Brussels, 8 October 2015
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Science centres and museums: places for citizens to engage in research and innovation

Dear Sparks readers,

We are counting down the days until the opening of our exhibition ‘Beyond the Lab: the DIY Science Revolution’!
Sparks partners have worked hard to put together a beautiful and interactive exhibition as well as surrounding participatory activities to engage the public in science, research and innovation with stories and topics which resonate with people’s lives.
Beyond the Lab tells the stories of a growing number of ‘DIY scientists’ around the world who are busily hacking, experimenting and inventing. Don’t miss the chance to meet them!
At the same time Reverse Science Cafés, Science Espressos, Hackathons and other events will pop-up around Europe where the exhibition travels.

In this third issue of Sparks’ news you will explore RRI practices in science centres and museums with Helen Jones of the Science Museum Group.
Then get a glimpse into Beyond the Lab events, extending the message of RRI from the exhibition into real-life with the audience
Finally find more about Live Science, a project allowing visitors to engage with real scientific research in action.

We hope you will enjoy reading us!



Helen Jones Science Museum
In this issue we are discussing the involvement of museums in RRI practices with Helen Jones, Head of Strategy and Planning at the Science Museum Group. She is currently leading a major new project to integrate Responsible Research and Innovation practices into museums across Europe.
Which areas of science and technology do you think could particularly benefit from RRI?
No areas of science and technology should be out of bounds. That would mean taking a pre-emptive view of what people are/should be interested in and the contributions they might make and risks undermining the very basis of RRI. That said, different subjects present different challenges. We know from audience research at the Science Museum that people are intensely interested in medicine, health and wellbeing – topics that they can readily relate to their own experience and where. Therefore, topics in this area are especially suitable for testing and developing the RRI concept.

What role can museums play in communicating these issues to the public?
Science museums increasingly focus on the societal and personal impacts of innovation, not just the science and technology per se. We can take a long view – our historic collections represent intellectual, cultural and economic shifts that were seismic in their day, even if they seem inevitable from today’s perspective. And we use our huge experience and understanding of audiences and informal education to provide many diverse means of engaging with people; yes, communicating to the public, but also encouraging questioning, debate, participation etc.

How can museums be involved in changing the way science and innovation takes place?
Firstly, we can have massive reach. The Science Museum Group welcomes more than 5 million visitors every year. Online visits, touring exhibitions and outreach reach millions more. Public museums are trusted organisations, seen as authoritative, non-partisan and public-spirited. We occupy a very special territory at the nexus between the public, policy-makers and specialist scientists and researchers, and so are ideally placed to connect these segments of society. Such work already happens, within the Science Museum Group and elsewhere, but still at a relatively modest scale and in discrete projects.

What steps is the Science Museum taking to be more involved in RRI?
The challenge is to shift the paradigm of research and innovation such that citizen inputs are genuinely valid and valued. We work with several national bodies to test ways to involve the public in meaningful ways at earlier stages in science policy-making. Of course, we work with very many researchers and research organisations, and it is probably true to say that these tend to default to ‘broadcast’ mode. The opposite mode (citizen-to-scientist) is harder to achieve and, in partnership with several other major European science museums/centres and research organisations, we are starting to explore why this is and how to bridge this gap*.

* Sparks will contribute to this, as we will be collecting data from visitors during the exhibition and activities in order to understand what citizens across the EU think about RRI. This will help us to identify the best formats to encourage citizens’ participation in research and innovation processes


In July and August the Science Museum will be one of the first four hosts of Beyond the Lab, the touring exhibition of the Sparks project. Along with the exhibition, the Sparks team will be running a small series of events, plus some special activities at the Museum’s monthly adults-only Lates evening.
The events present the opportunity to extend the message of RRI from the exhibition into real-life, participatory activities. The Science Museum strives to create fun, hands-on activities as well as provide a space for stimulating debate and discussion. During the Beyond the Lab events programme, we aim to spread the messages of RRI in a way which will appeal to our visitors and meet their expectations – through engaging and innovative events.
Science Museum activity 1        Science Museum activity 2
Photo credits: Science Museum London

Beyond the Lab’s events programme will offer the chance for visitors to meet people featured in the exhibition – such as the creators of Bento Lab, who will demonstrate the latest version of their genetics lab that fits in a backpack – and other groups and individuals whose work relates to RRI, like Frank Kolkman, who has designed an innovative process that allows patients of a rare genetic disorder to become citizen scientists.

Hands-on sessions, like the chance to code your own step-counter will encourage visitors to think about how they can take control of their health through novel technologies. Debate and discussion will be sparked through Espresso talks and Q&As from those at the cutting-edge of their fields, whether professionally or as DIY scientists.

We will work collaboratively with different groups to develop these events, ensuring we curate events which speak the messages of RRI while meeting our visitors’ expectations for Science Museum events.

Next Sparks events at the Science Museum:
9th July 2016: Hackathon
10th July: Science Espressos
2pm – Diabetes hacking with Tim Omer
3pm – Hackathons: how they work, what they can do, with Imre Bard founder of Hack the Senses
4pm – Bento Lab/open access science with Bethan Wolfenden and Philipp Boeing
14th August: Science Espressos
2pm – Design and crowdsourcing cures with Frank Kolkman
3pm – Air pollution mapping for citizen scientists with Superflux
4pm – miniature DNA sequencing with Oxford Nanotechnologies



At the Science Museum we want to create engaging, innovative experiences for our visitors to interact with science. Shows with our Explainers, Science Museum Lates, lunchtime lectures and special events are all fantastic ways to cultivate relationships with science – but one on-going project allows visitors to engage with real scientific research in action.
Live Science
Photo credits: Science Museum London

This project, an example of RRI in practice, is Live Science. The Live Science project, which has been running for a number of years, welcomes biomedical scientists to carry out research on varied topics – from genetics to neuroscience, to epidemiology – on gallery with museum visitors.

Currently in residence at the Museum are researchers from University College London, running an experiment called ‘How social am I’? They are studying how people of different ages carry out social behaviours, such as helping others and playing sports.

Visitors talk to researchers and play a short game which then enable the researchers to study pro-social behaviour and social influence. They are looking into how peer pressure affects different people and whether we are more influenced by adults or teenagers.

All sorts of interesting and exciting research studies like this take place in the Museum throughout the year.

We want our visitors to experience science for themselves by participating in real research experiments, engaging with research teams to discover how their work informs our perceptions of identity. We hope that studies will generate new and valuable data and that visitors will enjoy the experience, creating a mutually beneficial project for the museum and research institutions. Residencies of Live Science have produced multiple publications in scientific journals, adding to the research output of the UK. As well as this, it has engaged with thousands of visitors, giving them insight into the processes of scientific research.

RRI aims to make scientific research more open, more inclusive and more responsive to the public’s needs. Live Science creates opportunities for this by allowing visitors and scientists to meet in a neutral, public space. Visitors can engage in discussion with practicing scientists – asking questions about how their research will affect our lives, how their data will be used, and the chance to stay in touch with the project.

As well as being a fun activity for Museum visitors, Live Science aims to contribute to RRI. By placing an active research project in the public realm, science is made more accessible, understandable and engaging to visitors – key tenets of responsible research and innovation.

This newsletter was written by the Science Museum London. The Science Museum has developed Beyond the Lab, the touring exhibition for Sparks. The Science Museum aims to make science enjoyable and accessible to all, and contributes to this goal through innovative exhibitions and events.

Coordination: KEA European Affairs, communication leader in the Sparks project.

Copyright © SparksProjectEU, All rights reserved.

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