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Public Engagement

These case studies include engaging the public with research as a pathway to impact. In addition to communicating research findings to the public, researchers should also consider two-way engagement - interaction and dialogue with the public to inform their research and the potential of citizen science or public involvement methods where members of the public are active participants in the research process.

Professor Nick Tyler: from University College London researches how people interact with the environment which has led him to set up the Pedestrian Accessibility and Movement Environment Laboratory (PAMELA). To maximise the impact of his research he has engaged with users and the public which has led to a collaboration with Thameslink2000 train link in London which has had national impact for train design in the UK.

Professor Frank Sengpiel: from Cardiff University is inspired to tell people about neuroscience and as the lead for public engagement at Cardiff University’s new Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute (NMHRI) organises events such as public lectures. He hopes that explaining his research clearly will help the general public, and other potential users such as the research and clinical communities understand the relevance of his work.

Professor Robert Logie: is group leader at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE). He has worked with the BBC on a cross-media science season to explore the fascinating world of memory, on radio, television and the web including an on-line memory test which has been completed by more than half a million people. Professor Logie believes that interaction with the public is vital as it helps to identify ways in which basic research can be applied to society.

Professor Rhodri Williams: from the University of Swansea changed the direction of his research from the rheology of industrial engineering fluids to rheology of blood coagulation through a chance meeting. As a result, Swansea is now seen as a world-leading centre in this field and him and his colleagues have two spin-out two companies, and are having a clinical impact in local hospitals. He now regularly engages with a wide variety of users including the general public, as the feedback he receives from them has been invaluable to his research.

Professor Dek Woolfson: Professor Dek Woolfson from the University of Bristol advises against writing the pathways to impact at the end of the grant proposal. He suggests populating it with headings and sub headings for each area where there is a potential impact. Professor Woolfson’s impact activities are very much focussed on building the research capacity of the next generation, helping to lay the foundations for better engineering of biology and engagement with the public. He believes that public engagement encourages an understanding of his science from different perspectives, which in turn has a positive impact on his own research.

Professor Nicky Gregson: Professor Nicky Gregson at Durham University never anticipated that research into waste and global recycling could produce such creative and innovative pathways to impact which has led to the making of two films, a photography exhibition and a school play. Professor Gregson was keen to explore a variety of pathways to impact and together with her team, the Geographical Association, as well as a ship breaking project team began working with a Sheffield school and took a group of children to ship breaking in progress. Unintentionally the children became part of a parallel research project based on the poignant and revealing interviews conducted by the school children with the veterans of the ship that was being salvaged.

Dr Paul Roche: Dr Paul Roche is Head of Astronomy and Director of Faulkes Telescope at the University of Glamorgan. Dr Roche has spent his career enthusing teachers, schoolchildren and members of the public about space and has worked closely with teachers, providing them with tools to bring into the classroom. Dr Roche admits that combining research with outreach projects is a challenge and that it helps to have supportive supervisors but feels that there is now a much wider recognition of the benefits of science communication.

Professor Susheila Nasta: Professor Susheila Nasta at the Open University aimed to stimulate debate on heritage and deepen cross-cultural national and international understanding between Britain and India and has endeavoured to find ways to reach as wide an audience as possible. Professor Nasta’s team were awarded an additional one-year grant to take an exhibition of the project’s findings to India, which was seen by the Foreign Office and described as “essential knowledge for every British diplomat coming to India.”

Dr Tomoya Obokata: Dr Tomoya Obokata from Queen’s University Belfast project explores how the law enforcement agencies in the North and South of Ireland respond and collaborate on trans-border organised crime. Dr Obokata’s aim is to build co-operative long term relationships with different trans-border law enforcement agencies and has set up an advisory board comprising policy makers, practitioners and civil society groups whose networks will increase the likelihood of the research findings reaching the people that can use it.

Professor John Wolffe and Professor Arthur Burns: Professor John Wolffe and Professor Arthur Burns pondered how to make historical research relevant to today’s society. In partnership with the Anglican Diocese of London and Lambeth Palace Library, they have developed an on-line resource to help parish clergy and lay people research their own church history. Professor Wolffe stresses the importance of taking a flexible approach to pathways to impact and has been gratified that as a result of his research, he has received further funding to extend his engagement activities to other places of worship in London.

Professor Julian Dow: Professor Julian Dow from the University of Glasgow thought he knew what impact meant until he had the opportunity to judge the BBSRC’s Excellence with Impact competition. Professor Dow realised that impact can mean different things to different people and that there are many ways to generate impact. Professor Dow’s research is in functional genomics, particularly using fruit flies and can be very photogenic, so he together with colleagues hit upon a novel and high tech way to engage with the public by using posters and QR codes linking to podcasts explaining their research.

Professor Ian Julian Bateman: Professor Ian Bateman is from The Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE) based at the University of East Anglia. He is currently leading on an award winning project to develop a computational model for a decision making process called the Eco-Systems Service Approach which considers the direct and indirect impacts of land use change. Professor Bateman has developed and nurtured links with Government departments and highlights the importance of getting research out to the policy world in ways that are easily accessible.

