By Katherine Mathieson, Chief Executive at the British Science Association

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One-hundred and ninety years ago today, in a room at the Yorkshire Museum in York, a group of three-hundred people met for the very first time. They all considered themselves to be interested in various scientific pursuits, but for many different reasons, didn’t feel able to engage with the established learned societies of the time. This group of men – as they were exclusively all men at that point – set out to create a new association that aimed to improve the advancement of science.

Today (Monday 27 September) marks 190 years since the British Science Association (BSA) was first founded by that group. The BSA has come a long way since then, changing our name and visual identity, and refining the purpose of our organisation.

This year – against the backdrop of a global pandemic and the climate emergency – we have taken the opportunity to reflect on the significance of our current work and focus on what we need to achieve in the next decade as we approach our bicentenary.

Find out more about our 10-year strategy (opens in new tab)

A unique time

The COVID-19 pandemic has simultaneously strengthened the need for our work and made it more difficult for us to carry it out. On a positive note, it has raised the profile of some research, researchers and science communicators. On the other hand, existing health and social inequalities – connected to poverty, culture and ethnicity – have become increasingly obvious.

Consequently, many (including communities we work, and want to work, with) have lost trust in leaders, scientists, medical experts and the media, amongst other traditionally influential bodies. The reasons vary, from ineffective communication and unequal access to information, to lack of representation in decision makers and lack of transparency in scientific data. Some perceive the science/research sector to be out of touch with their needs and concerns. We believe that this needs to be addressed across society, in designing policy, drafting legislation and developing the technologies of the future.

Our purpose

In this strategy, we deepen our focus on reaching and engaging underrepresented audiences, ‘missing voices’ and people and communities who don’t currently think of science as relevant to their lives. To effectively reach our target audiences, we need to take time to build trust, partner with the right organisations, and be led by their needs and interests.

We're ensuring these people and communities are at the heart of our programmes, influencing scientists, the wider sector and other industries. Giving a platform to these voices brings us closer to equitable science engagement.

It’s great to see organisations in the science/research sector dedicating resources to diversifying their workforces and reaching different audiences. We plan to utilise our distinctive capacity to convene and influence across education, policy, business and research sectors to support this and encourage Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) to be embedded in institutions’ practices and aims.

Looking ahead

Ultimately, we want a future where science is more relevant, representative and connected to society.

Our 10-year objectives are all based around these principles and we’ll build on the successes of our current programmes, as well as developing new ones, to achieve this.

We look forward to involving even more people in our work and hope that by our 200th birthday, the science and science engagement landscapes will reflect our vision.

Visit our 10-year strategy webpage (opens in new tab)