By Clio Heslop (Cultural Partnerships Manager) and Ivvet Modinou (Head of Engagement) at the British Science Association


Having run five trial AccessLab workshops in Devon and Cornwall for policy makers, media and journalists, marine sector participants, community groups, and artists, we want to reflect on the format, and share some of the successes of the scheme.

When we started AccessLab in partnership with FoAM Kernow, we hoped we had created a new kind of engagement event that enables a broader range of people to access and use scientific research for their work and everyday lives. The idea was that through direct citizen-scientist pairings, AccessLab will encourage people to come with their own science-related questions and work one-to-one with a science researcher to find and access trustworthy information together.  You can read more about the background to the project in our “Introducing AccessLab” blog from 2017.

People who have taken part include a town councillor researching the impacts of building developments on the environment, a GP researching nutrition for advising patients with specific diseases, a dancer and choreographer researching physiology and injuries, and many others.

A key motivation for AccessLab was to address the issue of knowledge inequality. Our partners at FoAM Kernow say: “Knowledge inequality is recognised by the UN, and refers to situations where some people have access to more or better quality information than others. This affects people’s capacity to make informed decisions.”

AccessLab in action (Credit: FoAM Kernow)

The workshops help people access the information they need and show researchers first-hand just how many people want to be able to use their work. This is supported by comments from participants who said they learned that “scientific data is not locked away in an impenetrable box… we can access it as ordinary citizens and interrogate it.”

Another aim of AccessLab is to challenge power relationships between researchers and non-researchers, and to provide a format that appeals to ‘introverted' researchers who are more comfortable with one-on-one interactions. One researcher reflected: “I think it has made me more aware of how much information has become inaccessible. It emphasises the importance of building personal relationships.” The process also exposed science researchers to the difficulties of accessing their work and the importance of publishing research findings in a way that is open access and inclusive to non-researcher audiences.

After each workshop we have further refined how we run the AccessLabs and what we can improve. We also sought feedback from participants at several points after their involvement. Further details on how to run and evaluate an AccessLab are presented in a paper published on Wednesday 29 May 2019 in the open access journal PLOS Biology.

The evaluation data indicated the AccessLab format is reasonably successful at reaching groups who are not particularly connected with science, that it achieves the aim of improving confidence and awareness of research methods for a broad range of people and improves participants’ confidence in collaborating across sectors.

AccessLab logoWhat does the future hold for AccessLab?

We’ve been thinking about the next steps for AccessLab and can see a lot of potential to develop the format to complement other BSA programmes. We are proud of AccessLab as a powerful example of researchers using their expertise to unlock skills in their local communities. The workshops focus on transferring research skills rather than subject-specific knowledge, highlighting that not having a science background doesn’t need to be a barrier to understanding and using scientific knowledge. Now we know it works, we’re excited to see what the future could hold – for example, participants from the Plymouth and Penzance workshops are collaborating to continue AccessLab in Devon, and FoAM are holding a workshop for Extinction Rebellion later in the summer Even better, all the materials are freely available for others to adapt and use.

AccessLab was conceived by a team from the transdisciplinary laboratory FoAM Kernow and the British Science Association, with funding from the Natural Environment Research Council, BSA and FEAST Cornwall. A big thank you to all the participants and supporters so far!