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Institute of Food Research Outreach and Public Engagement Workshop

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This workshop was a half day event designed to enthuse and inspire staff and students at the Institute of Food Research (IFR) to take part in more outreach and public engagement (PE) activities. The event opened with four short talks which were given by staff and students who have been actively involved in recent outreach event. These talks were followed by a breakout and networking session before our keynote speaker, Dr Nicola Stanley-Wall. Dr Stanley-Wall spoke about how she was able to combine her research and outreach effectively, allowing her to win several national awards for both. During the networking sessions delegates had the opportunity to discuss outreach/PE opportunities, funding, and resources with staff from the IFR and UEA outreach teams, STEMnet, Norfolks Teacher-Scientist network, SAW trust, Institute of Physics, Society of General Microbiology and the BBSRC outreach team.

Networking sessionNetworking session

Who: This project was co-ordinated by Helen Brown (a NCCPE ambassador) and the IFRs public engagement team. IFR research/ admin staff, and postgraduate were all invited to attend the event. In the week before the event the invitation was widened to all staff and students across Norwich Research Park, however the audience remained predominantly IFR based.

What: Public Engagement Workshop

Why: To encourage staff and students at the IFR to take part in public engagement and allow them to understand the breadth of opportunities and resources available.

Where: IFR lecture theatre and reception area

When: 05 Dec 2013 9:30 – 14:00

Project description

The IFRs outreach and public engagement workshop was held from 9:30 until 14:00 on Thursday the 5th of December. The event was originally conceived as an opportunity for researchers to get together, learn about and celebrate the PE work undertaken by staff and students at the IFR. The event also allowed participants to discover how to become involved in events and the resources available to support PE activities. The atmosphere of the day was relaxed and informal with lots of time for networking and discussing opportunities and ways to lower or remove barriers to participation.

The workshop comprised of a mixture of talks by staff and students at the IFR, a keynote talk by an external, invited speaker and networking sessions in which delegates could meet staff from local outreach and PE bodies (such as STEMNet, SAW trust and the Teacher-Scientist network), and outreach staff from the University of East Anglia, Institute of Physics, Society of General Microbiology, IFR and the BBSRC. The networking sessions were catered and in a prominent area of the IFR (main foyer). This not only encouraged delegates to stay and take advantage of the networking sessions (rather than returning to their desks), but also allowed passing staff and students to join the networking sessions.

The talks given on the day were deliberately chosen to encompass a wide range of outreach/PE experiences, career stages, and type of outreach/PE events attended. It was believed that this wide range of talks would both keep the audience interested and provide a greater opportunity for inspiration and showcasing the activities that IFR staff and students are involved with. Of the four short talks by IFR staff and students two were by research leaders (talking about their experiences developing activities for the Big Bang Fair and interacting with the public at science cafes respectively), one PhD student (talking about what motivated her to take part in outreach as well as her experiences and advice) and one post-doctoral researcher (talking about his work with a college student who wished to gain an insight into research to help her with a UCAS personal statement). Our keynote speaker was Dr Nicola Stanley-Wall ( who spoke about her research career, her outreach and PE achievements and how to fit PE activities into a busy and successful research career.

In order to maximise the impact of the day and provide staff with continuing inspiration and information an abstract booklet was produced and given to all delegates. This booklet contained information about/contact details of: the speakers, attending PE bodies and the IFR Outreach and Communications team.

The event was well attended with 50 IFR staff and students registered prior to the event and 60 delegates present in the keynote talk. An evaluation for the day showed that all delegates found the event worthwhile and feedback generally was very positive. The event was so successful the IFR PE steering committee is keen to make the event (or a similar activity) a regular biannual event.

What worked well

Provision of refreshments at the networking sessions encouraged delegates to stay and interact with demonstrators. During networking sessions there were some very interesting conversations about PE, barriers to involvement and activity ideas currently being developed by staff. 

The speakers were deliberately chosen from various levels within the institute (i.e. postgraduate student to research leader), and also had very different involvement in PE. This variety meant that the talks were each very different, illustrating the scope of PE activities that delegates can involve themselves in and how to create impact rather than generating quantity of  activities. This breadth of speaker experience also provided inspirational as many delegates could identify with at least one speaker.

What didn't work well

There was little uptake on the competition, and several entrants appeared confused as to the rules for entries. In order to make the competition a success if repeated rules should be simplified and provided in full on all promotional material.

What methods did you use to evaluate your activity/project?

In order to assess the number of delegates attending the workshop we asked all delegates to register prior to the workshop. Head counts were also taken during the day to gauge delegate interest in the talks and networking sessions. 

On the day of the workshop we asked all delegates to answer two questions by putting a vote card in a box. Boxes were placed in a prominent position outside the lecture theatre to allow easy access for delegates. To follow up on this we discussed the workshop during an open meeting of the IFR public engagement steering committee in January and assessed how the delegates viewed the event one month on and if it had achieved the goal of inspiring staff to take part in outreach events.

Demonstrators present in the networking sessions were asked to fill in an online questionnaire to assess how useful they felt the event had been and if they had seen an increase in interest in their PE activities following the workshop. We also gave demonstrators an opportunity to comment on what other things they would like to see at a future workshop.

Top quotes

“The workshop had a feel good factor about it. There was a buzz and an interest and it certainly felt as if people that attended were interested and involved.”

“I enjoyed meeting the other conference participants and I like the fact that it gave science communication activities a scientific standing and format.”

“Thanks so much for the workshop, I found it really useful and would definitely be interested in attending further events….but just wanted to say well done for a great event!”

“I really enjoyed Nicola's talk - concrete examples of what others have done, successful and unsuccessful, from outside of IFR, are really helpful and food for thought for moving our own outreach forwards.”


Helen Brown:

Helen is a NCCPE Public Engagement Ambassador, see her profile here.