Recent world events and concern over ‘fake news’ and ‘post-factualism’ have highlighted the difficulties encountered when trying to find trustworthy sources of information. The ability to judge the reliability of different sources of information is a skill that can be learned. As well as impacting the political sphere, difficulties in accessing and judging information can have profound effects on individual lives. For example, educational differences caused by social inequality account for substantial differences in life expectancy - partly caused by differences in health knowledge and literacy - in other words, being better at finding reliable information. When some people do not have the same access to information as others, inequalities are born.
The AccessLab project aims to improve access to and the judgement of information, through direct citizen-scientist pairings. Scientific research impacts on many important aspects of people’s lives. Farmers need to know how to encourage biodiversity and how to protect their livestock from disease – shoppers want to know whether the latest 'superfood' really does provide health benefits – house owners might like to know if their home will be under water in ten years due to climate change – and those who get ill will be more likely to seek the right treatment given access to reliable information.
Finding information and then critically asking 'why do you believe this information?' is one of the most fundamental skills required of all scientific researchers. However, there are few opportunities for junior scientific researchers to come into working contact with those who want to understand and use their research, and this has direct consequences for how accessible scientists make their work.
The AccessLab project launched in Spring 2017 with a workshop pairing artists (practitioners and researchers, particularly those who have community engagement as a core part of their practice and/or who work with data) with early career science researchers. The participating artists were able to request help with a topic that related to science and is of interest personally or for their work – for example regarding a medical issue, renewable energy, farming or fishing, robotics or artificial intelligence. Through one-to-one working with the science researchers, we provided an opportunity for the arts participants to learn how to find sources of scientific information, and how to judge the reliability of these sources. Instead of focusing on the dissemination of subject-specific information, we supported participating artists in understanding how they can find reliable information on topics that are relevant to them. This approach means that the participants will be empowered to extend their learning to other issues of interest, and are themselves able to pass on the skills learned.
We continue the Accesslab project with the next workshop in November 2017, partnering county councillors and community activists with science researchers. Through iterating pilot events with different audiences, we will develop a robust workshop model that can be rolled out nationally and led by others. If you would like to be involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org