then maintained. There are some excellent examples of how festivals in the US are using listening as a basic entry point for building community trust, spearheaded by Daniel Aguirre.

Diverse and inclusive

These words come up a lot in our sector, and quite rightly so. But this isn’t just something we can achieve and then forget about it. It must always guide our practice, whether it is programming, partnership building or operations.

Festivals regularly champion the diversity within STEM, seeking out new role models and sharing their platforms to celebrate their work. But who makes these decisions? Who volunteers their time to help ‘backstage’? Who does the festival sector employ? We have to know who we are as a community if we want to hold ourselves accountable to the change we want to see. The UKSFN diversity survey for the sector will aim to answer these important questions, and act as a benchmark going forward.

The opportunities that a robust diversity and inclusion agenda provides is not just for existing festivals. We actively champion, and learn from, new science festivals established, and managed by the community. An excellent example is the Rochdale Science Extravaganza started by Mohammed Rahman because his son, Labib, asked why they always had to travel miles to engage with science. This type of community-driven science festival, as opposed to a university-led one, is on the rise and comes with an inherent degree of trust built in.

In order to be more inclusive in a post-COVID world, we as festivals must further develop our skills and resilience to enable us to have complex and sensitive science conversations with researchers and local people. Whether it’s vaccine hesitancy, climate change or the ethics of AI, we must resist taking the easy road and having conversations with the audiences who will readily seek us out. We must ask who is missing from the conversation and why? How are we failing science and society as a result? The risk of not answering these questions is too great. This is an opportunity to build something new that delivers even more benefit to our communities.

More than the sum of our parts

Festivals act as brokers between different communities and use their platform to bring them closer, whether it is artists, scientists, council members, community leaders or other cultural entities. But to what end? Yes, to develop excellent content and deliver a memorable event, but we can go far beyond this. By taking a hyperlocal approach, I believe festivals can – and do – have an important role to play in building community pride.

For example, in my role as the Director of the British Science Festival, which travels to a different city each year, I speak to various local stakeholders to really understand the city we are in to make sure our approach is co-developed, appropriate and inclusive. It was clear from the people I spoke to in Coventry (the host city in 2019) that they were incredibly proud of their history as a city of peace and reconciliation – how could our work celebrate that and reflect this back to the community?

We know that festivals provide an important platform for researchers to directly engage with the public. In 2019, UKSFN members worked with over 11,000 researchers and science communicators across the UK. However, we also know it’s not enough just to put researchers in a venue and wait for audiences to book tickets. We must leverage our existing networks and broker local partnerships in the co-design of these events, elevating the quality of the researcher interactions. A brilliant example of this is the bringing together of researchers and specific groups of young people to co-design festival events and activities which has been supported by UK Research and Innovation.

A sense of wonder and inspiration

Science has the power to inspire. It can connect to your emotions as well as your intellect, and the people we spoke to certainly believe festivals deliver this wonder and inspiration time after time, making science part of the cultural offering of a place.

The importance of inspiration is sometimes seen as a soft outcome, but it mustn’t be overlooked. As a child, the natural world inspired me in ways I can never fully explain. I don’t mean walking in the woods – as a child of immigrants we didn’t hike! I mean the power of volcanoes and storms, dinosaurs bigger than houses now reduced to bones, the burning beauty of the sun, the cold plains of the Antarctic, and plate tectonics that have the power to literally move mountains. This science fascinated me, and I think at its core was because it gave me perspective; here is something so much bigger than me. It was an escape from the mundane and daily struggles of growing up.

However, we need to make sure this inspiration stretches beyond the young person and into their social circle. My parents struggled to nurture this interest and they certainly didn’t know that there were careers in these sorts of fields, let alone how to support me to navigate the system. As the Science Capital work of Louise Archer and colleagues shows, we need to equip parents, grandparents, guardians, and wider society to encourage and cultivate that inspiration and wonder. Festivals are part of this scaffold in a young person’s life and must be supported in their efforts to deliver these benefits to their communities.

