What’s the best way to boost science engagement?

24 Aug 2023

Dr David McKeown. Image: Elaine Burke

The latest episode of For Tech’s Sake explores the topic of science communication and how interactive events and public forums could be the future of public engagement.

Science engagement and communication is an integral part of the industry as the need to better explain scientific concepts and reach out to the public have become more important than ever.

We only need to look back at the misinformation that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic to see how important science and health literacy is. But what’s the best way to do that? Written papers or broadcast interviews could be of great benefit in disseminating information, but they only go one way, leaving little room for discussion.

This is where alternative methods can really shine. One example is Ireland’s ‘national brainstorm’ from Science Foundation Ireland’s Creating Our Future campaign, which called on the public to submit their opinions on science and research, and how these can be used to shape the country in the future. When it comes to this campaign’s effectiveness, the proof is in the pudding – the Irish public submitted more than 18,000 ideas.

Another fantastic way of engaging the public with science is through interactive events such as Dublin Maker, which returns this year on Saturday, 2 September at its new location in Richmond Barracks in Inchicore, Co Dublin.

Dublin Maker is a free, community-run event which takes the form of a ‘show and tell’ experience where inventors and makers showcase their creations in a carnival, family-friendly atmosphere.

To find out more about this year’s festival and its effectiveness in creating better sci-tech engagement, we spoke to Dr David McKeown for the latest episode of For Tech’s Sake.

Together we discussed the importance of events like this in encouraging people to engage with science.

McKeown said it’s not about making sure everyone knows everything about physics or science but it’s about building enough curiosity to want to know a little bit about it and then to learn more.

“That stuff can be contagious, if you see someone make it and that’s why we do these events around that, to make people come and talk to people who are making this stuff to see how they fail all the time.”

McKeown, who also works on Ireland’s first satellite EIRSAT-1, said that seeing that mistakes are part of the process is an important part of science engagement and communication.

“It’s great for someone [such as] a scientist or an engineer or just this maker go, ‘Here’s prototype one, burned down the house. Here’s prototype two, only half the house got burned down. Three, four, and now, here’s this really cool thing that works’,” he said. “It’s too intimidating sometimes, the final product of things, so the process is what it’s all about.”

Check out the full episode with Dr David McKeown and subscribe for more.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.