Dr Stephen Cavers: Dr Steven Cavers at the NERC centre for Ecology and Hydrology led a project studying the process of evolution in pine trees native to the UK, which aims to help commercial growers produce stronger, more resilient varieties of pine trees. Dr Cavers has established contacts with Forest Research, the Forestry Commission’s research arm, which communicates with a wide national network of tree planters to understand what research stakeholders consider important; he has also implemented a skills development plan to improve the communication skills of the project researchers and to proactively create opportunities to interact with end users.

Dr Miguel-Aliaga: Dr Irene Miguel-Aliaga from the Zoology department at the University of Cambridge has found that working with multiple age groups is a major challenge, but that it has unexpected benefits and appears to hone and focus the communication skills of the presenters. Dr Miguel-Aliaga and her colleagues designed a set of simple, hands-on teaching modules to highlight state of the art research in fruit fly genetics, physiology, and behaviour. After listening to a five-minute introductory talk, they visited the teaching stations, then they were asked to fill in a questionnaire designed to evaluate the technical and conceptual aspects of the exercise and 86 percent did so.

Professor William Gaver: Professor Gaver leads a multi-disciplinary design studio that brings together designers and specialists in technology, sociology, and human-computer interaction (HCI). This eclectic mix means that over the years Professor Gaver has held grants from EPSRC, ESRC, and AHRC and has worked on cross-Council programmes such as New Dynamics of Ageing and the Energy Programme.

Dr Jon Copley: Dr Jon Copley, a researcher in marine ecology at the National Oceanographic Centre (NOC) at the University of Southampton and his team have two clear objectives for its public engagement activity; Inspiring and informing people all around the world of new discoveries in the deep ocean and involving them in the research process.

Dr John Elliott: Dr John Elliott’s research at the University of Oxford focuses on the forensic study of earthquakes. The users of his research are NGOs dealing with the humanitarian cost of earthquakes and emergency services and planning agencies in Governments. His research has the potential to save many lives so he believes that it is important to find routes for communication beyond journal articles. Dr Elliott found the prospect nerve-racking but recently took advantage of the media training offered free to NERC-funded researchers.

Dr Michael Pocock and Dr Darren Evans: Dr Pocock, and his colleague Dr Darren Evans are responsible for a highly successful citizen science project, the Conker Tree Science Project, supported by the NERC. The project involves thousands of people around the country; has spawned its own smartphone app (the LeafWatch app), which reached number 1 on iTunes education downloads; and has generated masses of national and regional TV and radio coverage.

Professor Martin Siegert: Professor Martin Siegert, Science Programme Director at the Sub-glacial Lake Ellsworth Consortium explains that economic exploitation of the Antarctic is forbidden under the international Antarctic Treaty, yet the project has created unexpected opportunities for potential economic impact. The team have had to find new design and technological solutions to manufacture large drilling equipment which can be packed into shipping containers for safe transportation to the Antarctic. They have also had to solve the complex engineering problem of how to capture the lakebed sediment and water sample and get it back to the surface without contamination to the sample or the lake itself.

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock: Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock a senior space scientist at UCL has become a well-known broadcast commentator for space-related news making documentaries on space science for several channels. “My science communication does have an impact on the work I do, especially if I have to drop everything for a TV interview; but the benefits are multiple,” she says. “Having someone with a media profile can be good for the company image. But there are also the transferable skills: the ability to take fairly complex ideas and break them down into something straightforward and communicate it to different levels of understanding is invaluable”.

Dr Paula Chadwick: Dr Paula Chadwick, a gamma ray astronomer at Durham University understands that people are interested in black holes and mysterious cosmic particles. Along with other particle astrophysicists around the UK, she is involved with a national project called CORUS, which aims to place cosmic ray detectors in schools.

Professor Mark Hodson: “I view what I do as story telling more than anything else,” Professor Hodson from the University of Reading points out. “So I go along and tell environmental stories such as how earthworms evolved to cope with contaminated metals or how we can remediate contaminated soil. I tell stories that I think will grip people’s imagination.”

Professor Colin Pulham: Professor Colin Pulham from the University of Edinburgh finds that understanding his audience, of whatever age and finding innovative ways to bring science alive is key to his approach. Professor Pulham played a major role in a series of EPSRC-funded Chemical Connection projects, which took demonstrations and hands-on activities to schools, community groups and other organisations throughout Scotland and northern England. Feedback from participants at these workshops highlighted the huge popularity of enabling participants of all ages perform experiments and make discoveries for themselves.

Professor Stephen Curry: Professor Stephen Curry from Imperial College London knows that anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of a ‘winter vomiting bug’ infection, will be very aware of the debilitating effects of the human norovirus, one of the main types of calicivirus. Better understanding could, he believes, lead to the development of new antiviral therapies against noroviruses. Finding ways to bring this and related research to a wider audience has prompted Professor Curry to enter ‘I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out of Here’, an online competition aimed at getting children excited by science.

Professor Martin Gallagher: Professor Martin Gallagher, from the Centre for Atmospheric Science (CAS) at the University of Manchester explained that on a small project it can be difficult to define who the beneficiaries will be. Having to come up with a Pathways to Impact has certainly made him think about impact activities that he would previously perhaps not have considered.”

Professor Andy Parker: Find your unique selling point, that fascinating reason why you do your research, and find ways of conveying that enthusiasm to others. “Yes, spin-off companies are going to have an economic impact on society, but this pales into insignificance when compared with the economic impact that is generated by inspiring people to become scientists.”

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