Cities and Science Communication Themes

Over the 22 months that the CASC project will run, a number of thematic areas will be covered. The ultimate aim of the project is to facilitate networking between partners to provide learning opportunities through the sharing of best practice. The results and progress of the project will be as transparent as possible with workshops open to invited interested parties beyond the CASC group itself (see the ‘events’ section of the website for more detail), and information shared electronically. CASC will also seek to involve ‘the public’ in developing new ideas and innovative ways of working; they will also be able to contribute to discussions through the online blog and wiki available through this site. The findings from the project will enable the CASC team to make some policy recommendations on the theme of science and society to the European Commission. There are five broad themes (entitled ‘workpackages’ by the Commission) to the project in total.

Current initiatives in science in society

The project will provide an opportunity to understand the context for what is already taking place already in terms of science and society initiatives in the partner cities. In particular to:

  • Understand the science infrastructure in other partner cities, e.g. what exists in terms of science museums and science centres.
  • Identify what methods of public engagement are being used already, e.g. outreach activities, innovative methods for engagement, how dialogue is used to improve scientific activities.
  • Create a means of ‘measuring’ success of the different engagement activities.
  • Understand how science in society initiatives work alongside the ‘triple helix’ of public, private and research sectors.
  • Explore what local scientific culture means in each of the partner cities, e.g. social, cultural, economic and historical context to science in practice, and scientific institutions, in the partner cities.
  • Identify barriers to public engagement in science.

Investigating tools for building a scientific culture

There are numerous tools that might be adopted for public engagement in science depending on the level of involvement required. Identifying which tools should be used in which context (i.e. which are ‘fit for purpose’) is an important step towards developing new approaches. Developing cost-intensive resources is pointless if they are unlikely to deliver the required outcomes. A key aim of this thematic area will be to identify and analyse the tools/methods that have been used to best effect in engaging ‘the public’ in science, from the simple (e.g. information provision) through to the more complex (e.g. using new media to build a virtual science centre). In addition to the tools, it will also be important to understand the best outlets for the varying types of information, e.g. science museums, science centres or the internet and cyberspace.

Particular questions that this strand of work will seek to answer are:

  • Understanding how particular tools are chosen for a given purpose; how do we decide what is effective in terms of boosting engagement in science amongst ‘the public’?
  • Understanding how science heritage, and local science cultures, can be used in order to develop effective tools for engagement.
  • Which tools have proven to be the most effective? How has their effectiveness been ‘measured’/assessed?
  • Are tools transferable between different countries?
  • How do the different organisations within a city come together to provide the tools both in terms of expertise and providing an outlet)?
  • How are tools marketed? How do ‘the public’ know what is out there and available?
  • How do people interact with the different tools? Is there possibility to feedback to enable revision/ changes?
  • Are long-term, more resource-intensive, initiatives reflexive, i.e. can they be changed and updated easily?
  • What is the role for new media to be able to develop European-wide science in society initiatives?
  • How do we include ‘the public’ in foresight activities and providing insight into how they would like to receive scientific information in the future?
  • How do we identify what the priorities are for spending public money?
  • How might the tools be used to reduce the democratic deficit in science information, research and policy-making?

Targeting hard-to-reach groups

There is now widespread recognition that there is not just one public but multiple publics. This thematic area seeks to understand the different ‘publics’ and why certain actions/tools are more effective than others in reaching specific target groups. It will examine these issues in greater depth by taking particular groups of people which have been identified as ‘target groups’ in terms of science and society initiatives: young people, ethnic minority groups and women. The first two are particularly relevant in the urban context of this project as the European urban population is increasingly ethnically diverse and is getting younger (for example, Birmingham is now the youngest major European city). These characteristics ensure that cities are an ideal location to test socially constructed scientific initiatives.