Festivals deliver amazing work across the country and they have had an incredibly difficult year. As we enter our third national lockdown they continue to persevere with a resilience and drive that should be recognised and celebrated.

I leave my role as Chair of the UKSFN in what is undoubtably a turbulent and uncertain time for festivals. However, I know that our members will continue to drive innovation in our sector through their commitment to their audiences, their passion for science and their motivation to make a difference in their community.

The UKSFN conference takes place on Tuesday 19 January and you can book your tickets here.

To find your nearest science festival, visit https://sciencefestivals.uk/festival/

photograph of a laptop being used for a conference call with a mug of tea

UK Science Festival Network conference tickets and programme live!


We are excited to announce that tickets are now available for #UKSFN21, as well as a preliminary programme so you know what to expect as we convene online to discuss all things science festivals and events. Join us online for the fourth UK Science Festivals Network conference on 19 January 2021 from 8.45 to 18.00.

Click here for tickets and more information

Following on from what has been a turbulent year for those working across the science engagement community, we’re excited to bring together speakers from the across the UK and further afield as we discuss how we have been collectively rising to the challenges and opportunities presented by this pandemic. Leaders from across the sector will come together to discuss what the pandemic has meant for those working within this space and how we are rebuilding in new and meaningful ways as we look towards the future. We will also hear from organisers of science festivals, large-scale events and community groups to find out how they have been adapting to the online and outdoor worlds, as well as exploring innovative ways to continue serving their audiences in the wake of COVID-19.

As always, how we engage with the communities we serve will form a key theme throughout the conference. Maybe you are keen to obtain the practical skills to build trust within communities through relational meetings. Perhaps you want to hear about an approach trialled by the US Science Festivals Alliance that put their agenda aside and totally embraced reflectively listening to different communities. Whether you’re brand new to the world of community engagement or you’ve been at it for years, there will be something to leave you feeling equipped and inspired to take your next step.

We are also conscious that recent months have been pivotal for the sector and wider society, with many more determined than ever to foster equality, diversity and inclusion in our science events and organisations. We want to support each other as we reflect on what a journey of organisational change can look like, and what practical steps we can take to put inclusivity at the heart of our practice.

We’re working hard to make sure you can engage with the conference in whatever way works best for you. We know making connections with others from the science engagement community is a big part of the conference experience. In addition to a programme packed full of thought-provoking, practical and inspiring content, you’ll have lots of chances to network with other delegates in new and creative ways. And although you may wish to stay for the entire day and absorb every drop of content, we want you to feel free to plan your conference experience to suit your own needs and interests!

The preliminary programme can be seen on our Hopin page (link above), and we will be adding new speakers and sessions in the coming weeks as we strive to deliver a conference that addresses the topics that are most relevant, useful and inspiring to us as a sector. On the page you’ll be able to take a look to see what’s scheduled and of course, pick up your tickets while you’re there!

We’re Hopin you’ll join us in January! And, if you’re tweeting, don’t forget to use #UKSFN21.

Do contact info@sciencefestivals.uk if you have any questions

UKSFN learning curves #2: The Biophonia project

By Sarah Jones, Projects Manager and Digital Programme Lead at the Northern Ireland Science Festival

When we were first planning for our UKRI/UKSFN: Bringing young people and researchers together 2020 project in May/June, the sun was shining, the days were long and the end of the lockdown seemed to be in sight.

Now, in the midst of November and our second ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown here in Northern Ireland things are quite different. The learning curve on this project has been steep – all the normal ways of working and expectations have really been thrown out the window.

Our project involves working with researchers at Queens University and the Sonic Arts Research Centre. The aim of our project was to show 11-17 year olds from North Belfast and beyond that research and science is not all lab coats and test tubes – that you can work with music and sound and be a researcher.

The past year has made it apparent that it is much harder to do engagement remotely – particularly when it comes to getting relationships going with participants who don’t normally take part in ‘science’ activities. We had built relationships with youth workers to reach the young people, but most reported they weren’t meeting in person and only talking to the kids through WhatsApp and text message.

Northern Ireland has gone from having one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 in the UK to the highest. This has affected how easy it has been to work with people due to furlough and groups not meeting.

