Aug 292013

Following my post earlier this month on the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas event which myself and my colleagues Addy and Ben ran on Fieldtrip GB, I am delighted to have some additional follow up.

The main reason for this follow up is because Eccentronic have created a fantastic and, in their words, “quite bizarre”  video using the map of public toilets we created specially for our event using Fieldtrip GB. Watch it in all of it’s glory here:

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Do let Eccentronic know what you think – comment or like the video over on YouTube, tweet them @eccentronic, or leave comments below.

Now, this is definitely the most creative response I’ve seen to Fieldtrip GB… so far! I’m hoping it’s the start of many weird and wonderful uses of the app! On that note do share your own thoughts on our key question from the event :

If you could map anything in your community, what would it be and why?

here, in the comments below.

And the other goodies to share…

The Edinburgh Beltane Network – who were coordinating the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas events with Susan Morrison – have now set most of the images from the very varied Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas events live here on Flickr.

Addy Pope speaking to the small audience at the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas

Addy Pope speaking at our Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas event.

This leaves only the audio file from our event. If it is sounds reasonable we will share it via an update to this post so bookmark this post and keep an eye out!

:: Update: The Audio from our Fringe show is now live. You can download or play it via this MP3. ::

 August 29, 2013  Posted by at 5:29 pm Week In the Life Tagged with: , , , , ,  No Responses »
Aug 222013

Back in May I participated in the Heriot-Watt Engage Launch event (see this news item). These are my very belated notes from this day on communicating and engaging the public with research…

Introduction from Quentin Cooper

This is the official launch of Heriot Watt Engage. The Oxford English Dictionary has 19 discreet uses of engage, so what do we mean by that here? I would argue that it’s about being entangled, being engaged with the public. And engage like engaging, being scintillating. And perhaps also like Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek: the Next Generation, when he says “engage”. It’s about getting things started, taking action.

We’ll hear more formal ideas of how to engage later on, then some experiences of engaging, and some parallel sessions on different ways to engage. But we kick off with some more on Heriot-Watt, on Heriot-Watt Engage.

Professor Alan Millar – Why Engage?

I know we have lots of people passionate about public engagement in the audience today. But why Heriot-Watt Engage? Well engagement is a priority of our overall knowledge exchange/knowledge transfer agenda. I’m involved in the REF at the moment and “impact” is part of that agenda, and Knowledge Exchange, Knowledge Transfer and Public Engagement can all be part of that impact. That means there are financial reasons to engage but there are many other reasons. Firstly this university gets many millions of pounds from public sources and it’s important to explain what we do with that. Many academics really enjoy public engagement, get a lot out of doing more than just publishing articles. And public engagement helps us raise the profile of the organisation, getting word out to Edinburgh, to Scotland, and beyond to international audiences. It is good for student recruitment, for the profile of the organisation, etc. and I feel we have a moral obligation to inspire the next generation, that’s also an important reason to engage.

So we want to increase the amount and perhaps the quality of our public engagement. Heriot-Watt Engage is very much inspired by the work of Edinburgh Beltane, an Edinburgh network for public engagement. We now have the principals prize for public engagement. And we are part of the committee that selects the North Sea public engagement prize (more on prizes later). And we have two people who have taken on the public engagement mantle here so I shall hand over to them now.

Introducing Heriot-Watt Engage – Dr Laura Wicks and Katarzyna Przybycien

Katarzyna began by saying that she and Laura are sharing the public engagement coordinators role, and are based in Academic Enhancement. When we started in January we came with experience of public engagement. We had an idea that there was other work taking place across the university – we kept bumping into people – so we began an exploration of what is taking place. From Science Festival events, Saturday events for kids, the Deadinburgh zombie event, comedy shows, publishing for the public, social media. Heriot-Watt is so big so there is so much going on, a very inspiring picture.

But there were isolated pockets of activity so we wanted to make connections between those involved in public engagement and the activities they do, share the huge amount of knowledge being built up from those in students to professor to technical roles. We hope to match people, we will be building up a mailing list. And we have an advisory group with staff from each school and they help to steers our activities and we hope this will help us steer our activities. And we want to share opportunities, deadlines, prizes etc. We have the slogan of “Stimulate. Support. Promote.” but we also want to ensure we work at a policy level both locally and nationally, working with Beltane, seeing what is happening nationally. And that connects to the impact agenda. My personal background is in measuring imact so I will be delighted to support you with any activities in that area.

