|The Science Cafe: An interactive approach to public engagement|
|Thursday, 17 January 2013 13:09|
Successful Research Uptake depends on a whole range of engagement strategies on the part of the university. To bring research outputs outside the academic sector and into communities where they can have direct development impact, universities need to be able to work with mass media outlets to disseminate findings and to raise awareness about research activities.
They also need to be able to learn from communities what areas of research might be useful in contributing to development solutions. And that requires feedback from the community itself.
Doing that well often requires setting up opportunities for interactive, face-to-face engagement. Bringing researchers, research managers and university representatives into local communities can help not only to disseminate recent findings, but also to raise awareness in the public mind of the role the university is playing. This can provide opportunities to learn from the public how they believe research can help them most and, when done right, it can build up real interest in science, technology and development among young and old alike.
One model that has proven to work well is the Science Café – an accessible, interactive platform for university researchers to share new knowledge with the public. Held in community settings – whether an actual café, a community centre, a school hall or wherever people congregate – a Science Café provides a forum where research principles are demonstrated, described and explained in lay terms, and opened up for questions and discussion. They may directly concern a particular piece of research the university is carrying out, or they may address general research topics that the public are interested in finding out about. However they are conducted, the emphasis is upon accessibility and informality.
Science Cafés are already active in parts of Africa – universities in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa have developed the model. Speaking to Business Daily, co-founder of the Kenyan Science Café model Ruth Wanjala said, “The aim of the cafés is to demystify scientific research for the general public and empower non-scientists to more comfortably and accurately assess science and technology, particularly those that impact on social policy making.”
Speaking at DRUSSA’s two-day short course at the University of Nairobi another co-founder of the Kenyan Science Cafés, Juliette Mutheu, emphasised the utility of the Science Café approach. Attendees were in agreement, saying that these cafes could have real impact in both urban and rural settings.
Engaging with the public successfully requires communication via both traditional mass media and through online platforms. But one of the most fundamental pieces of the puzzle is to go directly to the public and demystify the important developmental work that universities are doing. As a Knowledge Brokers' Forum colleague recently said, commenting on using social media as a tool for knowledge exchange: "You can’t beat face-to-face interaction and relationship building if you want research to have an impact in reality!"
To learn more about how Science Cafés are growing across Africa, see what SciDev.Net has to say on the topic.
Liam Roberts is a Programme Officer (Policy) at the Association of Commonwealth Universities