Creative Outreach for Resource Efficiency - Being CLEVER
Lead organisation: Loughborough University
Creative Outreach for Resource Efficiency (CORE) supported the delivery of a vibrant and creative outreach programme. CORE helped researchers to “get out of the lab” – supporting them to engage with new audiences, to provoke public debate, and to be visual and creative.
Funded by EPSRC, CORE worked in partnership with three research projects – also funded by EPSRC – to communicate high-impact world-class science.
One of the projects that CORE worked with was the Closed Loop Emotionally Valuable E-waste Recovery (CLEVER) project. The multi-disciplinary team investigated how personal consumer electronics, such as mobile phones and tablets, could be designed so that consumers would become attached to them and so want to keep the devices for longer. The team also looked at how the valuable materials contained within these products could be easily recycled, so enhancing resource efficiency and reducing the amount of electronic waste going to landfill.
The CLEVER team decided that they wanted to reach consumers of all ages - to raise awareness of the research being conducted to address issues of resource efficiency. To do this they focused on the quantities of valuable metals that are used in the manufacture of devices (and often end up in electronic waste). The team also wanted to find out if changes to the materials that the devices are made of (the “skins”) would change the way they felt about them.
“We wanted to encourage people from all walks of life to think about the redesign of devices and the materials used, as well as the consequences of the choices they make when buying and disposing of these items,” explained Dr Janet Scott from the University of Bath and the Principal Investigator for the CLEVER project. “We wanted people to understand that research doesn’t happen in isolation and to encourage them to think about the circular economy.”
The primary audience for this activity were consumers of all ages - from families to festival goers at popular events such as Bath Taps into Science, OxiSciFest, the Green Man Festival and Glastonbury Festival.
How it started
The motivation for this project came at the very start of the research project, when the CLEVER team realised that they needed a “hook” to engage people with their work. They identified that they needed to find an activity that people would be instantly drawn to, that would create a reaction and that would be fun to take part in.
“One of the researchers on the project came up with the idea of creating a game, based on the children’s “Operation” Game.” They held a workshop to develop the idea and create a prototype.” Janet said. “The game was designed to show the components of a mobile phone in a fun way that would engage people of all ages, while providing an opportunity for researchers to enter into more in-depth discussions about the drivers for the research.”
The team decided to pursue the idea further, but also realised that they needed ways of providing additional information for the audience, which they could access later. This led the team to develop a web-based app that complemented the game.
Some of the team were experts in sustainable design, but they also brought in designers and makers of theatre props, who had the necessary experience to develop the interactive game, and a web designer to create the app. “Working with people who understood what we wanted to achieve and who had the expertise to deliver what we envisaged was important,” Janet noted.
What did you do?
The team developed a series of “hooks” that would engage their target audiences in different ways.
The game was based on the “Operation” game, but instead of a person, the “body” was a mobile phone, and the elements that had to be removed were the components of a phone.
The app was used once the audience had taken part in the game, so their understanding of the concepts could be tested, and more in-depth information could be provided. The app was also an effective method of evaluation, as it captured data about who was using it.
The team attended a variety of public events, including science fairs, national events such as Glastonbury Festival, and local summer fairs, to engage with audiences of all ages. Attendees to the events were encouraged to have a go at the game – to see how quickly they could remove the components from the phone, without setting off the buzzer.
Once they had played the game, participants were then encouraged to use the app, and take part in an online quiz, to test their understanding of what an electronic device is made up from, the value of the components and how they can be recycled.
The main methods of evaluation were the app and informal questions put to the participants and direct observation of their engagement. Amendments to the original game were made after it had been road-tested. This included adding a timer device, so that players were placed under timed conditions, a loud buzzer, so it could be heard in noisy, public spaces, and a counter, so that the number of “buzzes” could be recorded. The additions contributed to making the game more exciting for the player, and therefore more engaging. Indeed, it often quickly developed into a competition, drawing in more and more people, particularly in informal settings such as pubs and festivals.
The app was used to inform participants about the components of electronic devices, and also to capture feedback from players once they had played the game, to see what they had learned.
Key lessons learnt
Having a hook, such as the modified “Operation” game, worked well at public engagement events. Having researchers on hand to explain what the game represented and to make the links to the research being conducted was important. It was also vital to train the academics and researchers in advance so they were able to communicate effectively with all audiences.
Initially, the team tried to capture information about participants using questionnaires, but swiftly realised that there wasn’t time for people to fill these out. They found that the app was a quick and effective method, appropriate for public events where there is a high footfall, and where the time available to engage with the audience is limited.
“We had team members who were experts in engaging with the public and they recommended that we built data collection into the activity,” Janet noted. “It is also important to consider the very significant time needed to plan and deliver public engagement activities effectively, and make sure it is planned from the start of a project – this needs to be about engaging with the public, not just handing out information.”
Keys to making it work
- Think about the practicalities! The first game was bulky and heavy and not suitable to be transported by public transport. It needed the exciting elements that were added to make it more fun and engaging for the audience.
- Think about your support materials and team – without these, the key messages would have been lost, as visitors would focus on the game element rather than the key messages the team were aiming to discuss with them.
- Train your academics and researchers, so they feel equipped to engage with new audiences
- “Think about how people are going to access the messages you want them to receive, when you are not there to talk about it,” added Janet Scott. "If we did this again, we’d put even more time into this early on as it’s amazing how quickly even experienced people revert to the “easy” message, or to public entertainment, rather than public engagement. For example, our project was not about “recycling”, but about designing materials and product service systems to enable the circular economy – we had to work hard to make this distinction! Also, it’s the two-way communication that is valuable – researchers engaging in discourse - not just “handing out information”!”