Over to Laura:

We already know there is lots of public engagement taking place. Even colleagues in the same department don’t know sometimes. We have staff in the physics department running a science club in his village – we can support that if we know about it. For the REF you need to write an impact statement, how you get your work out there, how you are ensuring your work has the most impact. We can help you, put you in touch with experts, and we are working with Beltane, with Edinburgh International Science Festival, and the Abu Dhabi Science Festival – we have a Dubai campus so that makes sense for us to be there – and the principal is keen to see us running events at the Malaysian centre.

It’s important to promote what to do, to put our work out there. Social media is a great way to engage with the public and there are some fantastic blogs, twitter users, etc. within the university. We have a website coming very soon for Heriot-Watt Engage – with funding opportunities, public engagement opportunities, and we hope the public will use it to find out more about the research going on. We will also be promoting this via Twitter.

Public engagement is important to universities, we see a future where public engagement is a key part of academic life. And we are going to end with a video with academics from Heriot-Watt talking about the public engagement they do and why they do that public engagement.

Cue videos:

iFit Quest/Visual virus – Judy Robinson

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Science Signs – Sign language – Gary Quinn

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Engineering and Schools – Bill Macpherson

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Back to Quentin:

Heriot-Watt was set up in October 1821 as a school of arts, the first specialist school on mechanics.

So, in this session we have showcases of public engagement at Heriot-Watt.

Firstly William Macpherson, Lecturer in the School of Physics:

Bill Macpherson, School of Physics – Outreach for All

I wanted to look at “outreach for all”, really an excuse to use lots of pictures, but to hang this on something I wanted to think about – What? How? Where? Why?

A lot of what I do is very visual, very physical. Using liquid nitrogen in schools captures kids imagination, they may not remember the science but they can be inspired with them.

Keep it simple. You can do science with exotic tools like potatoes and straws. Perhaps the kids don’t remember the forces science but it may inspire them to find out more later on. But you can do more exotic things and as long as you explain them properly it remains accessible to all.

Keep it interactive really helps. Again – cue practical experiment – you can appear to break the law of physics using a balloon and a skewer – there is material science there but you want to make people excited and keep things memorable. Keeps things colourful too!

Where to do it? Well going upside your comfort zone helps. We do science events literally out on princes street where almost anyone can stop by. We’ve done events like the highland games – specifically not a science event – and that’s great for engaging kids but also for engaging parents too.

Who? Well young groups are inherently interested in doing stuff. It’s really fun. It has to be short and snappy but they can be a great audience. Teenagers are tougher but there are ways to break down barriers whether in schools or somewhere more natural to them, their environments, like the aviemore ski centre. Once you break the is-science-cool-or-not barrier there is lots of potential. Of course the under twos are probably too young but 2 to 102 is probably a good age range. It takes a whole range of people to make this stuff work but why do it? Lots of reasons but it’s fun!

Bernadette O’Rourke – Linguistics, Management of Linguistic and Cultural Diversity.

My interest is in language diversity, increased cultural diversity. In Scotland 100 languages are spoken, almost 300 in the EU. I work in social linguistics and anthropological linguistics. Less interested in word construction and more about listening in on buses, differences between genders, kids code-switching in conversation, etc.

As a discipline we have long been engaged with people, we need them to understand their use of language, and this has meant me looking at situations as diverse as painting with kids, up to meeting with MEPS talking about policies for languages in Europe. I also work with the public sector in areas around communicating cross culturally, for those with English as a second language or no knowledge of English at all.

Of course public engagement takes a lot of time. School engagement can be exhausting but it’s fun and I’d like to repeat it. Public engagement activities can be rather addictive, it’s helped me with my academic work, my publications and conferences etc. and those activities help me see that my research has real application and impact in the real world and that’s very rewarding. I just went through a European funding process and I realise that the public engagement work really set me up well for that – those applications don’t stay with your research question but with what benefits there will be to people on the European union. And you become part of a two way process: individuals come back to you, journalists come to you for comment or trickles, and having that dialogue broadens your perspective and gives you new questions to asked.

