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The Fellowship of Impact and Public Engagement

Posted by , on 21 July 2023

The image shows Jamie Gallagher presenting a Powerpoint slide which depicts the Fellowship of the Ring (from Tolkien) and the One Ring. This is used as an analogy to explain the 'who would you like to get on board to reach your goals?' question which is something you need to ask yourself when setting up a public engagement activity.
Dr Jamie Gallagher led a public engagement workshop at the LMB-VBC Graduate Life Sciences Symposium (12 -14 July 2023)

Last week, I attended the LMB-VBC Graduate Life Sciences Symposium in Cambridge, UK. Besides its wonderful academic programme, this symposium also included a workshop and panel discussion that touched on the societal impact of science. During the workshop, participants were challenged to think about different ways to connect with (non-specialist) communities, enthuse audiences and create memorable engagement experiences.

This ‘Public Engagement’ workshop was led by Dr Jamie Gallagher, an award-winning engagement professional specialising in impact narratives and evaluation. The fact that Jamie is also a comedian became quite clear when he took the stage – as well as his love for the fantasy genre! In an engaging and entertaining workshop, Jamie used pop culture references – including the Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones – to introduce and guide us through the four key questions you need to consider when setting up any public engagement activity. In short, these where the following:

  • What would you like to achieve with your proposed activity?
  • Who would you like to get on board to reach your goals?
  • How will you make sure that you achieve your goals?
  • What does success look like?

And to answer these for Frodo Baggins of the Shire (spoiler alert!)

  • I’d like to destroy the One Ring.
  • I’ll join a fellowship of skilled individuals to get me to Mount Doom.
  • I’ll take the shortest road through Middle Earth (and will go through the mines of Moria).
  • I’ll throw the one ring into the fiery chasm from whence it came, so that Sauron can never rule Middle Earth again.

Perhaps a bit silly, but I would argue that the use of analogies and metaphors greatly helped Jamie to get his message across. The power of different presentation techniques was something we analysed further by watching the winner of FameLab 2019: Tim Gordon. We discussed the many ways in which Tim managed to captivate his audiences with his story on climate change and its effects on coral reefs. It turns out Tim used a combination of humour, enthusiasm, analogies, imagination, stories, pop culture references, questions and more to claim his prize – and all of that in just a 3 minute talk! Perhaps take a look at the video yourself and see whether you can spot even more tricks and presentation techniques.

The careful analysis of Tim’s successful talk at FameLab led to one more analogy from Jamie that stuck with me: if your scientific data are raw vegetables, you can imagine that most people don’t want to digest it that way. You will have to clean, process and chop things up before cooking it and making it palatable. Not only this, but to make things really memorable, you need to add spices and flavourings – just like Tim in his FameLab final. So if you’re thinking about setting up a public engagement project, let’s get cooking!

This image depicts one of Jamie Gallagher slides which includes many different spices and flavourings that can be added to 'spice up' your public engagement activity (used as part of a larger cooking analogy).
Slide presented by Dr Jamie Gallagher detailing the ‘spices’ and ‘flavourings’ you can add when preparing an outreach activity.
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Categories: Discussion, Education, Outreach

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