PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Reawakening, relevance and research
Longer term impacts of engagement with a social science festival in the UK

Clare Wilkinson   Senior Lecturer in Science Communication, Science Communication Unit, UWE, Bristol

Melanie Knetsch   Deputy Head of Communications, Economic and Social Research Council, UK

The Festival of Social Science is a UK wide annual competition which sponsors both Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded researchers as well as any other UK based social science researchers to hold a non-academic focussed, free events during the week. The number of Festival events has grown steadily, with approximately 80 events held in 2006 to over 135 events held across the UK in 2011. Each year the Festival of Social Science is evaluated and these evaluations have catalogued a wealth of information. This includes details in terms of the specific events, the publicity and media coverage they received, as well as their impact on attendees and organisers, in addition to how effectively wider Festival of Social Science objectives are being met. However, the focus of these evaluations on outcomes in close proximity to the events themselves means it is often difficult to consider effects and consequences of engagement which may appear following a period of time and reflection.
Reporting on evaluation research commissioned in 2011, this paper will examine the longer term impacts apparent for those engaged with such festivals. The evaluation examined longer term impacts over three years both from the perspective of those organising festival events (e.g. development of new partnerships, new research questions, co-funding arrangements, etc), as well as obtaining views from those who have attended an event to see if the event has led to any developments or longer-term outcomes. Discussing questionnaire results and findings from semistructured interviews, the paper reports on the impacts such festival events can have at an individual, institutional and disciplinary level from the perspectives of both participants and organisers. Additionally, the paper will consider the difficulties of measuring the impact of engagement activities, an increasingly pressing consideration for academics, researchers and practitioners, as well as the distinctive experiences of engagement which were noted when the subject matter is social science specifically, rather than the wider issues of science and technology.

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