Janice Blanc – School of the Built Environment

I will take a slightly different slant, as someone who had the chance to get involved in other peoples public engagement. In my PhD I had the opportunity to be part of a project of urban flooding. We had a model that let us make it ran, see flood pathways, could change surfaces. Kids could interact with it. We took it to science festivals and schools so the audiences ranged from rat reticule school groups to much broader swathes of the public. We took it to the Cheltenham Science Festival and saw about 3500 people with hugely varying interests from vague interest in the fun aspect of the model through to councillors with specific questions. So one of the challenges was about making sure you talked to the specific audience that you had in front of you. That experience early in my PhD was brilliant for developing my communication of my research and it’s application in a wider content. I would really encourage phd students to get involved but also supervisors to ensure PhDs students have the time to do that. Without that experience I may not have thought to use public engagement in my own research.

That model we built is a big beastie, it takes lots of organisation, resourcing, people to lug that about and to engage effectively, I did some work with schools two months after an event at Grangemouth to see what they recalled. They remembered what they had done, many remembered the science behind that, and many had started to think about science as a career.

My own research has been lab-based. I don’t get out and see people much, but I wanted to get more involved in public engagement. So I took part in the British Science Association‘s “Strictly Engineering” event and that gave me an opportunity to get out and speak to the public about my work, it gave me ideas to think about, and I’ve had a chance to speak to local councillors and Scottish ministers about the importance of public engagement, which I never would have done without that experience of public engagement.

Lisa Macintyre – School of Textiles

I fell into public engagement by accident. I picked a silly topic post-PhD, a project called “does my bum look big in this” looking at different trouser designs on different ladies bodies. I had five honours students looking at this. This got to the attention of the school newsletter and from there somehow to a silly Christmas press story. On boxing day morning the phone was ringing and the sun newspaper wanted to run the story, then the daily express, then the Sunday time. A tip: dont menton bottoms if you dont want to be involvedinoublic engagement! There were suddenly all these national papers covering this. Oprah, CBS and NBC all called up. The reporter from NBC who covered Tiananmen Square had to come to Galashiels to cover it!

The story grew arms and legs… What I learned from it was… If you have something that might be big you need to make sure you have results first, the media wanted results but we were only oarr way through the project. The press did lead to an invite to the costume society – I was able to speak abut this and my real research on medical compression. And to events with schools on functional design of bike helmets and nappies and such.

The public matters, they pay for our research. We have to get out there, raise enthusiasm and understand why it matters so they know why money for research is prioritised. And you do get amazing questions from different audiences. And it is hugely enjoyable. Know your audience. Short is good.


Q) Is there one thing you wish you’d been told at the start?

A – WM) Prepare for the unexpected, that’s especially the case with kids who will ask all kinds of questions. Be transparent – say if you don’t know the answer – and be flexible and pitch it right to your audience. Sometimes those fundamental questions “what is light” can be a real challenge… But if you get it right it’s a real buzz!

A – BOR) Don’t centre the activity on yourself but on your audience. I took a lecturing type approach but you need the discussion to come from them. You have to give it a structure but it should come from them

a – JB) You have to have a hook, something visual and very quick to grab attention. Having something that grabs attention, that calls people over, is really important. Once you have attention you can explain. And once you can explain to an 8 year old your skills will be up to explaining your work to any audience

A – LM) Props are great, they can be a trigger for activity. I take a selections of weird things and that works great. Being really prepared and quite structured just wasn’t as effective, particularly if you don’t know exactly the age and interests of the kids coming along. You need to know your stuff and be prepared… If you have a super absorbent fibre you need water and towels say… But flexibility is important

Q) There are three women here to one man, audience is fairly fifty-fifty. Is public engagement more of a female thing?

A – WM) It’s great to see lots of women here coming From the male dominated field of engineering

Q) Especially for Lisa: had you done media training before that call on boxing day from the press?

A – LM) No, not really. I just got on with it. It never occurred to me to call colleagues.

Q from Kat) Any disasters after that?

A – LM)  Not really, we had friends for dinner and Cape Town Talk Radio rang up. I had trouble saying no. And did an interview which was fine. But then they opened up the lines… I had to give styling tips to middle aged South African ladies! I wouldn’t ever want to repeat the experience of incessantly talking about something without substance. I do work thoroughly and rigorously so did not enjoy being thrown into a circumstances where I had to wing it.

Quentin) This professor of acoustics at Salford came up with a formula for media interest. He said he’d do a talk on concert hall acoustics but threw in a reference to the echo of a ducks quack. That led to 150 interview requests from the media but he was able to start with silly stuff then go into the serious concert hall acoustics stuff, which worked for him.

