Conservation charity Froglife have organised some of the most successful and engaging events to celebrate National Science & Engineering Week  (NSEW) in recent years. Sam Taylor, Deputy CEO and Communications Coordinator for Froglife , tells us their secret on how they have been so successful.
In 2010 we created a ‘Life Under the Surface’ installation, which took attendees into a make-believe underwater world to discover more about the plants and animals that live in ponds. Young people made all the animals and props to be ten times larger than real life, using a range of skills. The installation was then set up in an ex-pub which had been transformed into a community arts space as the venue. We were delighted to be named the winners of the Best Science Event Award, especially as this was the first time we’d done an event like this, and its success went on to inspire several other Froglife events, which teach conservation science in a unique way.
In 2011, we produced a ‘Toads on Roads’ installation to communicate the plight of toads dying on the UK’s roads. For this event we were in Peterborough city centre with a giant toad lollipop lady and scales which compared the weight of toads killed every year to humans, elephants and cats. We were Highly Commended in the Outstanding Contribution Award for this exhibit, where people could make origami toads and use the scales.
In 2012 we presented ‘Dragon’s Den’, an interactive exhibit where children transformed themselves into newts by putting on a special tail and learning about the animals’ lifecycles by journeying through different interactive zones. On this occasion we used indoor educational spaces at two local country parks. This was a particularly exciting event as young adults from our Wildlife Ambassadors project acted as guides for the visitors, showing off the new knowledge they had learnt through their training. We were given the runner-up position in the Best Community Event Award.
Our target audience for all of these events was a combination of schools, special needs groups, Scouting groups and families. We involved community groups and school pupils in the design and creation of each of the events and then encouraged them to attend either as participants or as volunteers. In each case, we wanted to catch people by surprise, reaching audiences who weren’t necessarily expecting to learn about science that day but who went away knowing something interesting or surprising about the natural world.
We chose venues likely to have lots of passing participants, but we also promoted the events at the venues, in the local media, and amongst our supporters. In 2012 we even dressed our volunteers up as frogs to encourage children to come over to the exhibit, which was a real draw. On average, we engaged with around 300 people at each event.
Feedback from all three events was overwhelmingly positive from all age groups. One visitor in 2011 said: “what a delightful concept, it’s great to see children learning and having fun!” and one of our participants, aged nine, also loved it, saying that: “Making origami toads was my favourite because it made me happy and I made something new.”
We find that NSEW events are an excellent way of engaging with new audiences, whilst media coverage and awards provide us with profile-raising opportunities. The events don’t even have to be costly to run - we use recycled or donated items which are created during educational sessions, so there has generally been very little cost associated with the events.
Froglife’s top tips for engaging the target audience in a science event:
- Make it eye-catching, interactive and fun for all ages
- Pick one or two key messages and reinforce them in several different ways
- Use giveaways such as cakes, sweets or NSEW bookmarks and stickers to entice people in and/or thank them for taking part.
- You can find out more about Froglife and our work on our website, http://www.froglife.org/