Science communication in the United Kingdom
Welcome to this learning resource on UK Science Communication. We hope you find it a useful overview of activity in the UK in this exciting and expanding area of activity.
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- 1 Who are the major players in UK science communication?
- 2 What academic departments are involved?
- 3 What about business and community groups?
- 4 How is it funded? What initiatives are there?
- 5 Science communication media
- 6 Public lectures
- 7 Science journalism
- 8 Events
- 9 Science centres and museums
- 10 Science communication consultancies
- 11 Installation and exhibit makers
- 12 Science shops
- 13 Ideas about science communication
- 14 Public engagement mechanisms
- 15 Recent science communication policy developments
- 16 Current activity
- 17 Courses and skills
- 18 Resources schools and colleges
- 19 Libraries
- 20 Journals
- 21 Key texts
Who are the major players in UK science communication?
The biggest supporters of science communication initiatives in the UK are:
- the Wellcome Trust (a unique charitable trust, thanks to the legacy of Henry Wellcome),
- the Office of Science and Innovation which is currently inside the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. This department funds science communication mostly in relation to policy choices, not community action.
- other government departments, such as the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
- the British Science Association ( formerly known as the British Association for the Advancement of Science) which organises National Science & Engineering Week, an annual Science Communication Conference, and the annual British Festival of Science in September.
- the Research Councils and Research Councils UK,
- The Royal Society, the oldest independent research body in the world
- the Higher Education Funding Councils
- the Royal Institution, where Michael Faraday gave his famous lectures
- the Royal Academy of Engineering home of the new Ingenious awards
- NESTA the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts
and a whole host of other scientific institutions, such as the Institute of Physics.
What academic departments are involved?
Departments and schools active in science communication include:
- Bath University Science Studies Centre
- Birkbeck College Faculty of Continuing Education
- Cardiff University School of Physics and Astronomy
- City University Department of Journalism
- Chester University Centre for Science Communication
- University of Exeter Department of Sociology and Philosophy
- University of Glamorgan Science Communication Research Unit
- Imperial College London Science Communication Group
- Lancaster University Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics
- Northumbria University Faculty of Health and Life Sciences in partnership with the International Centre for Life
- University of Liverpool Science Communication Unit (within Physics)
- Manchester Metropolitan University Faculty of Science and Engineering
- University of Nottingham Institute for Science and Society
- University of Oxford Department of Physics
- Open University Faculty of Science
- Queen Mary, University of London Department of Physics
- University College London Department of Science and Technology Studies
- University of Sheffield Faculty of Science
- University of Sussex SPRU Science and Technology Policy Research, Centre for Continuing Education, School of Life Sciences
- University of the West of England Faculty of Applied Sciences
- University of Warwick 
- University of Edinburgh College of Science and Engineering, SCI-FUN
What about business and community groups?
A number of different activities fall into business and community groups. The first of these is called Third Stream activity, which the Higher Education funding councils encourage, which is academic involvement with public services, social enterprises, the arts and cultural institutions.
Industry has also woken up to the idea of communicating science within the context of Corporate Social Responsiblity. If you want to find out more about developing such strategies visit the Corporate Social Responsiblity Academy website, particularly its 'take action' page. Policy developments related to Corporate Social Responsiblity are available on the new Government Gateway on this topic, so we dont need to say much more about that here.
For scientists wanting to find and share information, or just get some support from like-minded colleagues in their outreach work, there is Connecting Science. This online social network is free to join and includes blogs, discussion forums and groups of interest to scientists involved in all kinds of science communication.
How is it funded? What initiatives are there?
The smaller professional societies also have science communication initiatives, but these are too numerous to list here. The major schemes at present are:
- 'Engaging Science' grant scheme to investigate biomedical science and its social contexts
- Science Learning Centres continuing professional development for everyone involved in science education
- Support for science centre exhibitions
- Researchers in Residence students go into schools
Office of Science and Innovation
Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Research Councils and Research Councils UK
- Researchers in Residence Students go into schools
- National Science Week Awards not forgetting nation-wide experiments
- UK GRAD programme for undergraduate students
- Public engagement grant schemes run by individual Research Councils
- 'How Science Works' continuing professional development courses for science teachers
- public engagement training for researchers. E.g. media training.
