All over the UK, there are communities and individuals who need access to reliable information relating to science. Those with medical complaints or working in healthcare roles benefit from access to the latest research, those in policy-making roles can only develop evidence-based policies with access to the best information, and all of us can struggle to work out whether a ‘fact’ presented in the media is reliable or not. A vast body of peer-reviewed scientific information is freely available, but few know how to find and use it. Improving access to this information is a move towards knowledge-equality.
The AccessLab project aims to improve access to and the judgement of scientific evidence, through pairing scientific researchers with people who are seeking reliable information. Our focus is on developing skills for finding scientific information and judging its reliability, rather than just transferring subject-specific knowledge. This new approach enables valuable and rare opportunities for two-way interactions between scientists and the broader community, and the chance for people to pick up skills in finding trustworthy information.
People come with their own questions that relate to science. As examples, AccessLab participants have wanted to know how climate change will affect them, the environmental impact of housing developments, and social science for encouraging people to be more careful with litter. By working one-to-one with their paired scientific researcher, people learn where to find information, and how to use it to help them answer their questions.
AccessLab was developed in partnership between FoAM Kernow and the British Science Association. After two successful pilot events in 2017 pairing scientific researchers with artists and local councillors/community group members, we have developed a new partnership with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Together, we are launching a new series of three workshops in the South West of the UK, each aimed at a different audience:
- Fishing and marine sectors, 20 July 2018 in Penzance
- Journalists and bloggers, 17 August 2018 in Exeter
- Parliamentary, council and policy workers, 9 November 2018 in Plymouth
An AccessLab workshop involves two parts:
- Part one provides the researchers with training in the basics of public engagement, and the AccessLab format.
- Part two brings the researchers together with the non-researchers to look at where scientific research is published, and how people outside traditional academic institutions can access this information. As part of this, we take science media stories and track them back to the original research, establishing basic approaches to fact-checking. The participants put these skills into practice to co-research the questions that the non-researchers came with.
Our approach empowers participants to extend their learning to other issues of interest, ensures they can pass on the skills they have learned to others, and builds links within local communities.
The call is now open to participate in our 2018 workshops:
If you are a non-researcher working in a fishing or marine sector, journalism or blogging, or if you are a parliamentary, council and policy worker, then please email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org saying who you are, which workshop you are interested in, and what science-related topic/question you would like to do some research on during the workshop. The question/topic can be anything that is useful for you, either for your work or personally, and we can help you to develop this before the workshop.
The workshops are free and places are allocated on a first come first served basis. The workshops run for a full day, with lunch provided. The venues are to be confirmed, but will be fully accessible. There is a small fund available for each workshop to help cover care, travel, or other necessary costs for those who need financial assistance to be able to attend - email email@example.com once you have registered, and we will see how we can help.
The call for researcher participants closed on 23 May.
‘I have appreciated having more of an understanding of how those with creative backgrounds think and what influences them. This helps me think about how to reach out to a variety of people around the topics of my research’ - Academic participant in AccessLab Pilot 1
‘Working with artists during Access Lab has given me more confidence approaching artists about collaborative work. Primarily, I think, because it gave me a better sense of an artist's perspective. What they might be looking for in a project, a better understanding their unique approach and the importance of having such a different skill set.’ - Academic participant in AccessLab Pilot 1
‘I'm working on a huge dataset from the Health Survey for England and next year, as of this week, we're planning a workshop to ask the Health and Environment Public Engagement group for their ideas for questions we could ask of the data. I don't think I would have thought of doing that if it wasn't for AccessLab involving a diverse range of people. I've long thought public engagement with science is important but maybe I just hadn't really thought about it as a two-way street.’ - Academic participant in AccessLab Pilot 2
‘Just this evening I put the skills I learnt to research information into practice. I saw a post on Twitter that referred to a very brief newspaper article about exercising in a polluted environment. There was very little information and in the past things would have ended there. However, now I know how to track down research papers I was able to get to the original research paper. I will be doing a brief piece in my RUN e-magazine about the research.’ - Community Group Leader participant in AccessLab Pilot 2
‘I thought the event in November was superb! Great pace, good topics, lively discussion, interesting people and I'm still craving more of that delicious lunch. It has definitely made me think differently about academic publishing which I hope will release me from what has been a major (potentially imagined) block to communication.’ - Community Group Leader participant in AccessLab Pilot 2
The 2018 Accesslab workshop series is run in partnership with the British Science Association, and is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. The AccessLab project was launched with funding from FEAST Cornwall. The FEAST programme is funded by Arts Council England in partnership with Cornwall Council.