More specific research questions for this theme to address will be:

  • To explore any ‘targeted initiatives’ that have been used by partners so far. What worked and what didn't?
  • Is it necessary to target science in the first place?
  • What are the best ways to establish what people want? For example, how do we know what young people want in terms of science?
  • Understand the knock-on impacts of targeting science at young people; do they take scientific understanding 'home' to older members of the family?
  • What is the best way of bringing interested groups together around an issue? For example, in targeting particular hard to reach/engage ethnic minority groups, how do we bring together ‘the public’, relevant public and private institutions, the research sector and science delivery (e.g. science centres).
  • Does targeting science result in an increased uptake in schools and an improved skills base?
  • How can science in society initiatives be allied with lifelong learning?
  • What are the knock-on effects in terms of improved quality of life and boosting the knowledge economy of having an inclusive approach?

Changing behaviours: creating a better quality of life for the future

Improving scientific awareness and take up amongst the urban population as a whole requires a need to engage all elements of the quadruple helix in an holistic way. Changing behaviours has to be concerned with increasing the interest in, and thus the take up of, science-related training and employment opportunities, but it also must involve convincing a population of the relevance of science to their daily lives now and in the future. The more people are engaged in discussions around science, and related ‘hot topics’ such as climate change, ‘green technologies’, MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) immunisation, GM food or stem cell research, the more they are able to contribute to debate and make choices that have an impact beyond improving their own life chances.

Equally, having a ‘switched on’ and scientifically connected business sector is important in creating a buzz around science and technology in the urban environment. Knowledge workers in the private sector have an important role to play in ‘demystifying’ science for members of ‘the public’. For example, the presence of innovative small businesses in the creative industries sector, which use science and technology as a matter of course, are an attractive incentive for young people to pursue scientific careers. This work strand will explore how improving public engagement in science activities has the potential to change the way different publics act in their daily lives over the short, medium and long-term. In order to do this, this thematic area will be divided into two:

  1. A thematic focus on ‘environmental challenges’.
  2. This will carry through the thematic focus of environmental challenges but will take it into a sectoral focus on businesses (including SMEs) and their potential to influence behaviours. It will also look at SME involvement in public engagement and particularly at barriers to SME involvement.

This area of work will involve learning best practice from other cities, both exploring how science centres and science museums, for example, can assist people in making intelligent choices based on scientific information and how SMEs can engage most effectively with society to help break down barriers to people’s understanding of science and technology in their lives.

Specific aims are:

  • To find the best ‘outlet’ for this kind of activity; for example is it a science centre or museum; providing more accessible information on the internet?
  • To ascertain what are the best tools of engagement; information provision; involvement in debate.
  • To determine how large numbers of people can best be reached? And how can this information be targeted?
  • To identify what is working well in cities with exemplar environmental records.
  • To assess how can successful schemes be ‘rolled out’ to other cities across Europe in order to help meet Lisbon and Gothenburg goals?
  • To identify how and where businesses are engaging with local communities, young people or other target groups.
  • To understand what are the main barriers to private sector engagement with the public.
  • To find out what initiatives exist to encourage and support business engagement with the public.
  • To understand what are the best tools for this kind of activity.
  • To assess how successful initiatives might be adopted in other cities.

Policy recommendations

The project will culminate with a review of the findings and a strategic look at what might be taken forward in future funding rounds in order to deliver on priorities identified during the course of the project. Based on discussions and learning throughout the course of the project, the final aim will be to provide intelligence to policymakers, local authorities, universities, science centres and museums, for example, in order to develop multi-level policy initiatives on a local, regional, national and European basis.

  • The complex European governance arrangements mean that recommendations will be multi-level, focusing on cities, regions, member states and European-wide initiatives.
  • The recommendations will also be mindful of the range of institutions involved in science in society initiatives, for example, universities, public bodies and authorities, regional organisations, business and community groups.
  • The recommendations will be provided for short, medium and long-term. These will be for 0-5 years, 5-20 years and 20+ years respectively.

The policy recommendations will synthesise the ideas and discussions that come out from the workshops as they might relate to policy around science in society. More specifically, they will cover:

  • Governance of science – with particular reference to the types of structure which may facilitate greater transparency and inclusiveness in decision-making and involvement of the ‘public’ in the foresighting of science.
  • The range of actors and their roles and responsibilities in fostering greater public engagement in and greater awareness of science in society.
  • Examples of good practice capable of replication transnationally and recommendations for future innovative activities and projects.
  • An assessment of the likely impact of the outcomes of CASC.