Virtual Public Engagement and Outreach
Public Engagement (dialoguing with the public in a meaningful way) and Outreach (raising aspirations of children) activities are extremely important in maximising the impact of NBIC, and for society to gain an understanding of what biofilms are and how they relate to daily life.
NBIC has a Public Engagement and Outreach Officer, and a Committee from across NBIC in place to support these activities and have conducted a wide range of activities across the UK, from biofilm dances to biofilms in a train station. The current health crisis has created a set of unprecedented challenges and we’re all faced with barriers in terms of physical activities and interactions, with many of us thinking of new and creative ways to produce and partake in virtual activities.
To help support your virtual engagement and outreach, our Public Engagement and Outreach Officer, Dr Jean-Christophe Denis, has put together some of the best online examples, from the typically inexpensive activities to those that can be more costly. Of course, these categories are quite fluid and many projects will have a combination of them.
These events are similar to a physical seminars and workshops done through a video conferencing platform. There are some technical aspects and limitations to keep in mind, but the most important aspect to consider is who your audience will be, and how you can reach them.
Online audiences can differ from physical audiences. Physical events take place in specific space, and often we go where our public physically is. People will often go to an event to be part of the experience, and to be with their friends. In contrast, with online activities, it is much more difficult to reach people who would normally not reach you. Most of your online public will already be engaged with your activities. In addition, not everybody has access to technologies enabling online engagement. It is widely believed that online engagement is likely to reinforce existing privileges. This does not mean that online engagement should not be done; but we need to be aware of this and plan accordingly.
Depending on the number of participants, online events can require very little budget, but the communication and marketing can be time consuming. They do not need to be streamed live, as most platforms offer a recording function, which will then allow you to upload your content to a video hosting platform or the audio to a podcast hosting service to be enjoyed after the event. A great example of this is the Edinburgh Science Festival, which through their website allows attendees to pick and choose from a broad menu of digital content, which includes live streams, digital workshops and online learning areas.
The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement have put together some very useful tips on creating and running virtual meetings, including information on ethics and accessibility and pros/cons on which platforms to use.
In this case, the online resource is simply a medium to encourage people to undertake specific activities in the physical world; it’s not an end in itself. An example of some good resources can be found on the National Informal STEM Education Network website, the Royal Society of Chemistry website and the Ogden Trust website.
You could also use social media combined with these resources, for instance to create competitions or challenges, or simply asking people to share their work. An example of this can be found on the University of Edinburgh School of Physics and Astronomy website.
Bespoke digital content
Looking at self-standing content specifically designed for online purposes, beyond the other categories could be games, videos, websites, apps, software, VR videos, online citizen science tools and virtual escape rooms.
Producing such content can be costly; but this could be an excellent way to use large NBIC Public Engagement and Outreach grants, for a well-defined project. Here are some great examples:
- A simulation app on cultivating cells
- A web-based game on landing a docking pod to the ISS
- A physics virtual escape room
- Games contributing or stemming from science research
- Online citizen science on AMR
- A 360 degrees video of a lab
Engagement through social media
Social media is a great way to share pictures, videos, articles and blogs to reach a wide range of people. Again, first of all you should think about your objectives and who you are trying to reach. As each social platform differs in its audience demographic. Once these goals are clear to you, you will be able to decide which social media platform(s) are best.
One big advantage of social media is that this tool is built for the public to engage with you: people can comment, vote, share etc. so it’s easy to hear their perspective and ideas. It is also relatively inexpensive; however, you will need to spend a lot of time preparing and publishing engaging content. It will also take a significant amount of time to build your audience, unless you publish though an existing well-established account.
If you have a larger budget, you could hire specialised communications agencies or consultants to prepare social media content (blogs, articles, videos, etc.) and use social media management tools to schedule and monitor performance of your content.
The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement have put together guidance on how to engage with the public through social media including tips for getting started and creating shareable content.
In all cases, the first step to online engagement is the same as for physical engagement: answering the questions: what do you want to do, why, what are you trying to achieve, and who with? If you can answer these already, or need guidance in answering these questions, our Public Engagement and Outreach Officer is on hand to support any biofilm public engagement or outreach projects.
Dr Jean-Christophe Denis, Public Engagement & Outreach Officer