Traditionally, sciSCREEN-type public engagement events have used cinema’s back catalogue to discuss one, usually ‘hard’ science, aspect of an explicitly science orientated film. By contrast, Cardiff sciSCREEN uses new release films from a range of genres, allowing us to use the existing publicity and public awareness to build an interest in the sciSCREEN event and attract a wider audience. Rather than merely dissecting the ‘hard’ science on show, Cardiff sciSCREEN draws on academic expertise from a wide range of disciplines to encourage critical thinking about science, society, and film. Fundamentally, the aims of Cardiff sciSCREEN are to develop:
• A showcase for the expertise and research of Cardiff University academics accessible to a general public.
• A sustainable local forum facilitating a discussion between academics, other experts, and the public;
• Events that stimulate partnerships and collaborations between academics and the arts;
• Institutional and personal capacity in organising public engagement events by involving early-career academics;
• A critical, academic assessment of the Cardiff sciSCREEN model of public engagement.
Cardiff sciSCREEN events are held at Chapter Arts Centre. Following each (commercial) screening of the film, short talks, typically 5-10 minutes in length, are given by a panel of 3 to 5 speakers. These are largely Cardiff University academics with expertise in a wide range of academic disciplines, but academics from other universities and non-academic experts have also presented at the events. The attendees are encouraged to participate in a lively discussion – with one another and the experts – chaired by a member of the sciSCREEN team. Refreshments are provided in order to encourage a less formal atmosphere that fosters discussion and engagement rather than a one-way transmission of ideas.
The Cardiff sciSCREEN team consists of Jamie Lewis (MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics), Katie Featherstone (Cardiff School of Nursing and Midwifery), Claudine Anderson (Wales Gene Park), and Andrew Bartlett (Cesagen). As a consequence of the cross-disciplinary perspective, Cardiff sciSCREEN is not dependent on a single academic school or department for the labour that sustains its existence. Recently, emphasis has been placed on capacity-building, and the project has trained a number of early-career academics in running and evaluating sciSCREEN events. In addition, as well as drawing on the expertise of established academics, a number of PhD students have presented at Cardiff sciSCREEN events.
There is no core-funding, however, this is a sustainable project. We have received consistent sponsorship for our events and have commitment from various organisations to fund the 2012 programme. So far, eight organisations have funded events, including Cardiff University organisations: the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genomics, Cesagen, BRASS, the Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute, and the Community Engagement Team, a major European research project (Gluebe), and external organisations: the British Science Association, and the Wales Psychiatric Society. By drawing on funding from, and the public engagement interests of, a wide range of organisations, Cardiff sciSCREEN has a sustainable, flexible approach, engaging with a multitude of topic areas rather than dominant disciplinary perspectives.
Cardiff sciSCREEN held its first events in March 2010 with screenings and discussions of A Single Man and The Wolfman, supported by the British Science Association as part of National Science and Engineering Week. Since then, Cardiff sciSCREEN has held a further 12 full events, typically with 4 speakers, with the post-film discussion lasting approximately one and half hours. At these events there have been 58 expert presentations from 53 different speakers. There have also been a further 4 ‘sciSCREEN lites’: 10 minute introductory talks from an academic expert, held in the cinema before the film commences to facilitate debate.
Cumulatively, over 1150 members of the public have participated in the debates, with attendances varying from approximately 30 to 120, but rarely falling below 60. Across three recent Cardiff sciSCREEN events, 59% of 124 attendees who completed the evaluation form had never previously attended a sciSCREEN event. 65% of 127 attendees were female, and the ages ranged from under 20 to between 70 and 80 years old. 77% of 129 attendees said that they would definitely attend another Cardiff sciSCREEN event, with a further 14% saying that they might attend a future event. Approximately half the attendees at Cardiff sciSCREEN events complete the evaluation form, though not all answer every question. These evaluation forms also collect data on satisfaction and opinions on sciSCREEN events.
Cardiff sciSCREEN also uses social media to sustain and develop our following. There are 230 people on our mailing list, the Cardiff sciSCREEN Twitter account has 147 followers, 111 people are members of the Facebook group, and the blog [cardiffsciscreen.blogspot.com] has had over 17,800 unique hits since it was established in May 2010. The blog is used to announce and advertise upcoming events, but is also home to 54 short essays from our invited speakers. This gives the contributions of our experts a permanence, and exposes a wider, international, audience to the ways that a wide range of films can be used as springboards from critical academic thought. Over the past six months, only 18% of unique hits on the blog have come from Cardiff-based IP addresses, while 53% of hits were from across the UK.
Discussion of developments for Cardiff sciSCREEN include plans to broaden our audience by holding sciSCREEN events at other cinemas, or possibly at non-cinema venues, and to attract young people, or people with young children who often cannot attend events such as sciSCREEN. This summer, Cardiff sciSCREEN will organise an event at the Cheltenham Science Festival; a screening and discussion of the film Take Shelter, featuring speakers with psychiatric, sociological, and meteorological expertise. Also, the collaboration inherent in sciSCREEN events has already been a contributory factor in a range of collaborations between the arts and the sciences (see www.genomicminds.co.uk). Ethical approval has been obtained from the Cardiff School of Social Sciences to use Cardiff sciSCREEN events as sites for social research. The Cardiff sciSCREEN team plan to publish a paper, drawing on ethnographic and evaluative data, to critically discuss the Cardiff sciSCREEN model of public engagement.