One youth worker said that because they have to contact their young people all through a central message group, it’s quite hard for some to say that they are interested in coming to a science event. They are worried that they’ll be made to feel embarrassed that they’d want to do something related to ‘science’. This is an issue that can be worked around more in person – you have that chance to change minds, you can be in their space and encourage people to just give something a try.

Another community partner told me she had to double or treble book sessions in the hope that she’d get enough people to turn up to their online workshops to account for drop-out rates.

At our first Zoom session only a small number of the participants arrived – with 6 adults all looking at one another. I think we should have expected this – we are all Zoom fatigued and fed up with the dark nights and grey days and people are spending so much time online. Talking to the participants who didn’t turn up afterwards, they said they were worried about doing a Zoom call, or were feeling too bogged down in homework. They all said they’d like to meet in-person.

So, where are we now – mid-way through the project?

We talked about how we could change our plans to see if we could do another session in-person. Working with Queens University and the team at the Sonic Arts Research Centre lab we did an extensive risk assessment and agreed it could all be done. On the day more participants arrived (4x more than were at the Zoom session!) and were taken to The Sonic Lab, which is a state of the art, specialist acoustic space designed to provide a unique and exciting listening experience – the auditory equivalent of an IMAX cinema. We found out how sound is made and then discovered how to use field recorders and went out hunting for sounds – I’m sure people wondered what we were doing, walking around recording doors opening, rain falling on containers and the sound of our feet splashing in puddles!

Thankfully, I was able to talk with the British Science Association and share my worries and concerns – and the adage is true, a problem shared is a problem halved. Lots of people have been finding it tough – the normal ways of working have been thrown out the window and you just have to adapt and change.

We feel more positive now going into the next sessions. We’ve met the participants, hope they’ll continue to attend and that our final performance, whether online or in-person, will give them a real sense of achievement.

Who works for science festivals? Looking back at 2019 through a 2020 lens

By Anna Woolman, Engagement Manager – British Science Association

Since 2018 the UK Science Festivals Network (UKSFN) has sought to understand the sector’s workforce. Results from the 2019 ‘Volunteer and employee’ survey highlight areas to investigate further.

Science festivals bring science out of its silo, making it more accessible for the public. Acknowledging the differences amongst our audiences is the first step to making science relevant to a larger number of people. This in turn can be used to pro-actively champion Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in the science engagement sphere.

Role modelling is a key factor in audiences seeing something as ‘for them’. Because of this, in events, a lot of focus has been on improving representation of those ‘on the stage’ – the people giving the talks, doing the performances and making audiences say ‘wow’. As an example, ‘manels’ – all-male panels – are no longer seen as acceptable in most contexts and groups like Manel Watch are ready to call them out.

Of course, representation on the stage and amongst audiences is important, but we cannot, and should not, stop there.

To truly embed EDI principles into ways of working, representation has to reach every corner of the process. Therefore, to approach issues of representation in events effectively we must take a multifaceted approach. We must look at those on the stage, in the audience and working behind the scenes – such as those programming the content, ticketing the events and doing the tech. To understand the backgrounds of the sector’s ‘support staff’, the UKSFN has been surveying its members’ workforces since 2018.

Learnings from the British Science Association’s ‘Where is science communication now?’ 2014 report helped shape survey questions about staff and volunteers’ gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, education and more. Questions were included to understand socioeconomic background based on guidance from the Civil Service. The latter is a major contributor to people’s job prospects and something that had not, to our knowledge, been formally looked at specifically in the science engagement sector before. NB: The Royal Society and Panic! It’s an arts emergency have highlighted issues around under-representation of those from certain socioeconomic backgrounds working in science and the arts respectively. Arts Council England is also including a question on socioeconomic background for the first time in its 2020 workforce survey.

