UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering


Public engagement workshop with Dan Plane: ‘Making Research Interactive’

24 January 2019

This week the Institute of Healthcare Engineering held a half-day workshop to help researchers develop their own interactive public activities.

Dan Plane presenting workshop

Events and festivals are a popular way of opening up research to the public by breaking down research concepts and starting new discussions through engaging methods. However, it can be difficult finding the best activities to convey your research.

‘Making Research Interactive: Creating Activities for Events & Festivals’ was facilitated by Dan Taylor, Public Engagement Coordinator at WEISS, and Dan Plan, a science communicator at the Royal Institution.

Dan Plane describes his job as “translating science English into everyday English”. He began his career as a primary school teacher for children with special needs, where explaining difficult concepts to people of varying abilities and backgrounds was an everyday task. His first science communication post was with the Science Museum, and he now fulfils multiple roles with the Royal Institution.

Dan started by giving our participants a primer on the different types of science events out there - from busking on the street through to prestigious science festivals - and identifying the different audiences they attract. These fundamental factors will completely shape the choice of activity. What works well in the confines of a classroom may not translate to a conference hall of adults.

Dan explained the value of not simply explaining research but engaging the public in a meaningful two-way dialogue. He showed our participants how they could do this with a range of visitors; it is important to tailor the tone without being patronising. Paraphrasing Sir Gustav Nossal, Dan Plane said we should, “Assume infinite intelligence but zero knowledge in your interactions with the public”.

Groups brainstorming activity ideas

Next, the participants broke into groups and brainstormed ways of turning their own research into interactive activities. Dan provided them with a planning toolkit to help ensure their ideas are a success:

  1. Hook: What are you going to cover?
  2. Audience: Who are you aiming it at?
  3. Venue: Where are you going to do it?
  4. Activity: How are you going to do it?
  5. Planning: People, risk, budget, equipment, space
  6. Evaluation: Why are you doing it? How will you measure that?

The groups developed some fantastic ideas and were able to bounce these off Dan for instant feedback from an expert. The participants left equipped with a roadmap for their next engagement activity.  

For those who missed out, there is an opportunity to attend a full-day version of the workshop on 27 February. This event is aimed at IHE-affiliated researchers and students. Please contact Dan Taylor if you have a question.