Q) On linguistics: have you considered the idea of speaking to an audience in their own language – translating material into, say Arabic, so it is interpreted into the meanings of that language – like Dr Quinn’s work on sign language?

A – BOR) There has been a lot of work here about multilingual Implicatons. We have tried to do lots of public engagement events at Heriot-Watt and to run truly multiple lingual events, speakers in their native language but also translated in real time, to raise awareness of multilingual issues.

A – Kat) Language actually matters to all of your work – different audiences require different language in a way, so there are some words 8 year olds simply don’t understand…

Q) You (Lisa) said not to publicise research unless completed?

A – LM) In that case the outcome wasn’t really substantial. There was nothing much to report which was disappointing for the media.

Comment) You wanted to do something fun and you achieved that?

A – LM) it was a really interesting experience, but I would have preferred to have some research to share.

Comment from Alan) What’s been emphasised here is the idea of something simple to get across. So you have, say, the Raspberry Pi, which has taken off widely… Where do you pitch these things in terms of sophistication?

A – WM) I have a Raspberry Pi, they are good fun. Something like that needs a more specific targeted audience, you need to be interested and have some skills there. But you can have them set up already – as we did at the Barr Science Festival we had a series of Raspberry Pis hooked up to bananas…

Quention) There is a danger of suggesting there is a formula but there are a myriad of different ways to do these things.

Q) Back to Lisa’s comment about publicising research before results. I think for adult and media audiences there is scope to educate them that research does not always have expected or conclusive or positive results. Is there a positive aspect in terms of wider engagement with the wider research agenda and the process of research?

A – LM) You can take that angle on it, you can have those conversations. But the media don’t necessarily want a deeper understanding of research recesses. Or want to run that story.

Quentin) In your case the media seem to have projected onto your story.

A – JB) there may be a role in changing public expectations, to better understand the time it takes to get to an answer. There may be a role for it but I’m not sure how ready the public are or the media are.

Parallel Sessions

The next session consisted of attendees picking from a choice of three short parallel sessions. These ran twice to allow participants to explore several topics. The Parallel Sessions included my joint session with Sophie Good, Heriot Watt. My part of the presentation can be seen in this Prezi and the associated resource sheet can be found here.

How to engage – Chaired by Quentin Cooper

This was Quentins micro summary of the various parallel sessions:

  • Stalking, lurking – Social
  • Supporting reassuring – Schools
  • Collaboration, cocreation – Beltane

Professor Alan Miller, Royal Society Public Engagement Prizes

Several prizes, very prestigious awards. Started by the Beltane. Now that Beltane is not funded nationally the prizes have been funded and embedded in the RSE awards. Prize winners in the past include Aubrey Manning, Tom Devine, Caroline Wilkinson (University of Dundee working in forensics). Those are senior prize winners. The Innovators Prize has gone in the last few years has included those just finishing PhDs, postdocs, etc. Joanna Brooks from UoE and winner of I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here; Nicholas Stanley was doing innovative stuff at Dundee Science Festival, and most recently Dr Chris Speed who has done work on bringing social history and communities together digital. They are very much about real innovation in public engagement, really different projects from what others have done before. Done by nomination by fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and we have about 20 of those within Heriot-Watt.

That’s the prizes but I also wanted to mention TED lectures. They now have TEDx events in Edinburgh. We are doing a TEDx in heriot watt next month, we will do demos of research we do here. Danielli Factule is leading that.

Dr Laura Wicks, Principals Public Engagement Prize and Funding

It’s in its third years. One of our former prize winners spoke earlier – Bill Macpherson. This year’s prize has a Deadline of 14th June 2013. This year there are four categories: individual, early career, team, PhD student. The overall prize is £1500 for a public engagement event, plus £500 for each category. The information and forms are on the engage website. And there are some more videos from previous finalists and winners there. If short listed you too could appear there.

But there are more prizes out there… For example:

The Society for General Microbiology Outreach Prize; the British Psychological Society Public Engagement Award; the Biochemical Society Science Communication Prize; Famelab; IOP Kelvin Award (previous winners include Brian Cox). Lots of opportunities. Many of the academics who have sat on Public Engagement panels indicate that there isn’t always as much competition as expected for some funding schemes so it really is worth applying.

How to fund engagement:

  • Impact Acceleration Account – EPSRC @ HWU – worth considering even if your worth isn’t usually in this funding bodies territory
  • RCUK Pathways to Impact – include Public Engagement in research grants. There’s good funding here and there is opportunity to ask for extra PE cash here.
  • Talking Science Grants – a Scottish scheme for deprived or rural communities. They do only allow one application per university though so they are looking for joint applications
  • Society funding can range from £500-£100,000 depending on the project.

