Between August 25th – September 13th 2014, the University staged a major public engagement ‘experiment’. For 3 weeks the University’s Public Engagement Working Group ran our first ever research pop-up shop called ‘Think Corner’, in the heart of Birmingham’s city centre. Every day Think Corner welcomed in the general public to come meet, chat and engage with some of our brightest and most enthusiastic researchers, who each contributed different activities and displays in an ever-changing 3 week programme of events.
During our residency at the Pavilions Shopping Centre, we hosted researchers from Physics to Psychology, Chemistry to English Literature, Medicine to Social Work and much more. I’m glad to say that overall the experience has been a great success and much has been learned along the way. I’ve been asked to tell you a little bit about it, so here goes!
Plans were hatched for Think Corner well over a year ago, but these were thwarted not once but twice at the last minute due to landlords pulling out. Turns out it’s not as easy as you might think to rent a city centre space for a short period of time as landlords will understandable prioritize longer term leases. Searching for a space appropriate for our needs was a long process, but we got there in the end. We wanted somewhere central. Why? Think Corner’s remit was quite different to that of a science festival or Open Day. We were conscious of and keen to engage with everyday people who might never venture out on to campus or consider going along to anything related to research/higher education. It was important for us to engage with these people and not just ‘preach to the converted’ so to speak.
Think Corner was different in other ways too. For instance, we didn’t exclusively showcase science subjects. It’s really important to remember that research happens in all fields, including the arts and humanities which are often overlooked in projects of this nature. We wanted to create a platform to nurture involvement from all enthusiastic researchers regardless of background. One of the great things that came out of Think Corner in my opinion was a wider awareness internally of what other researchers from different departments and along different hallways were doing. If only we could replicate this on a daily basis, just imagine the potential for interdisciplinary collaboration that might unfold!
Over 2000 members of the public popped in to see us on a predominantly drop-in basis, often just because they were passing by and something in the shop caught their eye. For the most part, these weren’t people who had any pre-existing contact with the University or with research. These were casual shoppers who were tempted in by our Tree of Life, touchtable, inflatable planetarium, papier-mâché microbes, Afro-Caribbean drumming, Bob the robot and all sorts of other things each day…
Think Corner’s ultimate goal was to deepen understanding of what research is, who does it and how it can be of benefit to all of us. Everyone carries out informal research in their everyday lives maybe without even realizing it.
I’m going to be busy over the next couple of weeks writing up an evaluation report which will cover in much greater detail the lessons learned and experiences shared at Think Corner. I’ll be sure to pass the key points from that on to the Blog team for those of you interested. Until then, I hope you’ll take the time to look though some photos and give us a ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ over at Facebook and Twitter.
If you are interested in staying up to date with public engagement opportunities and information via: thinkpe.wordpress.com