The Royal Society
- Dialogue Initiative A range of activities in different fields
- Communication and Media Training training for science communication
- Kohn Award for communicating science
- Michael Faraday Prize for communicating science
- Scientist-MP Pairing Scheme Swap places with an MP
The Higher Education Funding Councils
- HEFCE’s business and community projects funded through the Higher Education Innovation Fund
- Volunteering activities funded through HEFCE’s Higher Education Active Community Fund
- Widening participation activities, including support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics
- Scottish Funding Council Funding for cultural engagement
- Engagement activities supported via HEFCW's Third Mission Fund and its Reaching Wider Fund, particularly in relation to Reaching Wider Partnerships
- Third mission projects supported via the Welsh Assembly Government's Knowledge Exploitation Fund.
The Royal Institution
- Science Media Centre to help journalists find good facts and quotes
- Royal Institution Lectures these are extremely popular
The Royal Academy of Engineering
- Ingenious awards new awards for awareness and dialogue
NESTA the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts
- Famelab be the face of science!
- Crucible learn about the world in which your research resides
British Science Association
- The British Science Association's CREST awards celebrating creativity in science and technology
- BA Perspectives scheme communicating the ethical and social issues that arise from scientific work
Science communication media
For a list of science-related TV, radio, blogs and podcast channels, visit the Talking Science pages prepared for the British Council.
- The Reith Lectures This year, Jeffrey Sachs. A world in transition.
- Royal Institution Lectures the world-famous series
The BA Media Fellowships scheme, helps scientists find out what it is like to work as a journalist. Scientists will soon be able to learn more about the process of journalism as the BBC plans to open up its training materials to budding reporters at the end of 2007, via its online traing site, BBC Training and Development.
Science press releases are delivered through the press service AlphaGalileo. The professional organisations are the Association of British Science Writers and STEMPRA the Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine Public Relations Association. Contact between scientists and journalists is aided by the Science Media Centre at the Royal Institution.
Main UK Science Communication Events
- Psci-com a mailing list for science communicators
- Cafe Scientifiques take place all around the UK. They are places where, for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can come to explore the latest ideas in science and technology. Meetings take place in cafes, bars, restaurants and even theatres, but always outside a traditional academic context. The Cafe Scientifique movement is now global.
- Events of the British Science Association include National Science & Engineering Week in March, the annual British Science Festival in September and the Science Communication Conference They also run regional Branch events year round, these are typically volunteer-led hands-on or discussion events for adults or families.
- The Royal Society holds its summer exhibition every year, and many other events. Find out more from its Events Diary.
- the Royal Institution, the Christmas lectures are especially popular. Here is their calendar of events.
- the Royal Academy of Engineering holds regular events of its own, and hosts the meetings of PolicyNet.
- the Wellcome Trust has a new centre just opened in London, at 183 Euston Road. Here is its events calendar and gallery information.
For other events, and a list of the UK festivals, visit Talking Science at the British Council.
Science centres and museums
For more on science centres and museums, including a map of interactive centres, visit the BIG (British Interactive Group) website.
Science communication consultancies
- Sublime Science UK wide innovative science communication interactive stage shows and hands-on activities
- SciConnect Offers bespoke science communication and outreach training for researchers and students. The courses are led by award-winning science communicators and journalists who also have experience as research-active scientists. SciConnect offers a range of courses, including media training, how to inspire schoolchildren about science, podcasting and using the internet as an outreach tool.
