Contributing to public understanding
Our focus group agreed that our discussions should aim to enhance conference attendees’ effectiveness in contributing to public understanding of the value for the arts of neuroscience, and of the significance of the arts for neuroscience. Our debates crystallised around five main themes: Action for the Room; Points for Immediate Action; Philosophy; Kinds of public engagement; and High Profile/Mass Media Exposure.
Action for the Room
We agreed to engage Forum participants with the processes of public engagement through several structured activities: presenting an art-neuroscience speed dating sketch; asking all participants to write down their favourite public engagement activity; asking all participants to find one artist/one scientist to communicate/collaborate with; and requiring all participants to pledge to engage in a public engagement activity in the near future.
We agreed to create and maintain a blog for continuing forum debates, collaborations and interactions, and for future meeting planning. We agreed that the blog should be used to explore the creation of hubs, a prerequisite of which should be identification of related or existing hubs. The blog and an associated website should also serve to house a location for FAQs for help with public engagement, skill and knowledge exchange, and help/mentoring in logistics of public engagement. We also agreed that we should explore the creation of a simple web-based tool (e.g., a contextually-sensitive decision tree) for researchers and practitioners to facilitate public engagement and to publicise opportunities for grant funding to assist in public engagement activities.
Discussions of the broader issues that form the background to public engagement distinguished several key topics. We need clearly to identify what should be the foci of the public engagement activities, to which end we need to delineate existing and new models of engagement. We need to consider the implications for the fields of lack of public engagement in order to ascertain how public understanding can be achieved. We also need to identify appropriate criteria of success; could existing models (e.g., the UK REF guidelines, which qualify "Impact" as "effects on, changes or benefits to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life") serve to provide appropriate program learning outcomes? We also need to be able to clarify methods of sharing success or failure with peers.
Kinds of public engagement
A clear account of potential problems with current models of press dissemination and representation of research and art-neuroscience interaction is required. We must also consider whether outreach for scientists should start with basic scientific literacy projects, or should be project/topic specific. It is crucially important to clarify the reasons why processes of public understanding and engagement should be valued, and to whom they should be directed: schools, the general public, and policy makers.
High profile/mass media exposure
Finally, in aspirational mode, we should consider how to ensure accountability for accuracy of dissemination of ideas as part of the public engagement process. This could be facilitated by the development of ideas for broadcast media (radio, television shows or films), ideally fronted by expert presenters embedded in the disciplines in question. It could also be enhanced by the establishment of a prize for excellence in advancing public understanding of and engagement with issues in the arts and neurosciences.
Compiled by Ian Cross