There are loads of sources of funding here, collaboration between departments and disciplines are particularly encouraged so come to us and we can help.

Katarzyna Przybycien, Specific Opportunities

I just wanted to highlight the range of science festivals and public events – we can advise you on developing PE activities for these.

  • Summer Science festival (1-7 July 2013)
  • British Science festival (7-12th sept 2013)
  • Bang Goes the Borders Science Festival – really open to innovation and very supportive and engaging. (21st sept 2013)
  • Midlothian Science Festival (5-20th oct 2013)
  • National Science and Engineering Week (spring 2014)
  • Dunbar Scifest (spring 2014)
  • Edinburgh International Science Festival (5-20th April 2014)

The challenge here can be tracking deadlines. Both Summer Science and the Edinburgh International Science Festival close to applications this summer (late july or early august) for their spring/summer 2014 iterations.

And locally… Cafe Scientifique is a monthly Monday informal opportunity at the Filmhouse to discuss science with broad adult audience.

And we also encourage you to engage with schools. But schools tends to have relationships with academics or projects. It’s not that easy to approach schools directly. Lots of processes to follow. But STEMNET will do much of this for you, keep you informed of opportunities etc. and we encourage those who do engage to sign to the STEMNET Ambassadors Programme, we encourage more people to sign up!

Also from Quentin: Pint of Science type events in pubs….

Dr Sarah Anderson, Beltane Network Opportunities

See the handout on function of Beltane and what you can expect from us. It’s not the thing on Calton Hill, we are a network set up in 2008, aiming to help you make your research available to more people. We are funded by the University of Edinburgh; Heriot-Watt; Queen Margaret’s University; Napier University. We can connect you to non-academic audiences and organisations, to other researchers. We run networking sessions – the next one here at Heriot-Watt is on 21st May on environmental policy, with talks, questions, and networking. The other big upcoming event is on 11th June at Summerhall, our Annual Gathering for networking. We also have a fellowship scheme – that buys out some of your time for public engagement work (you have to be a member of academic staff to apply), and we run various training activities. We like to tie training to big events, for example for TEDxUniversityofEdinburgh we coached the speakers.


Q) What’s the name of the doggie on the home screen of the presentation of

A) Angus

Q) Is there any thought on teaching science communication as a degree subject at heriot watt?

A – Alan miller) Not yet, but an idea. Cardiff has a degree…

A – Quentin) Imperial, Plymouth. Scotland has a great tradition of science. A great tradition of journalism. But a rubbish history of science journalism so that’s good news…

A) And the open university does a science communication msc.

A – SA) And there is a new Science Communications and Public Engagement MSc at Edinburgh University.

Q – Quentin) Sarah in your session you said the senior folk get it, the frontline folk get it but the middle folk don’t always get it… Is that just the nature of where the buck stops? Any solutions?

A – SA) It’s about recognising that work, raising the profile of engagement can help. External drivers may be a clincher – things like the REF.

A – Alan) The REF driver isn’t that strong. There are a few public engagement examples but significance and reach can be hard. It’s a bit of a dilemma. When we come out of REF process and analysis we’ll have a better idea about the realities.

Q – Quentin) We’ve talked about public engagement but are some forms of public engagement more equal than others? If you do something costing 1 million for one person. If you do something that costs 1p and reaches a million and everyone loves it and signs up for courses that’s great. But what about inbetween that.

A – Kat) often expensive stuff pays off over time. This area is still developing. Innovation is a good thing. Individuals and their audiences really make the engagement, make the success. Lots of discussion of ways to measure impact of public engagement… But tricky

A – Sarah) You have to build evaluation of public engagement in from the outset to be effective but that can be very different from metrics. And metrics should not just be about numbers – they are often not about that at all but about comments, opinions, anecdotal evidence.

A – Alan) Publicise what you are doing, get it on the Principal’s agenda, a message to get out that PE is important. There are ways to reward PE. There was a beltane panel looking a at rewards and recognition. We did identify how PE was recognised, e.g. is it recognised in promotions systems? (generally not). I resisted putting PE in to promotions criteria as I think it’s just a part of Knowledge Exchange. But rewards matters.

