We are pleased to say that we have now received a detailed response from the Public Communications Unit to our Freedom of Information Act Request about Science So What? So Everything. The full response is below, in blockquotes; text in italics is our original questions. We have inserted some comments. there is a lot of detail here, though – we will return to this in future, but wanted to get this online ASAP.
What budget has been made available for the campaign, and how much has been spent?
So far, £600K has been spent on the campaign. Budget for 09/10 is still to be agreed.
This is useful to know. I wonder if the £600,000 budget excludes expenditure since the end of last financial year at the end of March? We will be submitting a further FOIA request: asking for spending to-date this financial year.
Which staff are involved, and in which roles?
The following are the key day to day campaign staff:
* Marketing Manager – DIUS
* Adviser on Social Media – DIUS
* Head of External Science Communications – DIUS
* Contractor – Kindred Agency
* Contract manager – COI
DIUS and COI staff are not full time on this campaign, they work simultaneously across the Department’s other communications and marketing campaign activity.
What are the goals of the campaign?
Science [So What? So Everything] is an evolving and ongoing campaign which aims to bring alive the importance, relevance and interest of science to the broader population, with particular emphasis on groups that are normally resistant to or turned off by science. The campaign wants to encourage more people to give science a second look in terms of a subject to study or a career to follow – or indeed an area of everyday life with the power to enthral and fascinate. Part of its strategy for achieving the above is to popularise media coverage of the many excellent science stories which originate from DIUS delivery partners (the Research Councils, Other Government Departments, the learned societies) relocating these from the science titles and pages of the broadsheets into the tabloid and popular magazines. One example was using the British Antarctic Survey’s recruiting drive for technicians, carpenters etc (in the South Pole) as a story illustrating that science careers do not necessarily conform to the white coated, lab-based stereotype.
Did the campaign aim to engage with/outreach to the UK science blogging community, and why?
Yes. The science blog community contains a wealth of fantastic information and resources, but that are generally inward-facing. We wanted to see if we could find a way of helping promote good science that exists there to the wider community. Judging by a lot of the feedback, we have made a positive start but we still have a long way to go.
It is nice that they acknowledge the good material on science blogs (although it is a shame that they don’t seem to link any from their main website). Certainly, there are always opportunities for science blogs to engage with wider audiences, and one can always do things better. However, in terms of online public engagement, we would argue that a number of UK science blogs (those in our blogroll, for example) are doing a rather good job. On the other hand, we have – as we have argued – have yet to be convinced by Science: So What‘s efforts. We would also note that the fact that Science: So What needed to use Twitter to ask for recommendations of UK science blogs may suggest a somewhat limited review of the literature in this area.
We would be interested to know who assessed UK science blogs as “inwards-looking” (and have asked about this in a FOIA request). Were these assessments made by the PR agency, scientists, social media people or others? And on what basis?
We would also be interested to know about the web traffic received by Science: So What‘s website and blog – given the role that these will be playing in their implicitly more outwards-facing stance. We are submitting a FOIA request, to ask for these figures. There are also various established (although, of course, contestable) approaches to blog ranking – for example, eDrugSearch. Have Science: So What assessed how these metrics rate their sites in comparison to blogs like Bad Science or Left Brain Right Brain?
Did the campaign aim to engage with/outreach to the UK Public Understanding of Science community, and why?
The campaign’s target audience is the general public and as such its activities to date have not directly targeted materials to the science communication or public engagement communities. However, the campaign is a collaborative venture, with many organisations involved in public engagement with science – e.g. Government, Research Councils, learned societies, the British Science Association – all contributing to and linking with the campaign. The campaign aims to work with and through those organisations that reach it’s ultimate target audience and as the campaign grows we will be encouraging more such organisations to become part of it.
We would suggest that the Public Understanding of Science community would be good people to speak to, when trying to engage – or plan out how to engage with – with the general public. We would also argue that the Public Understanding of Science community is already doing interesting work to engage with broad audiences: certainly this is imperfect (as the academics involved would be quick to point out) but it is worthy of much more serious consideration.
It is disappointing that Science: So What are apparently – still – failing to give Public Understanding of Science the consideration it deserves. They might find a recent guest post here on science communication to be an accessible place to start.
What were and are the criteria for judging the success/failure of the campaign?
This campaign was developed in response to evidence arising from our consultation, A Vision for Science and Society, and from Public Attitudes to Science 2008. The latter research was commissioned jointly by DIUS and RCUK and built on previous studies commissioned by the Office of Science and Innovation in 2000 and 2005. While all three of these studies showed generally positive attitudes to science, the evidence suggests that there remain substantial groups within society with a lack of interest in science, or a feeling that it is somehow not for them. The large public attitudes survey will be repeated on a rolling three yearly basis in order to assess trends, and commissioning for the study to be published in 2011 will start later this year. Measuring the improvement in attitudes through the survey’s indicators on public perceptions and attitudes will be a key measure of the campaign’s success.
In the meantime, ongoing reporting will feed back on the amount of science coverage in the media, the amount of specific campaign coverage in the media (offline and online), responses to the campaign (e.g. number of visitors to the campaign website). Footfall at major science events and festivals and interim measures on public attitudes to science will also be considered.
We are surprised that web stats, comments generated, etc. are not among the criteria for judging the success or failure of the blog and website.
Why was there initially no e-mail address or other appropriate feedback mechanism on the ‘Science: So What?’ site?
The first stage was a simple announcement and signposting site to support the launch of the campaign and had no direct feedback mechanism. It linked to science stakeholders who have their own routes for communication. This is an evolving campaign; as the campaign enters the next phase of development, so the routes for communications will improve again, and we are taking note of the comments that have been made in that respect. We are still getting to grips with social media usage on campaigns such as these, but have embraced Twitter and blog commenting to help open two way communication routes so that we can learn from feedback and continue to improve.
Is this seen as a push campaign, rather than one that is intended to promote involvement?
The purpose of the campaign is to help aggregate good science content and promote to a wider audience – we don’t promote or produce very much of our own content, the focus is on signposting more than anything. Content is used as a “tempter” to get to that wider audience.
This is interesting to know, although the range of links on the Science: So What website is currently somewhat disappointing. We will be asking about how many people clicked through on these links – to get a sense of how effectively Science: So What were able to ‘tempt’ their audience to access these resources.
Also, we are very much in favour of promoting science to a wide audience. However, it is also important that there is content available for those who are – or become – more interested: as Ben Goldacre has argued, it is important that society provides resources for its nerds. In some cases, Science: So What seems to be pitching its content in such a way that it is unlikely to appeal to either audience: for example, I am not sure who would want to read the string of press releases on the Science: So What blog, except maybe a press officer working in the field?
How did the Science: So What? campaign choose which films to use on the site? And why were Creative Commons UK films largely not used?
We used films that were made for us in the first instance by the PR agency. Since then, we became aware of a lot of available video content and wish to make much more use of that in the future, with the proviso that we are not always “preaching to the converted” – sometimes we need to use more general public-focused content than we have currently found to be available, but will use whatever we can and avoid duplication.
We are not sure how using US videos is ‘inclusive’ for a UK evidence. We are not convinced that these videos are superior to the available UK-made Creative Commons science videos. Given the availability of good quality, free UK content, we do hope that Science: So What did not have to spend money on licensing or producing the videos it used.
Once again, we would emphasise that it is great that the government is working to promote science. As noted above, we do have some concerns about the implementation. We would, however, be delighted if Science: So What could develop into a strong, effective campaign that raises the profile of science in the UK.