Science communication in the United Kingdom

Welcome to this learning resource on UK Science Communication. We hope you find it a useful overview of activity in the UK in this exciting and expanding area of activity.

The aim is to enable people to contribute to this resource and add links to new pages describing science communication. Do add details of your latest activity - on this page, or by creating pages of your own. If you dont know how to edit Wikis, dont worry, its easy. Click on 'edit this page' above, and have a go. Take a look at this short film if you're unsure how the process works.

Who are the major players in UK science communication? edit

The biggest supporters of science communication initiatives in the UK are:

and a whole host of other scientific institutions, such as the Institute of Physics.

What academic departments are involved? edit

Departments and schools active in science communication include:

  • University of Warwick [1]

What about business and community groups? edit

A number of different activities fall into business and community groups. The first of these is called Third Stream activity, which the Higher Education funding councils encourage, which is academic involvement with public services, social enterprises, the arts and cultural institutions.

Industry has also woken up to the idea of communicating science within the context of Corporate Social Responsiblity. If you want to find out more about developing such strategies visit the Corporate Social Responsiblity Academy website, particularly its 'take action' page. Policy developments related to Corporate Social Responsiblity are available on the new Government Gateway on this topic, so we dont need to say much more about that here.

For scientists wanting to find and share information, or just get some support from like-minded colleagues in their outreach work, there is Connecting Science. This online social network is free to join and includes blogs, discussion forums and groups of interest to scientists involved in all kinds of science communication.

How is it funded? What initiatives are there? edit

The smaller professional societies also have science communication initiatives, but these are too numerous to list here. The major schemes at present are:

Wellcome Trust

Office of Science and Innovation

Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Research Councils and Research Councils UK

  • Public engagement grant schemes run by individual Research Councils
  • public engagement training for researchers. E.g. media training.

The Royal Society

The Higher Education Funding Councils

  • Widening participation activities, including support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics
  • Engagement activities supported via HEFCW's Third Mission Fund and its Reaching Wider Fund, particularly in relation to Reaching Wider Partnerships

The Royal Institution

The Royal Academy of Engineering

NESTA the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts

  • Crucible learn about the world in which your research resides

British Science Association

  • The British Science Association's CREST awards celebrating creativity in science and technology

Science communication media edit

For a list of science-related TV, radio, blogs and podcast channels, visit the Talking Science pages prepared for the British Council.

Public lectures edit

Science journalism edit

The BA Media Fellowships scheme, helps scientists find out what it is like to work as a journalist. Scientists will soon be able to learn more about the process of journalism as the BBC plans to open up its training materials to budding reporters at the end of 2007, via its online traing site, BBC Training and Development.

Two key publications are New Scientist and Research Fortnight. For other channels, visit the Talking Science pages prepared for the British Council.

Science press releases are delivered through the press service AlphaGalileo. The professional organisations are the Association of British Science Writers and STEMPRA the Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine Public Relations Association. Contact between scientists and journalists is aided by the Science Media Centre at the Royal Institution.

Events edit

Main UK Science Communication Events

  • Psci-com a mailing list for science communicators
  • Cafe Scientifiques take place all around the UK. They are places where, for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can come to explore the latest ideas in science and technology. Meetings take place in cafes, bars, restaurants and even theatres, but always outside a traditional academic context. The Cafe Scientifique movement is now global.
  • FameLab [2] be the face of science! The leading science communication competition to find the new voices of science and engineering. The global competition has already seen more than 9000 young scientists and engineers taking part in over 30 different countries, all presenting a STEM concept in just three minutes and judged by the content, clarity and charisma of their presentations.

For other events, and a list of the UK festivals, visit Talking Science at the British Council.

Science centres and museums edit

This list of science centres and museums in the UK available from Talking Science and Ecsite as a clickable map. So if you want to explore museums in a particular region, that's the resource for you.

For more on science centres and museums, including a map of interactive centres, visit the BIG (British Interactive Group) website.

Science communication consultancies edit

  • Sublime Science UK wide innovative science communication interactive stage shows and hands-on activities
  • SciConnect Offers bespoke science communication and outreach training for researchers and students. The courses are led by award-winning science communicators and journalists who also have experience as research-active scientists. SciConnect offers a range of courses, including media training, how to inspire schoolchildren about science, podcasting and using the internet as an outreach tool.
  • University of Glamorgan Scicomm experts in communication and education. Services include science fiction consultancy, devising innovative resources that support science teaching, and the public engagement programme of Science Shops Wales, based at the University. Science communication media training also available
  • Science Made Simple specialists in innovative science and engineering shows to schools and festivals, and science communication training for researchers and presenter staff
  • Engineering Explained specialist engineering communication company providing shows about engineering for primary and secondary schools across the UK
  • Graphic Science specialists in science communication and education, from devising educational resources that support the teaching of science and engineering, through to the creation of public engagement projects such as dialogue events and graphics campaigns. Also provide bespoke evaluations and specialist communication training for scientists and engineers
  • The Training Group An expert consortium, consisting of experienced trainers from Ecsite-Uk, Science Made Simple and Graphic Science, offering professional science communication and public engagement training for researchers
  • The Creative Science Consultancy headed by Steve Mesure, the Creative Science Consultancy offers a wide range of communication and teaching experience, an overview of science in society programmes and specialises in creative multidisciplinary approaches to science influenced by theatre and arts
  • Sarah's Adventures in Science Expert in developing and delivering engaging activities for pre-school, primary school and audiences with special needs. Shows and hands-on workshops. Science writing for younger children. Run by Dr Sarah Bearchell, winner of The Joshua Phillips Award for Innovation in Science Engagement (2014) or Josh Award