- University of Glamorgan Scicomm experts in communication and education. Services include science fiction consultancy, devising innovative resources that support science teaching, and the public engagement programme of Science Shops Wales, based at the University. Science communication media training also available
- Science Made Simple specialists in innovative science and engineering shows to schools and festivals, and science communication training for researchers and presenter staff
- Engineering Explained specialist engineering communication company providing shows about engineering for primary and secondary schools across the UK
- Graphic Science specialists in science communication and education, from devising educational resources that support the teaching of science and engineering, through to the creation of public engagement projects such as dialogue events and graphics campaigns. Also provide bespoke evaluations and specialist communication training for scientists and engineers
- The Training Group An expert consortium, consisting of experienced trainers from Ecsite-Uk, Science Made Simple and Graphic Science, offering professional science communication and public engagement training for researchers
- The Creative Science Consultancy headed by Steve Mesure, the Creative Science Consultancy offers a wide range of communication and teaching experience, an overview of science in society programmes and specialises in creative multidisciplinary approaches to science influenced by theatre and arts
Installation and exhibit makers
- The Creative Science Centre stimulating enthusiasm and experience of science through hands-on experiments and other 'things to make and do'.
- Interactives Science the latest in hands-on science and interactive exhibitions
- Farmer Studios attractions and exhibits for all
- Show me learning specialists in the development and delivery of interactive lectures, science shows, workshops and training for schools, museums, visitor centres and commercial companies
- Techniquest reliable interactives.
- W19 Design interactive exhibit and exhibition design. Specialists in hands-on science.
- Science Projectsthey design and construct hands-on science exhibits, operate two science centres and several travelling shows and exhibitions
- Creatif Design for special need schools, visitor centres, museums, hospitals, nurseries, discovery centres, hands-on galleries, and parks
- Continuum visitor experiences for people of all ages and backgrounds
- Sublime Science experts in science shows & workshops for primary schools as well museums, groups and organisations
These are small organisations that carry out research in a wide range of disciplines, usually for free, to address the challenges faced by civil society. The emphasis is on the experiences of local communities, and how science shops can help them. Other knowledge transfer mechanisms start with the academic research, and then attempt to 'apply' it in society. With science shops, it is the other way around. Science shops that are attached to universities often bring students into their activities as part of teaching and learning.
- Brighton and Sussex Community Knowledge Exchange is not called a science shop, but the initiatives are very similar and are also community-led.
- Interchange at the University of Liverpool
- Science shops Wales are based in and around the University of Glamorgan
Ideas about science communication
Experts used to think about science communication as a simple matter of instruction [Royal Society 1985]. It was a long time before this ‘deficit model’ [Wynne 1991] of science communication was replaced by a second generation approach which favoured two-way communications (‘dialogues’) between experts to influence policy or scientific and technological practice (upstream engagement) [Demos 2004]. The mechanisms used to stimulate public participation in science and policy decision are summarised below. But whilst at first sight these two approaches appeared to be very different, they also had much in common: the topic of engagement was chosen, not by citizens themselves, but by elite science or government.
Third generation approaches to engagement take participation one step further, in that they emphasise the need for dialogue, not only to influence the practices of government and science, but also to influence actions chosen by local communities. In other words, science communication is also important for innovation in, and by, society.
Recent initiatives at the Office of Science and Innovation, the Treasury, NESTA, what was the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, firms and voluntary sector organisations all involve these third generation approaches to engagement, as they take a wide view of what innovation is about: in terms of subject areas, purposes (social, as well as economic benefits) and involving more diverse communities than simply experts in higher education or research alone.
Public engagement mechanisms
Citizen’s panel Lay public panel meets to discuss issues, statements or refine options
Stakeholder dialogue Open ended, ongoing discussion to identify areas of agreement or disagreement, with communities with an interest in the issue. When managed well, participants determine the agenda.
Stakeholder forum Brings together representatives of key stakeholder groups locally, regionally or nationally. Numbers are usually limited to enable discussion, which can lead to feelings of exclusion.
Stakeholder workshop As above, but task-based.
Round table Discussion forum, sometimes facilitated, used to explore scope and areas of agreement and disagreement. Vulnerable to bias by chair, particularly vocal special interest groups. Transparency problems.
Citizens polls Surveys of more or less representative samples of the population. Reflect bias of question-setter.
Deliberative mapping A method of integrating expert and citizen assessments through face-to-face and computer-enabled dialogues. The process is guided so that participants challenge each other’s perspectives and framing assumptions. The approach can be used to systematically judge how well different options perform according to particular economic, social, ethical and scientific criteria. It is used mostoften with problems that involve multiple factors and require making difficult decisions, frequently without adequate data.