Comment – Rob) How important is PE for career development… They can use these examples in CVs, in applications, in interviews etc. stories that can be told. Do candidates stand out from the pack that way?

A – Alan) No one gets recruited for public engagement I would say, but it is another part of the pack of skills. For Scottish Crucible that is something we look for though. More and more in academia we look for people who think beyond being in the lab or library or beyond those only publishing articles.

Quentin) These activities potentially spin out in unexpected ways…

Laura) I did my PhD in New Zealand and PE was more built in there. But things like prizes are great for your CV and your career, they show your skills.

Summary and closing – Professor Alan Miller

Thank you to Quentin.

Today’s concept and brainwave to launch Heriot-Watt Engage in this way was Kat and Laura’s. They’ve been busy over the last four months already and we should thank them for that.

Aug 152013
Image of the Feedburner Settings screen

Here at EDINA we use Feedburner for managing some of our RSS feeds as it allows you to do many very useful added value things with your feed, including delivery by email. Unfortunately by default the service takes the name of your blog as a subject line. That’s fine if your blog has a very broad readership or there are not frequent posts. For some of our blogs, however, posts fall into several parallel strands – so whilst all posts may be of interest some will be particularly relevant to particular subscribers, which means the subject line of those email updates really matters.

Image of the SUNCAT blog

Screenshot of the SUNCAT Blog.

My colleagues from the SUNCAT blog were keen to ensure their post titles would stand out more clearly to their readers as this is one of the EDINA blogs that includes several different strands of posts. Some SUNCAT posts are informative, recording key updates to the service, whilst others are playful explorations of the materials in the SUNCAT service. For systems librarians and those contributing data to SUNCAT those updates need to stand out, to those using the service the playful posts may be much more relevant. No matter who the reader, the title makes a big difference and whilst it is already easy to see the titles in the regular RSS feed, it was time to ensure email subscribers could see the title reflected in the subject line of their emails.

Image of the Feedburner Publicize menu

The slightly hidden away Email Branding settings.

Digging around the Feedburner settings can be a little time consuming – there are no end of options – and the email branding settings are relatively hidden away. However, via this very helpful Shout Me Out blog post, I found the quick route to the appropriate functionality which has been quietly offered by Feedburner since 2009.

To change the subject line of emails being sent to subscribers head to the Publicize heading – one of the four tabs you will see once logged in. Look for the  Email subscription then the sub heading Email branding. In that section you will see the relevant shortcode to add your title to your post:

Image of the Feedburner Settings screen

The magic box and bit of shortcode that ensures email subscribers receive sensibly titled emails.

It’s an easy change but with big impact.

 August 15, 2013  Posted by at 11:01 am How to..., Week In the Life Tagged with: , , , ,  2 Responses »
Aug 142013
Participants at the Royal Society of Edinburgh Digital Participation Inquiry event in Hawick earlier in 2013.

As we enter the last phase of the evidence gathering  process I wanted to draw your attention to the Royal Society of Edinburgh Spreading the Benefits of Digital Participation Inquiry that I am part of.

The Inquiry is looking into use, non-use and under-utilisation of the internet in Scotland. In particular we want to know why people do not use the internet and how usage of the internet can be maximised in beneficial ways. This also means that we are really interested in factors around this such as digital literacy, understanding barriers to participation, motivations, etc.

Although I have already mentioned the Inquiry to lots of you individually I thought this would be a good time to blog about the Inquiry as we have several specialist sector and interest-specific sessions lined up including an Education Round Table next week (22nd August) that I would encourage you to sign up and participate in.

You can view details on all of our forthcoming sessions here.

For those unable to attend in person – or outside of these sectors/interest areas – you still have a few more weeks to submit a response to the Inquiry. At this stage I think we are particularly keen to hear from those in SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises), those with examples of successfully bringing new groups online or broadening use of the internet (hello all Social Media surgeons for instance!), and in speaking to those who are not online and who are willing to share their reasons and motivations for not using the internet.

You can respond online or you can submit your response by email or post – more information can be found on the RSE’s page for the Inquiry.

Participants at the Royal Society of Edinburgh Digital Participation Inquiry event in Hawick earlier in 2013.

Participants at the Royal Society of Edinburgh Digital Participation Inquiry event in Hawick earlier in 2013.

Aug 092013

This time last week I was getting set for my first ever Edinburgh Fringe show as a performer, a Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas event which took place on Monday5th August at The Famous Spiegeltent on George Street, Edinburgh.

