What happens when researchers come out of the laboratory and explore new frontiers in science communication? This question is explored here by considering a series of case study projects within the UK linked together with the common theme of robotics technology. We will discuss what the researchers brought to the project in terms of audience engagement and the impacts on the researchers as a result of their involvement.

Robotics technology was specifically chosen as the focus for investigation since robots are frequently perceived as exciting and intrinsically compelling, therefore as a subject area are a low barrier when communicating with public audiences. Activities can range from basic physical and engineering processes and hands-on building workshops to demonstrations using state-of-the-art components from robotics research or industry. In more recent times roboticsrelated public engagement events have also included consideration of the social and ethical questions that arise from robotics research.

In late 2006 the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded Walking with Robots, a network which provided focus and support for robotics researchers, enthusiasts and representatives from UK industry to engage public audiences with their work. A variety of flagship projects and events developed out of this network, often with very different approaches and outcomes but each, at the core, about direct contact between those at the cutting edge of robotics technology and a public audience. This paper will contrast the findings from the Walking with Robots programme and three of its associated projects: Heart Robot (a fusion of robotics and buraku puppetry to engage audiences at carnivals and street theatre); Robotic Visions (a UK wide youth engagement project); and a training programme aimed at early career researchers in robotics.

Public audiences often reacted very positively to the fact that those delivering the activities were researchers or scientists, and on many occasions would identify the involvement of a scientist or engineer as the ‘best part’ of an event or activity. Impacts on the researchers were varied. For some, taking part in a project or an event meant being part of a rewarding experience that reinforced existing positive feelings and enthusiasm about public engagement. Others met new contacts, learned new skills or became familiar with novel approaches to public engagement. Others heard ideas about robots from outside of their normal working environment, or developed a greater understanding about what audiences think and feel about robots which provoked wider discussion back at the laboratory. In some cases involvement in the science communication projects has prompted researchers to reflect on their motivations for taking part in public engagement activities more widely. In considering the wider learning from researchers’ experience in a robotics context the paper will reflect on how that might apply more generally to researchers involved in direct contact with public audiences.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

New frontiers in science communication
Researchers’ experiences of coming out of the laboratory

Claire Rocks   Science Communication Unit, University of the West of England

Karen Bultitude   Science Communication Unit, University of the West of England

What happens when researchers come out of the laboratory and explore new frontiers in science communication? This question is explored here by considering a series of case study projects within the UK linked together with the common theme of robotics technology. We will discuss what the researchers brought to the project in terms of audience engagement and the impacts on the researchers as a result of their involvement.

Robotics technology was specifically chosen as the focus for investigation since robots are frequently perceived as exciting and intrinsically compelling, therefore as a subject area are a low barrier when communicating with public audiences. Activities can range from basic physical and engineering processes and hands-on building workshops to demonstrations using state-of-the-art components from robotics research or industry. In more recent times roboticsrelated public engagement events have also included consideration of the social and ethical questions that arise from robotics research.

In late 2006 the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded Walking with Robots, a network which provided focus and support for robotics researchers, enthusiasts and representatives from UK industry to engage public audiences with their work. A variety of flagship projects and events developed out of this network, often with very different approaches and outcomes but each, at the core, about direct contact between those at the cutting edge of robotics technology and a public audience. This paper will contrast the findings from the Walking with Robots programme and three of its associated projects: Heart Robot (a fusion of robotics and buraku puppetry to engage audiences at carnivals and street theatre); Robotic Visions (a UK wide youth engagement project); and a training programme aimed at early career researchers in robotics.

Public audiences often reacted very positively to the fact that those delivering the activities were researchers or scientists, and on many occasions would identify the involvement of a scientist or engineer as the ‘best part’ of an event or activity. Impacts on the researchers were varied. For some, taking part in a project or an event meant being part of a rewarding experience that reinforced existing positive feelings and enthusiasm about public engagement. Others met new contacts, learned new skills or became familiar with novel approaches to public engagement. Others heard ideas about robots from outside of their normal working environment, or developed a greater understanding about what audiences think and feel about robots which provoked wider discussion back at the laboratory. In some cases involvement in the science communication projects has prompted researchers to reflect on their motivations for taking part in public engagement activities more widely. In considering the wider learning from researchers’ experience in a robotics context the paper will reflect on how that might apply more generally to researchers involved in direct contact with public audiences.

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

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