Public engagement

Ray Bird with HEC1 prototype at the Business Efficiency Exhibition, Olympia, London, 1951
Ray Bird with HEC1 prototype at the Business Efficiency Exhibition, Olympia, London, 1951

In recent years scientists have been actively encouraged to engage with the widest possible range of audiences and to bolster support for their research and science in general through these activities. Our interviewees also interacted with the public in a range of ways, both direct and indirect. Some organisations, particularly those funded by the state, held open days at which research that usually remained hidden from view was displayed and made visible. Some scientists relished this opportunity to explain their work in lay terms and justify its significance to a sometimes sceptical audience, but others were less enthusiastic. Fieldwork provided different kinds of opportunities to interact with non-experts, some of whom were able to contribute valuable local knowledge to research projects. Where developments in science were met with public anxiety,for example nuclear safety, scientists sometimes found themselves offering reassurance to the public. Elsewhere they faced the challenge of communicating their findings in writing to diverse audiences and had to develop strategies for explaining their work in a way that ensured it could be understood by non-experts. Leaving this process to others sometimes led to misunderstandings but could also open up new possibilities.

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