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Future animals: Friend or Food?

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Overview

Who: ‘Future animals’ - an integrated arts and science project, brought together teenagers, Cardiff University staff and students, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, and an artist

What: To explore how human manipulation of past animals produced animals of the present day, and to design animals for our future.

Why: To explore new ways of engaging with young people

Where: Wales

When: From August 2009 to August 2010

Project description

‘Future animals’, a Beacons for Public Engagement-funded project involved a partnership between Amgueddfa-Cymru – National Museum Wales, the Department of Archaeology & the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University, the artist Paul Evans and Techniquest science centre.

The project worked with 30 young people, aged between 14 and 18, from 3 different schools and colleges, together with 10 postgraduate students at Cardiff University. It ran from August 2009 to August 2010.

The main aim of the project was to explore new ways of engaging with young people. This was done by bringing together scientific facts and drawing and creative thinking to generate an innovative means of inspiring young people, whilst raising confidence in university students and staff to pursue public engagement.

The main theme was animals in the past, present and future. Starting with Darwin’s chapter on variation under domestication in his book ‘On the Origin of Species’, students were introduced to the ideas and principles behind domestication and selective breeding by Dr. Jacqui Mulville.  They then looked at how the genetics behind all this worked, and explored genetic engineering and bionics with Prof. Mike Bruford.

Using all these ideas, artist Paul Evans helped the students to create sketches which reflected what animals might look like in future, based on need for food, increased farming and the potential for portable pets.

The post graduate students involved in the project were trained in participatory techniques and then became the ‘enablers’ for the museum workshops with the young people.

An exhibition was created of the students work at National Museum Cardiff, and all participants were invited. This exhibition was then shown at the National Eisteddfod (the major cultural festival in Wales) and a video made about the project was made available on Youtube.

A wide variety of evaluation techniques were used including graffiti walls, bulls-eye targets, video capture, questionnaires and observations. The postgraduate students helped with some of these exercises.

  • Individual elements of the project:
  • Pre-visit sessions with GCSE students from 2 schools and vocational students from 1 college.
  • Work with students to design logo for project
  • Development and delivery of website and blog dedicated to project  
  • Three workshops taking place at National Museum Cardiff, including a visit to the Darwin exhibition
  • Video created of 3 day workshops 
  • Exhibition of students work at National Museum Cardiff
  • Launch event
  • Exhibition of work at the National Eisteddfod

Purpose

  • To increase the engagement skills of University students and staff
  • To provide young people with access to new skills and expertise and to explore new ways of engaging with young people
  • To create more effective partnership working between Cardiff University, National Museum Cardiff, Techniquest and the artist; and also between the Science and Humanities Schools within the University
  • To create an exhibition of the project’s work

Results and outcomes

What worked well

  • Workshops with young people - they were extremely enthusiastic and wanted to get involved. Having access to a range of specialists: artist, archaeologist and geneticist, was also something the young people all found extremely useful and for them indicated that their thoughts and ideas counted.
  • Participatory techniques session with postgraduate students and staff - all felt more confident in engaging young people with their work afterwards.
  • The student-designed logo - the students commented that it gave them a sense of ownership and made them feel the project was theirs.
  • The website, video and photography helped to record, present and provide broader access to the project.
  • Visitors responded well to the exhibition, with over 1500 visitor drawings contributing to the display throughout the 2 month run.

What didn't work well

It was difficult to get the young people to engage further with the website. We had originally wanted them to use the blog and to add to it throughout the project. Perhaps if we had had the blog available during the sessions it would have increased the use.

We needed to have more defined roles for the postgraduates during the workshop sessions as they sometimes felt under-used. Perhaps defining their roles from the outset and also including them in more pre-workshop planning would have helped this further.

Resources required

  • Handling skulls
  • Paper, pencils
  • Access to experts and an artist!
  • Web designers, filmmaker and photographer

Legacy

The legacy of the project was an increase in skills amongst those involved. The post graduate students and university staff increased their skills in public engagement and communication, and the students have since run their own engagement training day. The young people showed an increase in their skills and knowledge of art and science, developing thinking skills and presenting scientific information in a popular way.  The Museum staff and artist learned and strengthened skills in communicating with young people (14-19) and university students, and learned skills in encouraging ownership of a project.

Top Tips

  1. Communication - Discussion between partners is essential. Make sure you have enough time at the beginning for detailed planning, and don’t be afraid to change things if they aren’t working.
  2. Identity - Having a logo for the project, which the participants design, ensures that they buy-in to the project.
  3. Value - Exhibiting the participants’ work in the Museum and on-line, ensured participants felt proud about what they had achieved.
  4. Experiences – Be prepared to use a wide range of examples and experiences to bring ideas to life.  Different groups require different stimulation.

Top Quotes

"I really enjoyed the Future Animals project as it provided a fun opportunity to engage with young people about evolution, bionics and genetic engineering. It was fascinating to see some of the imaginative artwork that was produced, and to join in with the drawing too!" Post Graduate enabler

“I enjoyed the handling session with the skulls and learning how selective breeding has changed some animals to such an extent” Student

“Found the post-graduate from the university very helpful and very easy to get along with” Student

“To hear everyone engaging so actively in debates on evolution, selective breeding and bionics was a very rewarding experience.” Post Graduate enabler

“Enjoyed the final debate on genetic engineering as we were all able to give our opinions” Student

“Future animals is fantastic! A fun, imaginative way to get across complex ideas! Great to see Cardiff university and Museum working so well with schools!” Visitor

Contact

Name: Ciara Charnley

Name of organisation: National Museum Wales

Email: ciara.charnley@museumwales.ac.uk

Telephone: 02920 573123

Name: Dr Jacqui Mulville

Name of organisation: School of Archaeology, Cardiff University

Email: MulvilleJA@cardiff.ac.uk

Name: Paul Evans

Role: Freelance Artist

Email: pkevans1@sky.com