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Do you hear what I hear?

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Who: British Library Science, Technology, Medicine, in partnership with UCL Neuroscience

What: Public facing event ‘Do you Hear What I Hear? 

Why: Aimed at a lay audience of any age designed to inform and entertain attendees in equal measure

Where: The British Library Conference Centre

When: October 11, 2010

Project description

This successful collaboration brought together over 30 researchers from a range of departments within UCL, including UCL Ear Institute, UCL Speech, Hearing and Phonetic Sciences (SH&PS), UCL Psychology and Language Sciences and the charity, Deafness Research UK, to deliver an innovative, highly interactive event exploring the physiology and experience of hearing from a variety of perspectives. The evening event, held at the British Library (BL) conference centre was aimed at a lay audience of any age and was designed to inform and entertain the attendees in equal measure.

Tobin May (Deafness Research UK’s Bionic Ear Show presenter) used a giant ear and brain to explain how the ear works

The audience were given an overview on the basics of hearing through a lively introductory session in the auditorium. They were then encouraged to take part in the many interactive demonstrations throughout the conference centre space which also provided them the opportunity to approach researchers at a variety of levels, from PhD students to Professors. Affording members of the public the occasion to interact with a range of working researchers was one of the primary aims and benefited the audience and participants alike. A large number of the researchers involved had relatively little experience in the area of public engagement. One of the major benefits of the event was therefore the opportunity for researchers to gain public engagement experience and skills that had not previously been developed, while supported by a strong network of peers working collaboratively to deliver the event.

The Harmonettes vocal harmony trio were joined by an impromptu human beat-boxer from the audience!


  • Raise external profile of UCL Neuroscience research by giving UCL neuroscientists the chance to engage with new audience in venue off campus
  • Raise the profile of science at the British Library with diverse audiences by ensuring that science is represented in the Library’s public programmes.
  • Use this event as a “pilot” to build a partnership between the British Library and UCL Neuroscience. Evidence from this ‘pilot’ will be used in future collaborative funding applications

Results and outcomes

What worked well

A strong collaborative relationship has been built between the partners involved in delivering the event. All involved are interested in exploring possibilities for future ventures. Clear Strengths of the event included:

  • An effective pre-event marketing strategy ensured the event was fully booked
  • A highly engaged lead scientist (Ifat Yasin) involved from the outset helped to shape the content to ensure the science was presented as a captivating story
  • Involvement of a strong multi-disciplinary and multi-media line-up of researchers and performers made for an interesting mix of perspectives and approaches
  • Evidence of a high demand for science on the public programme as demonstrated by ticket sales, queues for returns and event feedback
  • Attendees found the event informative, interesting and enjoyable and were enthusiastic about engaging 1:1 with researchers and interactive demonstrations enabled them to engage with contemporary research in hearing
  • Organisers and researchers increased understanding on how best to engage lay audiences with science and developed skills to deliver public engagement activities
  • Built confidence of researchers in delivering public engagement – one group have now applied to be involved in the Royal Society summer exhibition
  • Opportunities to network - relationships were developed with individual researchers  and organisations involved in the event
  • Post event coverage on partner websites and through social media channels, provides further exposure to new audiences

What didn't work well

  • Researchers were not always great at meeting deadlines (especially since many were travelling in the summer months prior to this event), so some things didn’t get done until the last minute (AV requests, poster printing)
  • With 3 main organisers, Karen Walshe (British Library), Dr Yasin (UCL Ear Institute) and Alison Brinble (UCL Neuroscience), it wasn’t always clear to the researchers who they should go to with questions. Had we introduced ourselves to the researchers earlier in the process this could have helped us share the organisational load
  • Drop in zones were slightly overcrowded. With hindsight, we know now to display the  most popular interactives in the larger foyer/bar space

Resources required

The event was delivered on a very tight budget and therefore relied on the contribution ‘in kind’ from partners involved, which  included:

  • British Library conference venue hire, staff, and AV support
  • Researchers/Musicians time at the event
  • 3 main organisers time before event
  • Print, catering, travel costs

Top Tips

  1. Involve an engaged scientist from the outset. Dr Yasin’s involvement proved pivotal both in encouraging other researchers to take part in the event, and also in shaping the scientific content for the event, so that a seamless ‘story’ was  told
  2. Meet all stakeholders early in the process, and clearly outline responsibilities, timelines and deliverables
  3. Failure to obtain funding for an event or activity doesn’t necessarily mean it is not worth doing

Top Quotes

"Very interesting, informative and interactive - everything you need!" Attendee

"Very interesting; covered all the basics as well as some new things. Please do more!" Attendee

"A fun evening, a chance to chat informally about my work, and a chance to meet researchers from other departments within UCL. I received several very positive comments about how much they enjoyed the evening." Researcher


Name: Alison Brindle, Karen Walshe

Name of organisation: Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience


Telephone: 020 3108 5012

Images: Johanna Kieniewicz, The British Library