Last summer at the Science in Public conference in Manchester, I heard a talk by Anna Woolman on science communication in campsites. It stuck with me as a really good idea. Now I came across the recent article by Woolman (2020) on that study that I found so inspiring, so here are my thoughts on it for you!
Reaching non-specialist audiences and engaging them with science at an affordable seaside campsite
The idea behind the study is that while science days and science festival and those kinds of events are great opportunities for the interested public to engage with cutting edge research or other interesting science, the problem is that it will only engage the interested public. As long as people have to choose to specifically enter a space (whether physically or on the internet) where scicomm happens, doing so actually needs to be made a priority. A priority in how time and money are spent, and in competition with many other things that might be a lot more important to people. So how can people be reached without relying on them to make the effort to enter in a scicomm space?
In this study, the scicomm topic was “insects as a sustainable food source”. The way they did it was a pop up kitchen in the middle of a campsite where they offered a menu made from insects as well as information and conversations on that topic. And here is what they recommend:
In the study, an affordable campside near the seaside was chosen in order to reach audiences who might not make an active effort to engage with science otherwise. The assumption that those audiences are more likely to be found on affordable, local campsites than in high-end holiday ressorts is grounded in literature.
(Also, a campsite can provide infrastructure that will make your experience as scicommer a lot more enjoyable. Parking spots, toilets, food, all within easy reach…)
People have time
In the study, Woolman found that since people were on vacation and had time, engagement wasn’t just the sadly too common “grab and go” of scicomm giveaways, but that extended engagement (longer than 10 minutes) could easily take place. This is important because other scicomm activities that take place in spaces where people just happen to be are often in very busy places like shopping malls or even train stations, where there is a lot of people going through, but where engagement is made difficult because people are there for a specific purpose which they want to get done and then go some place else. At a campsite, on the other hand, people have a lot of time on their hands and are often grateful for some kind of unexpected stimulation or the opportunity to have the kids kept busy for a couple of minutes.
School holidays or a weekend in November?
Depending on who your target audience is and what type of engagement you are going for, it might be a good idea to do your scicomm activity during the busy times. For example during the summer school holidays, camsites are typically most busy, with all sorts of people. If you were to target families with school-aged kids, for example, this would be the time to do your activity! But of course it’s also possible that your target audience are pensioneers — then maybe choosing a weekend or even week day outside of the school holidays might be a better idea! It might not be as busy in total numbers, but the density of your target audience might be relatively higher.
So what now?
I really like the idea of doing pop up scicomm at campsites. At my friend Sara‘s windsurfing school, this was happening when both she and other Kiel Science Outreach Campus (KiSOC; I was the project’s scientific coordinator at that time) PhD students did scicomm on their projects on the beach (in the picture you see a 3D movie on water striders being test-watched). Another project was related to sunscreen — very appropriate to do this on the beach! And from that experience doing scicomm specifically at that place, but more generally in a similar setting was something I wanted to do more of, and that I’ve been thinking about for two reasons.
As you know, my pet project is wave watching. And what better place to do it than on a beach? And that beach specifically is great because it offers a variety of features that influence a wave field (Check out a short wave watching movie from that beach here), plus I enjoy hanging out there (which I think is a really important factor when planning a scicomm activity — it needs to be enjoyable! If it’s not, that will show and put people off your science, no matter how awesome it might be).
I’ve been thinking about offering wave watching excursions there and actually had some scheduled this spring and summer, where I would meet up with people, walk to different spots on the beach, and explain what physics they can observe there. Well, there is always next year, or my wave watching Instagram @fascinocean_kiel :-)
GEO-Tag der Natur
I’m the programme manager of the german “GEO-Tag der Natur” festival on biodiversity. As part of my job I’ve been thinking about engaging different audiences through new formats, and this seems like a great idea. For GEO-Tag der Natur, there are typically excursions into interesting biotopes where experts on that type of biotope explain animals and plants that can be found there. Usually we advertise excursions in spots that are especially interesting in terms of biodiversity, but even just a regular beach, forest, or nature around wherever the campsite is located are super interesting and there is so much to discover anywhere! So using campsites as home bases for our excursions is definitely something that I want to try when it’s possible again. It’s also an attractive idea for the campsites themselves to be able to offer these kinds of events, so it’s a win-win!
What are your thoughts on doing scicomm on a campsite? Let me know!
Woolman, A. (2020) ‘Reaching non-specialist audiences and engaging them with science at an affordable seaside campsite’. Research for All, 4 (1): 6–15. DOI https://doi.org/10.18546/RFA.04.1.02