The European Science Events Association was formed in 2001 by a group of science festival organizers from different European countries. Today, the association has about 100 members in almost 40 countries, including some outside Europe, like Israel, Egypt, Abu Dhabi and Georgia.
The 100 members constitute quite a diverse community. Festivals and events organisations, universities, science centres and museums, NGO’s private companies and other institutions together form a network of people dedicated to events, engagement and communication between public, science and policy-makers.
Looking back at the 13 years, there are some characteristics of a few different periods.
The first 3-4 years were spent on “mapping”, finding out what similarities and differences that could be seen among the members. The “white book” was published in 2005, describing some 20 festivals and events around Europe, regarding objectives, stakeholders, content, marketing, organisation, funding, media and other criteria.
This was a useful exercise and it gained a lot of interest. The book can still be downloaded from the Eusea website, even though the need for updates is becoming more and more urgent.
The work on the white book also brought an interest from the participating events to exchange events and activities between them, not least to get a wider European participation in the local events.
The WONDERS project was accepted and funded by the European Commission for two years, 2006 and 2007. The second year 31 members participated by sending their “best events” to another event, and by receiving an event from another member, to be included in the local programme. All of these activities were presented under the WONDERS signature, and all of them were presented at final events at Heureka, Finland, in 2006 and at the Pavilion of Knowledge in Lisbon in 2007.
This was all very good, and created strong links between members all over Europe. However, at a closer look, it turned out that some of the “best events” are based on the same knowledge, e.g. DNA extraction. Or the potential use of liquid nitrogen.
The 2WAYS project, 2008-2010, thus added a dimension of actually developing new presentations of on-going life science research, and a series of completely new activities were produced, including games, plays, and interactive experiments.
The same project also introduced the Young Europeans Science Parliament, thus adding the dialogue and participation into the events. Young people from 30 cities took part in local parliaments, discussing life science issues such as stem cells and access to genetic information, in committees and hearings, with a resolution handed over to local policy-makers in the end. A final parliament was organised for representatives from all countries in the European Parliament in Brussels.
The most recent step in this development from “mapping” to “networking” and “new formats” is the “participation” and “policy-making” dimensions.
In 2010, the PLACES project started as a 4-year project, coordinated by Ecsite, the science center and museums network, with Eusea and ERRIN, the European Regions’ Research and Innovation Network, as main consortium partners.
The primary objective has been to develop the network and understanding between policy-makers, science and the public. 65 cities and regions have taken part, forming local “City Partnerships” to develop policies for science communication and promoting the “City of Scientific Culture”. The final conference, in Bremen in March this year, brought almost 150 cities together. Mayors and other leaders from 40 cities have signed the PLACES declaration, thus acknowledging the importance of evidence-based policies and public access to science, in order to promote a successful development of the city or region.
Social inclusion is one of the issues that has been discussed the most, not only in the PLACES project, but also among members of Eusea. Interesting projects have been carried out in the suburbs of Paris, in former Yugoslavia, in Palestine and other places where conflicts between people are part of their everyday lives. And it turns out that science – with different opinions and challenging the authorities are parts of the context – may be a valuable contribution to building capacities and citizenship.
Finally, the PLACES project has made it visible to many of us in the science communication community that “reflection” is necessary. We need to think about how to improve the communication, the inclusion, and the engagement – the activities of the project point at needs to understand each other better: what works and what doesn’t?
This was basically the content of a presentation at the Science Center World Summit at Technopolis in Mechelen, Belgium, 18 March 2014