Multi-criteria mapping a novel software-based technique for exploring the links between expert analysis and divergent social values and interests.
Deliberative polling A large, demographically representative group conducts a debate, cross-examining key players. The group is polled on an issue before and after the debate.
Focus group A small group of people discuss an issue guided by a trained facilitator working to a designed protocol. Researchers study the contents of the discussion are studied to investigate shared understandings, attitudes, values and factors that shape these.
Citizen’s jury 12-16 lay people cross-examine expert witnesses, to make a decision, judgement or recommendations. Although not best practice, issues are often framed by commissioning organisation, restricting potential for knowledge exchange.
Discussion groups A small number of people (8-10) engage in facilitated discussion.
Consensus conference Extended information gathering by representative panel of 16 people who request information resources, decide upon questions, cross-examine expert witnesses, and report to the press and the public (over several weekends: longer and more expensive than citizen’s juries) on the consensus.
Lay panel members Non-specialists presence on expert committees. Varying degrees of empowerment, influence and support. Lay members may have an influence the communication skills of experts.
Future search Imagining of preferred futures, and collaborative planning for how to achieve them
Delphi process A set of procedures for eliciting and refining the opinions of a group - usually a panel of experts. An extended method includes lay panel members. It has four basic features: structured questioning, iteration, controlled feedback and anonymity of responses. OSI has used Delphi questionnaires to poll thousands.
‘Planning for real’ Use of 3D models (e.g. cardboard) to represent development plans to engender discussion and comment.
Open house, exhibitions, galleries An open venue for discussion, exhibition or other activity; consultation commissioning body expected to be present to engage in discussion with ‘visitors’.
Public meeting Open meeting with specialists and chair, in formal setting. Usu. Q/A format
Recent science communication policy developments
Office of Science and Innovation
- Policy guidelines on scientific advice. These aim to highlight the importance of the role of evidence in policy making, and to increase the awareness of policy makers on how best to seek good quality evidence from the most credible sources at the most appropriate time.
- The Chief Scientist has recently published the Universal Code of Practice for Scientists which includes responsibilities for science communication.
- Other developments can be watched through Hansard Debates from the House of Commons
- See also the OSI's Guiding Principles for Public Dialogue
Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
- DEFRA held a Citizen's Summit on Climate change to make people aware of the link between their own everyday behaviour and climate change
- the Research Councils have various policies for science communication. Some, like the BBSRC, provide explicit and detailed guidance for researchers about what is expected within the research handbook. Other Research Councils require researchers to seek out information on public engagement on their website.
RCUK and the Higher Education Funding Councils
- RCUK is involved with a JISC initiative which aims to help the public access research publications. The national repository and redirection service, called 'The Depot', has the specific task of ensuring that all in the UK research community can benefit from making their published papers available under open access. The Depot is being managed at the University of Edinburgh.
The Wellcome Trust led the development of UK PubMedCentral to facilitate open access to published research.
In 2006 The UK higher education funding councils and Research Councils UK, in association with the Wellcome Trust, invited proposals from higher education institutions and their partners to become collaborative 'Beacons for Public Engagement'. The funding bodies made a total of up to £8 million has been made available for this pilot initiative.
Beacons brings together the funding bodies for the first time to establish a co-ordinated approach to recognising, rewarding and building capacity for public engagement. The funding bodies see 'public engagement' as involving specialists in higher education listening to, developing their understanding of, and interacting with non-specialists. They define the term 'public' as 'individuals and groups who do not currently have a formal relationship with an HEI through teaching, research or knowledge transfer'.
