Public engagement: Wonder Initiative

Science and technology can inspire people from all backgrounds. In reality, we know that the playing field isn’t level.

There are areas across the UK where people don’t have the same opportunities to explore science and technology, and children who simply end up feeling that it’s not for them. Starting to address this imbalance is a key aim of the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) current public engagement strategy, through working to improve our reach with diverse audiences.

The Wonder Initiative aims to connect people from all backgrounds with our science and technology. Wonder is about giving under-served communities an equal voice by listening, understanding and responding to what people want to know about science and technology.

The launch of Wonder marks a long-term commitment by STFC to move our focus towards audience-driven public engagement, reaching under-served communities in the most deprived areas of the UK. We want to change our emphasis to working with people, reflecting their needs and requirements for meaningful engagement rather than just delivering to them.

Who Wonder communities are

The Wonder Initiative focuses on working with participants from the 40% most socio-economically deprived areas of the UK, in particular 8 to 14-year-olds and their families and carers.

In developing our priorities for Wonder, STFC’s public engagement teams considered a range of different groups underrepresented in science and technology and under-served by science engagement opportunities.

The decision to focus on socioeconomic deprivation was informed by the, then emerging, work of the ASPIRES research project and the concept of ‘science capital’. Science capital can be described as the extent to which people are exposed to science-related knowledge, experience, values and attitudes in their daily lives.

ASPIRES research shows that young people from areas of greater economic deprivation have less access to engagement opportunities and as a result typically have lower science capital.

We have chosen to target 8 to 14-year-olds within this group as research shows that low science capital at this age shapes a young person’s outlook and could dissuade them from a career in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM).

This does not eliminate the importance of parents, teachers, carers and other adults, who are all key influencers in shaping young people’s aspirations and attitudes, and as a result, are also an important audience focus for Wonder.

Our working assumption was that science capital matches fairly well with socioeconomic indices. And from a pragmatic perspective, there are good national data sets on socioeconomic deprivation that we could use to help us to track our progress.

Prioritising a group that constitutes 40% of the population is a relatively broad approach. This will inherently include representations of other under-served communities. We expect that some Wonder activity will make valuable improvements to engagement with these groups, without this being the formal, initial focus of the initiative.

Aims of Wonder

Our aims for Wonder focus on delivery, developing effective partnerships and capturing and sharing learning from all aspects of the initiative.

Audiences

We aim for a significant increase in our reach with audiences from socioeconomically deprived areas of the UK by 2022, the end of the current STFC public engagement strategy, with engagements delivering the desired outcomes.

Project partners

We aim to establish a range of new initiatives co-created by public engagement delivery organisations and community organisations which, using current good practice to work with audiences from socioeconomically-deprived areas of the UK, produce recommended approaches for how STFC and others can do this effectively into the future.

STFC’s public engagement team as programme coordinator

We aim to share and adopt good practice about working with the Wonder target audience, so that these approaches continue beyond the life of the initiative.

How Wonder is implemented

The Wonder Initiative cuts across all STFC public engagement work. It is prioritised in all our public engagement grant schemes and in the extensive public engagement programmes delivered through our national laboratories and facilities.

To ensure a wide geographic reach and to harness expertise in this area, we’ve also formed national partnerships with the:

Elements of co-production are encouraged across all activities to support people in Wonder communities in helping to shape the types of public engagement they most want to be part of.

Within STFC, Wonder is led by a small project team, supported by the expertise of the wider public engagement teams, a dedicated steering group and our Public Engagement Advisory Panel.

Working with the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement we piloted a series of Wonder Match partnership-building events that brought together STFC-funded researchers and community organisations to explore potential collaborations.

Pairings were made between community organisations and researchers, and these emerging collaborations were supported by up to £1,000 to develop ideas and potentially pilot activities for new engagements. Several of these new collaborations went on to develop successful applications for more substantive funding through routes such as our Spark Awards.

Plans to roll out Wonder Match events were profoundly impacted by Covid, so this time was used to gather participant reflections of the Wonder Match process. We will share a short report soon.

Evaluation, learning and building a practitioner community

The Wonder Initiative marks a change of direction for our public engagement portfolio, and as such it is important to capture the learning from all aspects of the initiative.

We have contracted Cloud Chamber to undertake independent evaluation of delivery of Wonder through our own activities and those of our public engagement grant holders. We have also worked with Cloud Chamber to develop an informal and supportive peer network of those delivering Wonder activities.

The summary of the interim evaluation will be published here shortly, and a final evaluation report for this first stage of Wonder is due in summer 2022.

Apply for funding to run a Wonder project

Any of STFC’s public engagement grant schemes can be used to plan, deliver and evaluate engagement that benefits Wonder communities.

If you are an applicant, make sure you provide evidence that you understand your target audience and have designed a programme that responds to their needs.

Last updated: 21 June 2022

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