The ‘science fair’ and ‘spectacular science’ approaches largely prevail in public science communication events. As key players in communicating research to the public, scientists often take part in these events, as one-off speakers or ‘entertainers’ for hands-on experiments. This paper presents the outcomes and findings of two projects that move away from the ‘science fair’ model of science communication into more reflective approaches, for participating scientists and the public. SettingTheStage (2009 and 2010) used the medium of theatre to engage scientists and the public in the reality of being a scientist. Both projects were organised for Researchers’ Night, an annual Europe-wide initiative, funded by the European Commission.

Fourteen theatre performances were developed and produced for the SettingTheStage projects. A total of 108 scientists, from different research areas and at different stages in their careers, committed several months to the performances, taking on roles of authors, stage directors and actors. Rather than showcasing science, the performances were designed to stimulate reflection, discussion and debate on topics related to scientists and the impact of their research in society.
A questionnaire-based survey of the scientist-actors (44% response rate) revealed that interest in theatre, the prospect of having fun and a new experience were the main motivation for taking part. The majority of scientists had some prior experience of science communication. Taking part elicited encouragement and praise from colleagues and peers. Scientists and the public shared views that theatre increases understanding of scientists’ work, raises awareness of the societal impact of science and contributes to breaking down stereotypes of scientists. Rewards on personal and professional levels were reported, as well as in improving and exploring new forms of interaction with the public. The vast majority of scientists remain in research, underscoring that only 2% of respondents reported interest in an alternative career as a motivation factor.

Several of the performances have been repeated since Researchers’ Night, at the request of theatres, community groups, science centres and research institutes. Some projects have gained a life of their own, with new scientists taking part. Indeed, a main aim of SettingTheStage was to produce tools and material that would outlive Researchers’ Night, being incorporated into wider science communication programmes.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Going beyond the ‘science fair’ approach
Engaging scientists in reflective, long-term science communication

Ana Godinho   Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciéncia

Marta Agostinho   Instituto de Medicina Molecular, Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de Lisboa

Paulo Mota   Museu da Ciéncia, Universidade de Coimbra, Portugal & CIBIO

Sónia Pereira   Universidade do Porto, Universidade do Porto Inovação

Filipe Pires   Centro de Astrofísica, Universidade do Porto

Ana Sanchez – Instituto de Tecnologia Química e Biológica, Universidade Nova de Lisboa (ITQB-UNL)

The ‘science fair’ and ‘spectacular science’ approaches largely prevail in public science communication events. As key players in communicating research to the public, scientists often take part in these events, as one-off speakers or ‘entertainers’ for hands-on experiments. This paper presents the outcomes and findings of two projects that move away from the ‘science fair’ model of science communication into more reflective approaches, for participating scientists and the public. SettingTheStage (2009 and 2010) used the medium of theatre to engage scientists and the public in the reality of being a scientist. Both projects were organised for Researchers’ Night, an annual Europe-wide initiative, funded by the European Commission.

Fourteen theatre performances were developed and produced for the SettingTheStage projects. A total of 108 scientists, from different research areas and at different stages in their careers, committed several months to the performances, taking on roles of authors, stage directors and actors. Rather than showcasing science, the performances were designed to stimulate reflection, discussion and debate on topics related to scientists and the impact of their research in society.
A questionnaire-based survey of the scientist-actors (44% response rate) revealed that interest in theatre, the prospect of having fun and a new experience were the main motivation for taking part. The majority of scientists had some prior experience of science communication. Taking part elicited encouragement and praise from colleagues and peers. Scientists and the public shared views that theatre increases understanding of scientists’ work, raises awareness of the societal impact of science and contributes to breaking down stereotypes of scientists. Rewards on personal and professional levels were reported, as well as in improving and exploring new forms of interaction with the public. The vast majority of scientists remain in research, underscoring that only 2% of respondents reported interest in an alternative career as a motivation factor.

Several of the performances have been repeated since Researchers’ Night, at the request of theatres, community groups, science centres and research institutes. Some projects have gained a life of their own, with new scientists taking part. Indeed, a main aim of SettingTheStage was to produce tools and material that would outlive Researchers’ Night, being incorporated into wider science communication programmes.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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