Key results from the 2019 survey, which had 586 respondents from 33 festivals, are below:

  • Gender: The workforce is dominated by women (64%), a trend reflected in the wider voluntary sector where, despite having a majority female workforce, those ‘at the top’ (i.e. Trustees, CEOs, Senior Management, etc.) are still mostly male. We do not know if this is the case in science festivals and engagement more broadly.
  • Education/Qualifications: Many highly educated people work in the sector. The majority have a first degree or higher (90% compared to 27% of the general population in the 2011 census). This might reflect how people find out about science engagement and festivals – the assumption being they have completed or are currently undertaking a science degree. Not asking for a degree when recruiting can be an initial step in opening up sector roles to a wider number of people.
  • Socioeconomic background: When the results of the three questions asked were taken together (school type, eligibility for free school meals and their household’s main/highest income earner’s occupation at age 14) they suggest the majority of the sector’s workforce comes from relatively comfortable socioeconomic backgrounds. We will continue to measure this aspect of the sector’s workforce and include an additional question asking respondents their parent’s/guardian’s highest qualification in the next survey, as per the 2020 Wellcome DAISY guidelines. 
  • Ethnicity: People from Black ethnic backgrounds are the most under-represented in the science festival workforce; 1% of respondents stated their ethnicity as Black compared to 3% of 2011 census respondents. In total, 6% of the science festival workforce identified as being from Asian ethnic backgrounds (compared to 8% of 2011 census respondents), although when volunteers and employees are looked at separately, 9% of science festival volunteers identified as being from Asian ethnic backgrounds compared to 3% of employee respondents.
  • Disability: 7% of survey respondents considered themselves to have a disability compared to 18% of 2011 census respondents who stated they had an activity-limiting condition. It is important to note that the definition of disability in the 2011 census is different to that of this survey (in line with demographic data collection best practice), so direct comparisons cannot be drawn.
  • Sexual identity: A higher number of respondents identified as a Gay man/woman (6%) and Bisexual (8%) compared to the UK population (1% and 1% respectively, 2017 ONS UK data). This was also the question with the highest proportion of respondents preferring not to say.
  • Religious belief: Most respondents said they had no religion (63%), a substantially higher figure than in the 2011 census (25%)

But where does this work stand in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic?

We had planned to dig deeper into some of the questions thrown up by the 2019 survey in our 2020 edition. Yet, with this year seeing many large-scale events cancelled and the science festivals sector on the brink of the unknown, it became apparent that there wouldn’t be a workforce to survey for a while. We are hopeful that it will be able to resume in 2022.

If the pandemic alone is anything to go by, where in the UK COVID-19 patients are disproportionately from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic backgrounds and the COVID-19 mortality rate in the most deprived areas in England is double that of the least deprived, the urgency to address the issues of opportunity and access for under-represented groups is more apparent than ever.

The Network will continue to conduct and champion EDI work amongst science festivals. We will continue to survey our festival workforces and ensure important conversations, which can lead to action, around EDI are had. The results of this survey show a snapshot of the pre-pandemic UK science festival scene. Individually, festivals will have their own areas of success and improvement. Importantly, the large-scale buy in from festival organisers and their workforces shows a strong sector-wide desire to be moving forward on these issues.

We cannot let the current momentum around inclusion and representation lose pace. Across Charity and the Arts sectors, organisations such as A New Direction, Creative Society and Charity So White, to name a few, are pro-actively challenging the status quo. Continually learning from each other, trialling new ways of working and holding ourselves accountable will be key to making progress.

The 2019 UKSFN survey was the first year-long, large-scale look at the sector’s workforce. We are keen to hear people’s thoughts and ideas on how we can move forward in future. Get in touch at info@sciencefestivals.uk to chat.

Useful documents for monitoring EDI can be found below:

The UK Science Festivals Network is managed by the British Science Association and is supported by funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Find out more about our broader work on EDI and the steps we are taking towards a more inclusive science engagement sector here.

Looking back at UKSFN ’19

In November 2019, individuals and organisations who engage the public through science festivals and events came together from across the UK and beyond for the third annual UK Science Festivals Network Conference.

