2.5 Public engagement
From the examples outlined in sections 2.2 to 2.4, which are just a fraction of what is available, you could conclude that the UK public are, in general, offered a wide range of science promotion events. These events provide valuable insights into many aspects of science for laypeople, perhaps especially the ‘high tech’ science that they might otherwise never experience. They also provide a useful opportunity for scientists to engage with the public – should that be wanted. And where these events have received government funding, it also means that the government can claim to have fulfilled its mandate to encourage greater public access to, and engagement with, science.
But, numerically, there seem to be far more opportunities to ‘Go See’ science than to ‘Go Say’ or ‘Go Use’ it, and this is worthy of comment (not least because literature evaluating science promotion events is scant and the actual distribution of these events is not clear). Our analysis might take these ‘Go See’ events to be where – generally speaking – a linear transmission of science is endorsed, in other words where a hypothesis or body of knowledge is presented to the audience for their education. Of course, such ‘Go See’ events can be creative – they are not necessarily boring, didactic or dogmatic – and from this an enthusiasm and motivation to participate can be generated. But terming ‘Go See’ events as linear is to distinguish them from a purposefully dialogic style of communication where participants might expect contributor status, i.e. to listen and be listened to. It may be that this linear transmission is intentional – that these events implicitly take public engagement to mean public education. Or it may be that this is an issue of practicality, in that ‘Go See’ events are often aimed at larger audiences, whereas ‘Go Say’ or ‘Go Use’ events work better on a smaller, more intimate scale. Perhaps, therefore, there is a ‘pay-off’ to be considered here between the reach and the intimacy/dialogue possibilities of the event.
Whatever the precise value of events of the types discussed so far – and you will appreciate that relatively little detailed evaluation has been conducted about public impact – they form an increasingly noticeable element of science promotion. The next section discusses the likely value of such events – essentially why people choose to seek them out and apply themselves, and why many other (non-governmental) organisations feel they are worth funding.