AccessLab futures workshop

freshness:

The AccessLab project has been a series of five workshops, aimed at decentralising research skills, encouraging open access, and building local communities. As the funding draws to a close, we ended by bringing participants back together for a scoping workshop to decide on possible future paths for the project. What follows is a brief write-up of the main outputs from the scoping workshop.

We had representatives from all of the five AccessLab workshops, including a mix of academic science researchers and policy sector participants, together with people from FoAM, our project partners from the British Science Association, and our funders from the Natural Environment Research Council.

We started by thinking broadly about all the things that were worthwhile about the AccessLab project – then categorised these things into (i) aspects that were already being addressed well by other projects/organisations, (ii) aspects that would probably be addressed within the next ~5 years, allowing for assumptions and uncertainties, and (iii) aspects that are unique (nobody else is addressing them adequately) and future proof (no expected happenings over the next ~5 years will fix them).

With a group of 18 people, we were surprised at the high number of aspects that ended up in the unique and future proof category (already being addressed = 26, addressed in 5 years = 31, unique and future proof = 75). This category shows what we should focus our energy on. Below is a selection of some of the participants’ comments that we found particularly resonated – we hope these may also be helpful for others who want to design interventions in this area:

- Allowing science to be used by all people who can make good use of it.

- Helping people to learn to access research, how to filter information, what to trust.

- Highlighting issues around openness in research and that public funders care about this (pawyalls, open data).

- Researchers consider how they can make their research relevant to those outside academia going forwards (changing attitudes).

- Connecting different communities e.g. bridging gaps between research and policy

- Helps to identify commonalities between different groups.

- Facilitating idea fertilisation between silos.

- Allowing people outside of academia to understand what science IS and how it WORKS (and what it isn’t…).

- Good to have activities in areas that might not normally get them.

- Improving trust in science (and scientists) when appropriate and deserved.

- More questioning of my academic bias.

- Equality.

- Time to think.

One of the other main parts of the scoping workshop was to present the participants with 9 possible futures for the AccessLab project, and to see which people prefered – using the time honoured democratic process of placing coloured building blocks on the various options. The image below shows the results, and you can download a bigger version of the picture here. Yellow/orange colours mean ‘yes, I like this’ and blue/purple colours mean ‘no, I don’t like this’. The subtly different colours within these categories represent the different participant groups (orange/purple = FoAM/BSA/NERC, bright yellow/blue = academic science researchers, pale yellow/dark blue = policy sector).

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The most popular answer was to allow people to run their own workshops under the AccessLab name, but to require the person running the workshop to have participated in an AccessLab previously – this would allow the project to grow organically without our involvement being necessary. The second most popular answer was to keep everything as it is, with us running the workshops every now and then depending on demand and funding. Scenarios that involved significant changes to the format or approach were rather unpopular.

As it stands, the future for AccessLab remains undecided. In the mean time, we are writing the whole process up for publication, so it will all be available in one place rather than spread over two years of blog posts. Our warmest thanks are due to all the 79 participants who came to the workshops, and of course to our partners at the British Science Association and the Natural Environment Research Council, as well as to FEAST who saw promise in the idea and funded the first event.

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