How to launch your own science communication society

29 April 2018 - By: Caroline Wood

HOW TO LAUNCH YOUR OWN SCIENCE COMMUNICATION SOCIETY

How to launch your own science communication society
BSA Nature Detectives Event. Photo: Daniella Sasaki


By Caroline Wood 

To me, nothing is more fulfilling than organising inspiring events that communicate the value of scientific research to the wider public. So, when I had the opportunity to help launch a new branch of the British Science Association in Sheffield, I simply couldn’t resist! It has been a challenge and a real learning curve that has introduced me to all sorts of new areas – volunteer management, grant proposals, risk assessments to name but a few. For anyone else thinking of setting up their own public-engagement Society, here are my top tips:

WHAT DOES YOUR COMMUNITY NEED?

It’s easy to see a grant opportunity, coming up with a wacky idea for an outreach event and then trying to work out how it can fit your local community. But this approach is the wrong way around: start by asking what your community really needs. One of our most successful events was a partnership with a local organisation that supports people with mental health conditions. We developed the event together, holding focus groups with potential participants. This made our grant proposal really strong, as we could demonstrate that there was a real interest and state what the benefits would be for the participants. Since then, we have been approached by other community groups interested in hosting a science-themed event, including theatres, schools, prisons, museums and libraries.

CLARIFY YOUR ROLES

When you set up your committee, make sure you clarify exactly what each role is responsible for, especially if there is the potential for overlap – this can save a lot of confusion later! But don’t be afraid to make adjustments or add more roles if necessary. We started with just one person responsible for all social media, but later expanded this to a sub-committee so that we could share the burden and set up a rota for managing our Twitter account.

BE INCLUSIVE

Make sure you don’t come across as ‘exclusive’; holding your meetings in academic buildings, for instance, can signal that volunteers need a science background to join. Be creative in using local outlets for promoting your Society – our approaches have included posters in libraries and cafes, appearing on local radio, attending volunteering fairs and handing out flyers at science festivals. Also, remember that not everyone has Facebook and that even those who don’t use the internet can be valuable volunteers, so make sure you still reach them.

WHAT ARE YOUR VOLUNTEERS PASSIONATE ABOUT?

Talk to your volunteers and find out what their skills and interests are. One of our members, for instance, works for Google and has a real flair for computer coding, which gave us the confidence to launch our own website. Other volunteers are keen photographers, so we now have an extensive archive of promotional photographs from our events. Volunteers often also have contacts with other local organisations, which can be invaluable for organising collaborative events.

Besides the talents that volunteers already have, make the effort to find out what areas your volunteers want to develop further, so that they can really benefit from participating in your Society. We sent a simple email survey to new volunteers asking what skills they particularly want more experience of. This identified a group who were particularly keen to write science blogs and now contribute posts for our website.

HAVE FUN!

Launching a new organisation is a challenge, but one that is highly rewarding. Besides making a difference to your community, it can introduce you to like-minded people who understand your passion for science. Besides planning science events, our members like to organise cinema trips, hikes in the Peak District, cake-making sessions and a whole host of other things. So do enjoy yourself: your Society is what you make it, with the possibility of all sorts of exciting directions to take.
 
Category: Science Communication
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Caroline Wood

Caroline Wood

Caroline Wood was the SEB’s 2014 science communication intern. Since then, Caroline has been a regular contributor the SEB, reporting on events and writing insightful features for our members.

Caroline has an undergraduate degree from Durham University in Cell Biology and is currently a PHD student at Sheffield University studying parasitic Striga weeds that infect food crops. You can read her blog here.