Installation and exhibit makers edit

  • The Creative Science Centre stimulating enthusiasm and experience of science through hands-on experiments and other 'things to make and do'.
  • Show me learning specialists in the development and delivery of interactive lectures, science shows, workshops and training for schools, museums, visitor centres and commercial companies
  • W19 Design interactive exhibit and exhibition design. Specialists in hands-on science.
  • Science Projectsthey design and construct hands-on science exhibits, operate two science centres and several travelling shows and exhibitions
  • Creatif Design for special need schools, visitor centres, museums, hospitals, nurseries, discovery centres, hands-on galleries, and parks
  • Continuum visitor experiences for people of all ages and backgrounds
  • Sublime Science experts in science shows & workshops for primary schools as well museums, groups and organisations

Science shops edit

These are small organisations that carry out research in a wide range of disciplines, usually for free, to address the challenges faced by civil society. The emphasis is on the experiences of local communities, and how science shops can help them. Other knowledge transfer mechanisms start with the academic research, and then attempt to 'apply' it in society. With science shops, it is the other way around. Science shops that are attached to universities often bring students into their activities as part of teaching and learning.

Ideas about science communication edit

Experts used to think about science communication as a simple matter of instruction [Royal Society 1985]. It was a long time before this ‘deficit model’ [Wynne 1991] of science communication was replaced by a second generation approach which favoured two-way communications (‘dialogues’) between experts to influence policy or scientific and technological practice (upstream engagement) [Demos 2004]. The mechanisms used to stimulate public participation in science and policy decision are summarised below. But whilst at first sight these two approaches appeared to be very different, they also had much in common: the topic of engagement was chosen, not by citizens themselves, but by elite science or government.

Third generation approaches to engagement take participation one step further, in that they emphasise the need for dialogue, not only to influence the practices of government and science, but also to influence actions chosen by local communities. In other words, science communication is also important for innovation in, and by, society.

Recent initiatives at the Office of Science and Innovation, the Treasury, NESTA, what was the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, firms and voluntary sector organisations all involve these third generation approaches to engagement, as they take a wide view of what innovation is about: in terms of subject areas, purposes (social, as well as economic benefits) and involving more diverse communities than simply experts in higher education or research alone.

Public engagement mechanisms edit

Citizen’s panel Lay public panel meets to discuss issues, statements or refine options

Stakeholder dialogue Open ended, ongoing discussion to identify areas of agreement or disagreement, with communities with an interest in the issue. When managed well, participants determine the agenda.

Stakeholder forum Brings together representatives of key stakeholder groups locally, regionally or nationally. Numbers are usually limited to enable discussion, which can lead to feelings of exclusion.

Stakeholder workshop As above, but task-based.

Round table Discussion forum, sometimes facilitated, used to explore scope and areas of agreement and disagreement. Vulnerable to bias by chair, particularly vocal special interest groups. Transparency problems.

Citizens polls Surveys of more or less representative samples of the population. Reflect bias of question-setter.

Deliberative mapping A method of integrating expert and citizen assessments through face-to-face and computer-enabled dialogues. The process is guided so that participants challenge each other’s perspectives and framing assumptions. The approach can be used to systematically judge how well different options perform according to particular economic, social, ethical and scientific criteria. It is used mostoften with problems that involve multiple factors and require making difficult decisions, frequently without adequate data.

Multi-criteria mapping a novel software-based technique for exploring the links between expert analysis and divergent social values and interests.

Deliberative polling A large, demographically representative group conducts a debate, cross-examining key players. The group is polled on an issue before and after the debate.

Focus group A small group of people discuss an issue guided by a trained facilitator working to a designed protocol. Researchers study the contents of the discussion are studied to investigate shared understandings, attitudes, values and factors that shape these.

Citizen’s jury 12-16 lay people cross-examine expert witnesses, to make a decision, judgement or recommendations. Although not best practice, issues are often framed by commissioning organisation, restricting potential for knowledge exchange.

Discussion groups A small number of people (8-10) engage in facilitated discussion.

Consensus conference Extended information gathering by representative panel of 16 people who request information resources, decide upon questions, cross-examine expert witnesses, and report to the press and the public (over several weekends: longer and more expensive than citizen’s juries) on the consensus.