After the success of the previous two conferences in Edinburgh and Swansea, we gathered to connect with colleagues, old and new, and hear inspiring content from festival organisers, community leaders, funders, designers and other professionals working across the sector. The programme delved into everything from practical guidance on avoiding burnout in the busy world of science events, to insightful discussions around the entire concept of community when considering placed-based engagement.

If you didn’t manage to attend the conference this year, or were torn between two concurrent sessions, then look no further for an overview of the topics and takeaway messages from each session.

How do we use stories to tell the ‘tale of science festivals?

Know your place
Panel: Mohammed Rahman (Rochdale Science Initiative C.I.C), James Goodman (Local Trust), Laura Melissa Williams (Designer) and Ben Wiehe (US Science Festivals Alliance)

Chair: Ivvet Modinou (British Science Association)

The first session of the day brought together voices from across the sector to discuss their experiences of encountering both challenges and opportunities in pursuit of place-based engagement.

James Goodman reflected on the growing agency of individuals within their own communities, discussing the work of Local Trust to empower and equip local people around issues that matter to them.
Mohammed Rahman was inspired to start Rochdale Science Extravaganza! after his young son began showing an interest in science but the nearest provision was in Manchester or Birmingham. He has since seen hundreds of local families in his community come together for their community-developed science events.
As a designer, Laura Melissa Williams highlighted the importance of human-centred design, which comes through understanding communities in order to be able to provide them with more relevant content.
Finally, Ben Wiehe challenged the meaning of the term ‘community’ as a word which is often bandied about in the world of science engagement. Drawing from his own experience of place-based initiatives and science festivals in the US, Ben considered the importance of breaking out of the traditional, office-based ‘place of work’ and meeting the people you want to reach
The overarching theme throughout the session was one of deepening understanding of the people and places in which we are working and what they want to achieve. By pursuing this route, it’s possible to transfer the power to the community itself, build trust and generate long-term engagement.

The power of targeted story telling
Speaker: John Tracey (Simons Foundation)

Offering a unique perspective from a funder, John Tracey brought to life the idea that facts and figures cannot tell the full story when it comes to a project, and may fail to convey what makes a story, project or event special or move anyone to action. Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation in New York, take a unique approach to reporting, by supporting funding recipients to feedback ‘their stories’ as short films that highlight characters and moments.

The concept that the subject matter and compelling content can be used at any level (and at a variety of budgets!) to emotionally resonate with audiences, is widely applicable to those working in science events. Without suggesting that we throw statistics out the window, John opened a tantalising window towards a new way to tell the tale of science festivals.

How do we use stories to tell the ‘tale of science festivals?

Gaining Perspectives
Speakers: Ben Wiehe (Science Festivals Alliance) and Kellie Vinal (Atlanta Science Festival)

It can be easy to get stuck inside a UK-based science engagement bubble, so Ben Weihe and Kelly Vinal’s insights from their work across the pond provided a fascinating window into how objective critiques are shaping science festivals and events in the US.

Ben’s experience of sending observers to attend science events, take in the wider context and generate independent appraisals, paved the way for the Science in Vivo project, a long-term project with an emphasis on bringing science experiences.

The project invites ‘external’ observers to go to events and give honest critiques to the organiser through mediated post-event sessions and could be an interesting evaluation model to trial in the UK.

Antarctica 2020
Speakers: Camilla Nichol and Sud Basu (UK Antarctic Heritage Trust)

Reflecting on the legacy of the Antarctic since its relatively recent first sighting on 27 January 1820, Camilla Nichol painted a poignant image of our relationship with this captivating and vulnerable continent. Whether for purposes of expedition, scientific investigation, exploitation, politics, or protection, Antarctica has remained a subject of deep fascination over the last 200 years, and the way we interact with it now holds deep implications for the future of our planet.

In celebration of the bicentenary of this significant date, Sud Basu invited everyone in attendance to take part in Antarctica 2020, a cultural programme that aims to reach new audiences across the UK and get them excited about the narrative around Antarctica. The yearlong programme will focus around the following themes:

Expedition and challenge
Environment and climate

For all UKSFN members keen to be a part of the Antarctica 2020 programme, check out our latest UKSFN email bulletin for information on how we can support you to do so!

