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Start Talking About Research Today: European Researchers' Night at Trinity College Dublin

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - START (Start Talking About Research Today: European Researchers' Night at Trinity College Dublin)

Reporting period: 2020-07-01 to 2021-02-28

For 2020, Trinity’s ERN was called START, or Start Talking About Research Today. It aimed to build on the knowledge gained from these previous events, and create a dynamic, energetic, and engaged model of interaction that put researchers and the public in conversation with each other.

The fundamental goal of START was to align with the main objective of European Researchers’ Night which is to “bring researchers closer to the general public and increase awareness of research and innovation activities, with a view to supporting the public recognition of researchers, creating an understanding of the impact of researchers’ work on citizens’ daily life, and encouraging young people to embark on research careers.”

Trinity’s proposed European Researchers’ Night event was to activate the university’s sites around Dublin city and highlight where research takes place in our local community. Working with British Council Ireland, START also aimed to enhance the communication skills and confidence of researchers across the island of Ireland to engage with diverse public audiences. The intention was to encourage people to start talking about research today by creating the opportunity for them to engage with researchers in places they might not have recognised as sites for research. Original plans would also have seen activities and events take place on the main city centre campus and a large attendance was anticipated. Throughout the summer of 2020, the situation in Ireland with regard to Covid-19 was relatively stable. While we still hoped to hold some face-to-face events as part of European Researchers’ Night we were also exploring alternative online activities that could be incorporated into the programme. On October 21st, the government of Ireland placed the country in a “Level 5” lockdown until the end of November, effectively ending the possibility of any in-person element for European Researchers’ Night in Ireland this year.

The move to wholly online delivery for START in 2020 allowed the event to have a much wider audience than previous iterations that were solely focused on campus-based attendance. While not an ideal method of delivery given the restrictions and stresses of a global pandemic, the START team was able to engage with participants from all around the world and succeeded in bringing researchers and the public closer together.
A call for suggested activities was circulated to Trinity’s research community in August 2020. The call asked participants to consider, among other things, the following in proposing activities:
• how we can bring research into people’s homes, experiments that can be demonstrated online, or interactive activities that people can join in with
• Proposals for activities and events aimed at primary and secondary school students. What would get them talking about research? What kind of conversations do we want to spark? Do we have a call to action for something children can start to do today to make a big difference to their world?
• All areas of research are welcome! The aim is to have representation from across all three faculties. Proposals for activities that span disciplines are encouraged.

A second call was circulated for researchers who were not in a position to propose events or activities. This call sought interested researchers to participate in the Meet the Researcher postcard and video series which was used as part of the social media awareness campaign. A dedicated website for START 2020 was created within the main Trinity Research website. This site served as the meeting point for visitors to START and featured an EU Corner, the full programme of events, and a dedicated page with further information and registration links for each event and activity. In order to better track attendance, most live events required registration in advance via Eventbrite. A series of activities that could be engaged with at any time were also included in the programme. Overall, 60 live sessions were run across 27 distinct events and activities for START 2020. A programme of activities was also designed for people to engage with and participate at any time should they be unable to attend any of the live sessions.

As part of the START programme, a series of training workshops were offered to researchers. There were two separate strands: the Scientifically Speaking communication training workshops in collaboration with the British Council; and two research impact workshops in line with the events in the Tent of Bad Science. A series of four half day communication training workshops were offered to a wide range of researchers across Ireland and Northern Ireland, with a specific focus on MSCA researchers. Only three had been planned initially but a fourth, in partnership with Cork Discovers European Researchers’ Night, was developed due to high demand. All workshops had been planned to take place face-to-face but a shift to virtual delivery was required due to the Covid-19 restrictions. The workshops were led by British Council Ireland in partnership with Trinity College Dublin, Dundalk Institute of Technology, Ulster University and Waterford Institute of Technology with researchers from across the island being able to take part.
Based on registration information, the START team can confidently estimate that approximately 2,432 people participated in live events and activities. Given the online nature of START 2020, a revised goal was to broaden the geographic profile of the attendees and those who engaged with START programming. Based on Eventbrite registration data we can show that this was successfully achieved. Where previous European Researchers’ Night events at Trinity were confined to the local area Trinity’s main campus in Dublin city centre, START 2020 logged registrations from almost every county in Ireland. Furthermore, registrations were logged from 40 countries around the world.

Of the estimated attendance figure of 2,432, approximately 1,575 were primary school age children which shows a significant improvement on previous years’ attempts at engagement with the school age cohort. This data was also not captured in the Impact Assessment Report given that minors could not be asked to complete the survey. Feedback from teachers and pupils who participated in the activities was universally positive and indicated a real appetite for more events and activities tailored towards this cohort at future iterations of European Researchers’ Night at Trinity.

As with any event that had to be organised during 2020, the START team faced unprecedented challenges in producing and executing a high-quality event. Of particular note is the success of the schools programming which was a specific goal for the organising team. In spite of the various logistical challenges, last minute changes to the nature of the event, and the general pressure that came with working in a university during a pandemic we believe that START 2020 was a success for researchers and attendees.