Engagement in Europe: EUSEA Conference 2023

Dr Nicola Veitch is a Senior Lecturer in Parasitology with a keen interest in innovative teaching and public engagement. Here, Nicola shares her experience of attending the European Science Engagement Association Conference 2023, which brought together people working in public engagement from across Europe.

In May this year I was fortunate enough to attend the European Science Engagement Association conference in Bolzano, Italy, along with my colleague Hannah Bialic. After hearing about the EUSEA conference from the UofG Engagement mailing list (subscribe here, VPN required) and submitting our abstract, we were delighted to be accepted to present our Parasite Street Science project and excited when we realised we would be going to a very beautiful part of the world. The Eurac Research Centre in Bolzano was the location for the conference, nestled in the mountains of South Tyrol in Northern Italy. Enviable cycle paths, excellent food and vinyards as far as the eye could see, the area seemed quite idyllic.

Networking started with a trip to see Ötzi at the South Tyrol Archaeology Museum. I quickly realised that the main role of people at the conference was Public Engagement (PE), which differed from me. I am a lecturer in Infection Biology, my main role being the Programme Coordinator for the Microbiology degree at the University of Glasgow. I have been actively engaged in PE for many years, and recently co-led a large PE project, which we were at the meeting to present. The group were friendly and inclusive, making networking enjoyable and insightful.

A model of ‘Ötzi’ the Iceman. Ötzi is the natural mummy of a man who lived between 3350 and 3105 BC. He was discovered in 1991 the Ötzal Alps at the border between Austria and Italy.

Marc Zebisch gave an excellent keynote on the first day of the conference, describing the complexities and challenges of communicating Climate Change to different organisations. The main message I took away from this talk, was the importance of ensuring organisations feel empowered to be part of a movement and to take action that is achievable at a local level. The power of co-creation was discussed and became a recurring theme throughout the conference. Creating change with local communities in partnership is central to ensuring a successful change in scientific and social understanding. This resonated with me, as the Parasite Street Science project was effective due to the collaborative nature of the work with local communities who had lived experiences of Sleeping Sickness.

Another stand out session was the Horizon Talks on Inclusive Approaches in PE. This session was a series of short talks by European practitioners, discussing examples of widening participation projects in STEM subjects. Focussing on underserved communities, innovative approaches were described such as Cell Explorers Escape Room (Kirsten Anderson, University of Galway) and Jackie Gorman discussed work with Irish Traveller communities and the benefits of co-creation in this context. Hearing about the ambitious MicrobeX-Science Centre planned for Zirl in Austria appealed to the Microbiologist in me; years in the making and I can’t wait to visit once it’s open. 

As part of the conference, Hannah and I presented a 45-min dialogue session on our work on Parasite Street Science, a project using outdoor performance street theatre to engage local communities in Malawi in the science and research of African Sleeping Sickness, a deadly parasitic disease. Our presentation was warmly welcomed, leading to interesting discussions and potential new collaborations. David Price from Science Made Simple in England is a huge advocate for outdoor performance, having an extensive track record of creative approaches to interactive science communication, including science busking. David, Hannah and I are sure we have shared values and interests, and a conversation has already started as to what we could do collaboratively.

Hannah Bialic (left), Public Engagement Manager with Dr Nicola Veitch (right)

With frequent breaks in the conference agenda to support building networks, I felt that this meeting was a real opportunity to develop new contacts in order to share best practice. We even managed a few games of ping-pong in the Eurac Research Centre garden! There seems to be a hub for PE in Berlin, Germany, with the Berlin School of PE and Open Science, and the Falling Walls team represented at the conference.  I came away with names and contacts of individuals who I have since been in touch with to discuss opportunities and feel that this will positively influence my own PE practice and network.

Nicola enjoys a game of ping pong with Niklas Marzinek from Falling Walls in Berlin.

Thank you to Nicola for sharing her experience. You can find out more about EUSEA on their website. The University of Glasgow is a member institution, offering conference discounts and access to resources and a European network of engagement professionals.


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