Antarctica 2020 is kicking off next year – a cultural programme that aims to reach new audiences across the UK

Commissioning as one for all
Speakers: Laura Fogg-Rogers (University West of England), Mikey Martins (Freedom Festival Arts Trust) and Dane Comerford (IF Oxford)

Though multi-festival collaboration is common in the arts, it has not yet been adopted into the world of science. Laura Fogg-Rogers, Mikey Martins and Dane Comerford considered how we, as individuals and organisations working across science festivals and events, can commission collectively.

The three speakers delved into their learnings from their experience of touring the Unkindest Cut, an interactive installation incorporating traditional Indian dance, spoken word and film inside a shipping container, around six science festivals in 2018 and 2019. By communicating with and observing other festivals involved in the project, each consecutive host was able to build and refine their own experience of the installation. The consensus was that, though it may not always be straightforward to collaborate with artists and each other, the benefits are significant and rewarding!

Introduction to design thinking
Speakers: Emma Dickson and Sarah Jeffrey (Design Council)

This interactive session was kicked off with the question “who here considers themselves to be a designer?” A few, tentative hands rose in the air, with justifications including “I suppose I am because it’s in my job title.” However, Nobel Laureate Herb Simon’s definition of a designer as one who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred, provided a compelling case that the room, the conference and our wider organisations are full of designers!

After recapping the work undertaken as part of the UKSFN Innovating by Design project over the last year, Emma Dickson and Sarah Jeffrey explained key design principle concepts including the importance of clearly defining and understanding an issue before jumping into the solution, using the double diamond approach. Using practical activities, we were challenged to work together in teams to design an idea for a science event or activity around certain audiences and companies, and then (despite the audible groans!) to critique each other’s concepts and build on the original ideas as part of a round robin. This highlighted the benefits of focussing on audience needs and taking feedback on board when applying a design-thinking approach to our own work.

Teams had to design an idea for a science event or activity around certain audiences and companies & critique one another’s concepts

Making it accessible
Speaker: Natalie South (Attitude is Everything)

Representing a charity working to improve deaf and disabled people’s access to live music, Natalie South used her learnings from the world of music festivals to equip attendees with the tools needed to make their own science events and festivals more inclusive to disabled audiences.

A few of Nat’s key messages include:

Accessibility starts online – it’s crucial to provide as much relevant information about your venue as possible (e.g. number of steps)
Accessible marketing – black writing on a yellow background is a good colour combination
Remember, only a small percentage of disabled people are wheelchair users so steps may not be the only thing to render your venue ‘inaccessible.’
This session challenged all those in attendance to really think about how we can incorporate accessibility into our own events from the outset. Attitude is Everything have lots of brilliant, tried and tested resources, and are a great place to start!

Building resilience
Speaker: Georgina Bednar (No Ordinary Experience)

While we all know that working on festivals can be fantastically rewarding, it can simultaneously make enormous demands of us, occasionally (or not so occasionally) leading to burnout. Georgina Bednar’s wide-ranging experience in this field has led her to consider how we can develop our capacity to recovery quickly from difficulties.

The session provided a safe space to reflect on our own and in small groups on the sources of pressure, both internal and external, that affect us in our work and become conscious of the factors that push our limits in those festival crunch times. Developing awareness of the types of intervention we may find beneficial, such as planning structured working hours and regular down time, can help us take care of our own wellbeing as we also take care of our teams, projects and programmes.

Georgina closed the session by inviting all those in attendance to consider “when do we feel good about what we do?”

Designing with communities at heart
Speaker: Wayne Hemingway (Hemingway Design)

Finally, the day ended with a bang as Wayne Hemingway who drew on forty years of experience working as a designer, developing nationally significant events that centre around the communities in which they’re based, including the Festival of Thrift, the Festival of Making, and more recently the enormously successful First Light Festival in Lowenstoft.

Using the image of a town centre, Wayne invited us to consider their historical significance as hubs for social cohesion, rather than the retail dens we see today. Today we see an anti-consumerist shift indicating the desire of society to spend more time and money on social experiences than physical products.