Courses and skills
- Communicating Science MSc University of Glamorgan
- Communicating Science to non-specialists and Communicating Science in Action short courses at the Scottish Initiative for Biotechnology Education, Edinburgh
- Courses for students and researchers at academic and research institutions around the UK, delivered by trainers with experience as professional journalists and research-active scientists
- Msc in Science and Society, Communicating Science in the Information Age, and Science in Context The Open University
- Inter-Professional Science Education and Communication MSc/PGDip/PGCert University of Glasgow
- MSc Science Communication Northumbria University and International Centre for Life
- Science Communication MSc Imperial College London
- Science Communication MPhil, PhD University College London
- Science Communication MSc University of Chester
- Science Communication MSc University of the West of England
- Science Communication (Diploma) Birkbeck College
- Science Journalism - Postgraduate diploma in journalism with science specialism. City University's Department of Journalism
- Science Journalism - training open to all science postgraduates at the University of Sussex
- Science Media Production Imperial College London
- Science, Culture & Communication MSc University of Bath
- Scientific Research and Communication MSc University of Warwick
In media and policy:
- BA Media Fellowships Can scientists 'fake it' as journalists?
- MP-Scientist Pairing Scheme (Royal Society) Briefings and a week in Westminster.
- Richard Casement Internship Summer at The Economist. Plus pay!
- Nature Internships A first step into a career in science journalism.
Resources schools and colleges
- Vega Science Trust science videos including how to make modules and careers profiles.
- BIONET explore and debate the latest discoveries in life sciences
- Citizen ScienceResources to support debate on biomedical issues
- Upd8 Get teaching resources on the latest developments in the news - and fast! Sponsored by Planet Science and IBM
- Planet Science resources and information for teachers, to encourage creative and fun approaches to primary and secondary science teaching
- Meet your match database of scientists for schools
- Your Amazing Brain Real-life experiments, games, illusions and brain-benders.
- British Library and its Science and Technology Collections, which includes science and technology oral history collections such as An Oral History of British Science
- Darwin: Complete Works Online, Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, Cambridge
- interactiveexhibits.org, Reference directory of interactive science exhibits
- Darwin Correspondence Project, Cambridge University. Publishing Darwin's letters.
- IEE Library containing the notebooks of Michael Faraday.
- John Rylands Library, University of Manchester including archives of material from Marie Stopes, the Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope, John Dalton and The Guardian. The Partingdon collection includes the works of Michael Faraday and Humphry Davy.
- Mass Observation Archive writing by ordinary people about everyday life in Britain.
- National Archives at Kew and their 'Inventors and inventions' exhibition.
- National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists Bath University. See its guide.
- Royal Intitution Archives and Collections including the works and apparatus of Humphry Davy, Michael Faraday, John Tyndall, James Dewar, William Bragg, Lawrence Bragg and George Porter.
- Royal Society Archive and Library A comprehensive collection of 18th and 19th century scientific journals, with current journals in science policy and the history of science.
- Museum Library, London. A research library for the history and public understanding of the physical sciences and all branches of engineering.
- Wellcome Photographic Library Covering the history of medicine and the history of human culture from the earliest periods of civilization to the present.
- The Wellcome Library For the History of Medicine. One of the world's greatest collections of books, manuscripts, archives, films and paintings on the history of medicine. In addition it has an extensive collection on science communication and public engagement with science.
Holliman, R., Whitelegg, E., Scanlon, E., Smidt, S. and Thomas, J. (2009). (eds.) Investigating science communication in the information age: Implications for public engagement and popular media. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Holliman, R., Thomas, J., Smidt, S., Scanlon, E., and Whitelegg, E. (2009). (eds.) Practising science communication in the information age: Theorising professional practices. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Demos (2004) See-Through Science: Why public engagement needs to move upstream, September.
Miller, S (2001) Public understanding of science at the crossroads, Public Understanding of Science, Volume 10, Number 1, page 115-120, January
Office of Science and Innovation (2006) Guiding Principles for Public Dialogue, London.
Office of Science and Innovation (then Technology) (2000), 'Science and the Public: A Review of Science Communication and Public Attitudes to Science in Britain'.
POST (2001) Open channels: public dialogue in science and technology, POST report number 153, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, March
Royal Society (2006) Factors Affecting Science Communication, London, June.
Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering (2004) ‘Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies: Opportunities and Uncertainties’, London
Royal Society (1985) The Public Understanding of Science: The Bodmer Report, London.
Wellcome Trust(2006) 'Engaging Science: Thoughts, deeds, analysis and action', London, May.