Think Corner 2014: Our city centre research pop-up shop

A big THANK YOU to everyone who was involved in Think Corner which took place in Birmingham city centre at the Pavilions Shopping Centre between August 25th – September 13th, 2014. For 3 weeks University researchers from all five colleges showcased their research to the public. By taking our research out into the public domain the University was able to reach out to an audience who might not otherwise think to venture on to campus or visit a science festival. These pages reflect back on and celebrate Think Corner as one of PEWG’s biggest public engagement projects to date.

For our image gallery of Think Corner activities go here.

We also have galleries for Tree of Life, Research Origami and Feedback.

Think Corner’s mission statement:

mission

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After a visit to the University of Helsinki’s Think Corner space during the one-year pilot of their grand vision, PEWG was blown away by what they achieved. A simple, flexible city centre space enabled the University to engage its local population on an amazing scale, and academic enthusiasm worked seamlessly with innovation and clarity of thinking from their Communications team to keep it all running.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so with their blessing we set about creating our own Think Corner project in Birmingham. Our vision for the shop itself was about showcasing “research with purpose”, demonstrating the relevance of research to everyday life from medical marvels and engineering feats to cultural inspiration and policy changes. Using strategic funding from the Wellcome Trust, EPSRC and the University itself, we found a space in the city centre and set about creating a highly-flexible but constantly-welcoming environment that would inspire (and fund) our researchers to design events and activities that would in turn inspire visitors. One of our core principles in public engagement in Birmingham is around the value of bringing science and arts together, so it had to be a space that celebrated both simultaneously.

We had a core backbone based around a ‘research trail’ that tried to explain what research really was through clues and activities – including Prof Alice Roberts’ Tree of Life painting for the public to contribute to – around which researchers were free to experiment. Typically three to five different groups from across the whole breadth of the University’s research portfolio were in on any one day, in which there might be volcano models exploding alongside art displays while robots greeted and tweeted. We didn’t get everything right – shockingly, visitors weren’t instantly seated in rapt attention for a talk when academics appeared – but we adapted as we went, and as an experiment designed to educate us as much as academics or the public it was a really fantastic experience. Within three weeks we had over 2000 visitors and humblingly lovely feedback from visitors and participants, but there is still so much more we can do to improve. Ultimately, we will keep experimenting and building on what we’ve learned, individually and collaboratively, and we would be delighted to share that with anyone interested, just as Helsinki were kind enough to help us.

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An evaluation report on Think Corner is being written as we speak and will be available to read on this site soon.

 

For our image gallery of Think Corner activities go here.

We also have galleries for Tree of Life, Research Origami and Feedback.

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