Echoing previous sentiments expressed throughout the day, Wayne drove home the importance of keeping local people at the heart of local projects and suggested that creativity and design are, ultimately, the tools we use to find solutions to real problems!

The overarching narratives of UKSFN19 focused around the ideas of empowering communities and place-based engagement, and also the importance of us, as those working in the field of science festivals and events, taking the time to reflect. This allows us to develop different ways of working, increase accessibility for our audiences and take care of our own wellbeing. There were so many learnings that I can’t wait to implement myself and it was so exciting to hear the discussions and ideas from everyone who attended. Thanks to everyone who joined us as either a speaker or delegate!

If you’ve made it this far and you’re still hungry for more, then you’re in luck! Check out #UKSFN19 on Twitter for more details.

And, from all of us at the UKSFN team, we hope to see you in 2020!

science festivals

The UK Science Festivals Network Conference 2017 programme goes live!

We’re excited to announce that the full programme for UKSFN17 is live. Don’t forget to book your tickets and join us in Edinburgh on the 9 November to discuss all things science festivals…


Science Festivals in the UK
We begin the day with an introduction about the UK Science Festivals Network and how it has been trying to improve and expand the science festivals landscape across the country, including our work with the Audience Agency to segment and better understand our audiences.

Reaching new audiences
Recent projects have seen funders, festivals and community groups come together to reach new audiences from economically disadvantaged areas. Join them to discuss the successes, learnings and where the sector goes from here.

Getting with the programme
Programming content isn’t easy, but someone’s got to do it and without it, the show can’t go on. Explore the role diversity, collaboration and creativity can have in ensuring the most is made out of your Festival or event.

Growing pains
You’ve run your event a couple of times, what now? In this panel we will discuss how you develop your festival or event into something that is sustainable, but still relevant for your audiences. How can partnerships and effective evaluation help?

Get involved with the Science events showcase at the UKSFN Conference
We’re giving all conference attendees the chance to get the word out about their festival programme or science event! Take the opportunity to meet delegates and get a feel for other event organiser’s processes and programmes in this fast-paced expo. Each exhibitor will have thirty minutes and a table top to get the word out about what they do and how they do it. Half an hour into the hour-long session the current exhibitors will all switch to let fresh exhibitors in to display. Remember: If it doesn’t fit on a table top, it isn’t allowed! If you’re attending the conference and are interested in showcasing your Festival or event then please get in contact with info@sciencefestivals.uk

Scanning the horizon
As we attempt to sum up the conversations over the day, we ask what’s next for festivals? What are the challenges and opportunities for the UK and what can we learn from our colleagues in the US?

See you there!


Celebrating Science in the City 2016

In 2016, we ran the second year of our Science in the City programme, supported by the Royal Society of Chemistry. This programme is all about engaging people from communities who are traditionally underrepresented in science – women, those from low socio-economic status backgrounds, and certain ethnic minority groups.

Based on a successful 2015 pilot, members of the UK Science Festivals Network ran pop-up science activities in different parts of the country. Designed to offer audiences an opportunity to engage in science on ‘their own terms’, activities were embedded in the communities they were designed to reach. Venues were food markets, shopping centres, and free community festivals, and activities were designed to tie in with aspects of the audiences’ daily lives and interests. Nothing was pre-advertised so everyone who took part in the activities had stumbled across them by chance.

So how did we do? Of around 9,500 participants, 61% had never heard of a science festival before, and a further 14% hadn’t been to one (based on audience interviews by evaluation fieldworkers). We also classified audience groups using the Audience Agency’s Spectrum and Mosaic profiling, and found that groups who are less engaged in cultural activities and less affluent were represented in our audience at a higher rate than in the UK population as a whole.

As a method of engaging with audiences who wouldn’t be attracted to an event labelled ‘science’, the Science in the City model has been very successful. UKSFN members’ expertise in their local areas and communities are vital to choosing the right venues and activities to allow this to take place. We will be applying the learnings from the project into future programme development.

You can view the evaluation report here: SITC2016 Evaluation Report