Lay panel members Non-specialists presence on expert committees. Varying degrees of empowerment, influence and support. Lay members may have an influence the communication skills of experts.

Future search Imagining of preferred futures, and collaborative planning for how to achieve them

Delphi process A set of procedures for eliciting and refining the opinions of a group - usually a panel of experts. An extended method includes lay panel members. It has four basic features: structured questioning, iteration, controlled feedback and anonymity of responses. OSI has used Delphi questionnaires to poll thousands.

‘Planning for real’ Use of 3D models (e.g. cardboard) to represent development plans to engender discussion and comment.

Open house, exhibitions, galleries An open venue for discussion, exhibition or other activity; consultation commissioning body expected to be present to engage in discussion with ‘visitors’.

Public meeting Open meeting with specialists and chair, in formal setting. Usu. Q/A format

Recent science communication policy developments edit

Office of Science and Innovation

  • Policy guidelines on scientific advice. These aim to highlight the importance of the role of evidence in policy making, and to increase the awareness of policy makers on how best to seek good quality evidence from the most credible sources at the most appropriate time.
  • The Chief Scientist has recently published the Universal Code of Practice for Scientists which includes responsibilities for science communication.
  • Other developments can be watched through Hansard Debates from the House of Commons

Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

  • DEFRA held a Citizen's Summit on Climate change to make people aware of the link between their own everyday behaviour and climate change
  • the Research Councils have various policies for science communication. Some, like the BBSRC, provide explicit and detailed guidance for researchers about what is expected within the research handbook. Other Research Councils require researchers to seek out information on public engagement on their website.

RCUK and the Higher Education Funding Councils

  • RCUK is involved with a JISC initiative which aims to help the public access research publications. The national repository and redirection service, called 'The Depot', has the specific task of ensuring that all in the UK research community can benefit from making their published papers available under open access. The Depot is being managed at the University of Edinburgh.

The Wellcome Trust led the development of UK PubMedCentral to facilitate open access to published research.

Current activity edit

In 2006 The UK higher education funding councils and Research Councils UK, in association with the Wellcome Trust, invited proposals from higher education institutions and their partners to become collaborative 'Beacons for Public Engagement'. The funding bodies made a total of up to £8 million has been made available for this pilot initiative.

Beacons brings together the funding bodies for the first time to establish a co-ordinated approach to recognising, rewarding and building capacity for public engagement. The funding bodies see 'public engagement' as involving specialists in higher education listening to, developing their understanding of, and interacting with non-specialists. They define the term 'public' as 'individuals and groups who do not currently have a formal relationship with an HEI through teaching, research or knowledge transfer'.

Courses and skills edit

In academia:

In media and policy:

Resources schools and colleges edit

  • BIONET explore and debate the latest discoveries in life sciences
  • Upd8 Get teaching resources on the latest developments in the news - and fast! Sponsored by Planet Science and IBM
  • Planet Science resources and information for teachers, to encourage creative and fun approaches to primary and secondary science teaching

Libraries edit

  • IEE Library containing the notebooks of Michael Faraday.
  • John Rylands Library, University of Manchester including archives of material from Marie Stopes, the Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope, John Dalton and The Guardian. The Partingdon collection includes the works of Michael Faraday and Humphry Davy.
  • Royal Society Archive and Library A comprehensive collection of 18th and 19th century scientific journals, with current journals in science policy and the history of science.
  • Museum Library, London. A research library for the history and public understanding of the physical sciences and all branches of engineering.
  • Wellcome Photographic Library Covering the history of medicine and the history of human culture from the earliest periods of civilization to the present.
  • The Wellcome Library For the History of Medicine. One of the world's greatest collections of books, manuscripts, archives, films and paintings on the history of medicine. In addition it has an extensive collection on science communication and public engagement with science.

Journals edit

Key texts edit

Holliman, R., Whitelegg, E., Scanlon, E., Smidt, S. and Thomas, J. (2009). (eds.) Investigating science communication in the information age: Implications for public engagement and popular media. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Holliman, R., Thomas, J., Smidt, S., Scanlon, E., and Whitelegg, E. (2009). (eds.) Practising science communication in the information age: Theorising professional practices. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Demos (2004) See-Through Science: Why public engagement needs to move upstream, September.

Miller, S (2001) Public understanding of science at the crossroads, Public Understanding of Science, Volume 10, Number 1, page 115-120, January

Office of Science and Innovation (2006) Guiding Principles for Public Dialogue, London.

Office of Science and Innovation (then Technology) (2000), 'Science and the Public: A Review of Science Communication and Public Attitudes to Science in Britain'.

POST (2001) Open channels: public dialogue in science and technology, POST report number 153, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, March

Royal Society (2006) Factors Affecting Science Communication, London, June.

Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering (2004) ‘Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies: Opportunities and Uncertainties’, London

Royal Society (1985) The Public Understanding of Science: The Bodmer Report, London.

Wellcome Trust(2006) 'Engaging Science: Thoughts, deeds, analysis and action', London, May.