The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas (#dangerousideas) is a strand of afternoon shows that describe themselves as “Debate, discussion and discourse in the company of some of the fiercest intellects this country has to offer.” That means academics, researchers and other clever people spending an hour talking about big ideas in a very intimate and characterful venue.

When I was invited to be part of the strand, by the lovely people at Beltane Network and Fair Pley, some thinking was required… the shows are a fantastic opportunity to reach and engage with new audiences but that meant showing something off that would have relevance to a broad range of people, not just those in UK HE and FE. And that’s when FieldTrip GB came to mind, and my EDINA colleague Addy Pope came on board to create the “Crowdsource Your Neighbourhood” event.

What is FieldTrip GB?

The FieldTrip GB logo.

FieldTrip GB is a new mobile phone app and authoring tool created by my colleagues. It’s origins lie in the need for those on fieldtrips to have access to good quality mapping (currently of Great Britain but hopefully we’ll expand to cover further geographical areas). So FTGB supports download of a high quality but entirely open source collection of map data.

But Fieldtrips also tend to involve the collection of data and that’s where FTGB gets extra clever with a custom authoring tool that enables you to create whatever data collection you need for your project or research. You set up a form for different data types then you sync your phone (via Dropbox) and, as if by magic, you will instantly find the new form available on your phone and you can save records to the app whether or not you are connected to the internet. Every form records your location but you can also edit this at the time – for when you can’t get quite close enough, conditions are dangerous, or you forget something that you want to add later.

The app and authoring tool was designed with some particular academic uses in mind, but we reckon it has huge potential beyond that…

So what was our dangerous idea

Well we wanted to challenge our audience by asking them what they would change about their own neighbourhood through crowdsourcing. We asked:

You can map anything, anyone, any issue, any opportunity in your hood…

What are YOU going to do? How will you make a difference to your neighbourhood?

This isn’t actually an easy question – especially with the existing set of sites like FixMyStreet, and iSpot – so we also put together an example of something that a number of our audience might want to explore: the public toilets of Edinburgh.

Image of a public bathroom sign in Edinburgh

The Public Toilets on the Mound, Edinburgh.

Now why did we pick public toilets? Well firstly when I asked friends, colleagues and the Twitterverse what they’d like to map public conveniences were mentioned several times. Secondly our audience was coming in for a Fringe show and, whilst all venues do have their own facilities, it is not unusual to find yourself in a very long queue or a very long way from a public bathroom at this time of year. In August Edinburgh’s population doubles so demand spikes making such a guide properly useful to visiting Fringe goers.

Image of a twitter conversation between the author and the eccentronic twitter account

A Twitter conversation highlighting @eccentronic’s request for public toilet information.

However there was another reason for picking public toilet: bathroom access can be a political issue. In a city as old as Edinburgh many public buildings and facilities have had a real challenge ensuring they are accessible and meet the requirements of the Equalities Act 2010. But there are guides to some accessible bathrooms already. Directory Inquiries provides an excellent listing of the special RADAR key-access bathrooms across the city for those with appropriate access (usually those with substantial physical disabilities – more information on the Disability Rights UK website). But not everyone has one of these keys, and not everyone needs entirely flat/ramp access to their bathrooms.

Blue Badge Style includes a specific guide to the Accessible Fringe, including public toilets.

So we knew we wanted to record what accessibility really looks like in the city – what is the distribution of public bathrooms that are wheelchair (or buggy) friendly and how many are there? But, with an awareness of conditions that reduce mobility but do not rule out the use of stairs (e.g. arthritis) we also wanted to capture accessibility in a more subtle way – which toilets have only a few steps versus many steps for instance?

Disability is a “protected characteristic” but there are other potential inequalities around public bathroom provision. Are there a comparable number of male and female public bathrooms for instance? Historically women were not part of public life and where older bathrooms remain in use this can still be apparent in asymmetrical provision – for instance the Mound public bathrooms include only male facilities. So we knew we wanted to capture the designated gender (if present), the distribution and the differences of any provision around gender and facilities.

On a related note we also wanted to know which bathrooms include baby change facilities, rest spaces and breast feeding spaces/rooms (as a very few do). And we knew we needed a few other more personal bits of data. Are there towels or handdryers? Is there a mirror (essential for Fringe performance make up checking for instance)? Are the bathrooms pleasant, clean, safe?

Screenshot of the SUN newspaper

A February 2013 Scottish Sun headline.

