Activists and architects of change

Ana Maria Portugal, final year PhD student at the Birkbeck Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development (CBCD) and its affiliated TABLET Project, writes about the Bloomsbury Festival workshop she developed with the Birkbeck Public Engagement Team to get families thinking about screen time. 

On Sunday 21 October 2018 I was, together with the rest of the TABLET Team from Birkbeck CBCD, at the Brunswick Square taking part at the Family Hub of the Bloomsbury Festival. Together with the Public Engagement Team I liaised with the Festival, applied for funding, and designed a workshop where families had to back-stitch a join the dots emoji pattern. Written on the postcards were questions that prompted several important discussion strands about screen time – such as online safety and type of content.

We created a space for the whole family to promote gentle discussions about how screens are potentially changing our life. Inspired by facts and conversations, families sewed their own emoji response on screen templates and took them away as souvenirs.

The TABLET Team has been active in science dissemination and public engagement, working with the BBC, Guardian, and the Polka Theatre. But this time, I wanted to facilitate discussions on the topic of screen time in a gentle way, inspired by the work on craftivism and gentle protest by Sarah Corbett from the Craftivist Collective. After attending the ‘Developing Interactive Activities: Planning Workshop’ and hearing about the Bloomsbury Festival, I felt that its theme ‘Activists and Architects of Change’ fitted really well with what I wanted to do!

We had a big range of families participating (families with very young children, grandparents with older kids, groups of teenagers) and actively engaging with the activity, learning how to back-stitch and having conversations about screen time and use. Visitors could choose from four designs which had different levels of difficulty – the easiest one could be done by a four-year-old but the most difficult design was also the one that represented a more complex topic of discussion (so it required more time to craft and deliberate).

One year after I joined the Public Engagement Team’s workshop I came back again to share my experience. Looking back, I realised how putting together the workshop by myself, from developing the idea to organising its logistics, was very empowering, but also brought some specific challenges. Will I find the funding? What is the right balance between promoting scientific discussion and entertaining? How can I make sure the activity requires enough time to enable conversations while not compromising the time people have available?

So, for those interested in engaging the public with their work, here are my thoughts:

  • In general people like to chat and are very interested in understanding what academic people and scientists do. So if you are also keen in sharing your work, just go for it.
  • However, if you do have something physical that people can engage with or take home (even if it is not working exactly as it should!), that will attract more people and will make them stay longer too.
  • Be enthusiastic and kind when engaging with the public, and try not to presume how much they know or judge their views. Remember that public engagement is about a positive impact and that that will come from a two-way interaction!

One thought on “Activists and architects of change

  1. Pingback: Bloomsbury Festival – Birkbeck reflection – Latest Engagement News

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