We also wanted to address some current Edinburgh politics. Edinburgh City Council, who also provide a thorough listing of bathrooms that they operate, are currently upgrading seven public toilets in Edinburgh city centre. They have announced that once those refurbishments have been completed they will charge 30 pence for use of the toilets. This has been a controversial move (see above) and potentially limits access to the bathrooms only to those who can afford to pay. The locations of these toilets do seem to coincide with areas with heavy tourist footfall so they tend to be well used but by locals as well as visitors to this city.

With the upcoming public toilet changes in mind we wanted both to record all of the Council toilets – already well mapped by Open Street Map – but also nearby facilities and, in all cases, what the current charge for using the bathroom might be. This would also enable us to capture public toilets not operated by the usual suspects (e.g. in shops, cafes, etc.) and what the terms of their use are – do you have to make a purchase or can anyone use them?

Turning the idea into a form for our phones

So, we had an idea. We knew what types of data we would want to collect. And we had an idea of how this data might be used: on a practical basis; for campaigning; for assessing planning decisions and changes; etc.

Next, we used the FieldTrip GB Authoring Tool to create a suitable form.

Screenshot of the fieldtripGB authoring tool

The FieldTrip GB Authoring Tool in action.

And with that we were ready to prepare for our show by getting out into Edinburgh and collecting data on public bathrooms. We wanted to make sure that lots of people could add to this data collection process so we had set up the form following the FieldTrip GB crowdsourcing advice, and that means that you can also add to our map of Edinburgh Public Toilets.

Start by downloading the FieldTrip GB App – you can click on this link or use a QR code reader with the image below:

QR code for FieldTrip GB App

Download FieldTrip GB via this link

Once you have downloaded the app you will need to login using our shared details.


Password: n31gb0ur

You can now add to our growing collection of public toilets in Edinburgh – or you can add the public toilets in your own area, anywhere in the UK. I’ve made a short video to show you how capturing a new record works, see below.

YouTube Preview Image

The form to complete is “Public Toilets in Edinburgh”. We would, if you are in the city for the festival, also encourage you to take a look at the “Fringe Wildlife Spotter” form as well.

As myself and my partner toured the city collecting public toilet data for the weekends leading up to the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas show I received an offer I just couldn’t refuse from one of those original  Twitter commentators. @eccentronic vowed to create a music video using the public toilet map to shoot scenes of perfomer despair – read more about this in their post on their “people-powered Edinburgh Fringe documentary”, Two Pints of Irn Bru and a Packet of Crisps. This now gave our data collection a new purpose: crowdsourced art!

You can view all of the toilets that we have mapped in a few ways. Firstly you could log into the FieldTrip GB Authoring Tool and clicking on the “View Records” tab.

Screen Shot of the View Records Screen

A view of the Edinburgh Public Toilets already mapped using FieldTrip GB.

Or you could take a look at the files exported from FieldTrip GB (accessible via the same Dropbox login):

screenshot of public toilets KML

A screenshot of the Edinburgh Public Toilets KML being viewed in Google Earth.

We have also taken the CSV file and imported it into Google Maps Engine Lite (removing the heading for the spreadsheet and sorting the entries by name but otherwise making no edits) to create a web-based map of Edinburgh Public Toilets which you can access here. This is also the map we suggest the lovely folks of Eccentronic use for their video as it gives the quickest overview of the data without login being required.

So, with a detailed map of Edinburgh’s Public Toilets to hand, a number of print outs of the data and images we had collected with us – to allow our audience to try out the app for themselves without having to leave their seats, our colleague and FieldTrip GB expert Ben Butchart, and a bag full of FTGB badges, we set off to do a Fringe Show!

You can view our presentation from the show here:

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And audio will follow shortly, along with a link to that music video inspired by our data collection.

image of FieldTrip GB badges

FieldTrip GB badges created for the show and for future events.

We didn’t get a huge audience along but we had some great ideas about what people would crowdsource, from woodpeckers to bike paths to the best bars for students. I would really welcome your own thoughts on what you would crowdsource about your neighbourhood in the comments below or via the hashtag for this event series, #dangerousideas.

 :: Update: the Eccentronic video is now live here, new blog post on that to follow ::

:: Update: The Audio from our Fringe show is now live. You can download or play it via this MP3. ::

 August 9, 2013  Posted by at 7:28 pm Week In the Life Tagged with: ,  3 Responses »