**I moved this entry from a previous blog that I attempted to develop**
Public engagement is a trendy topic that engulfs the sciences, social sciences and the humanities. I tend to think that the 3 aforementioned ‘scoial worlds’ can learn a lot from each other. Because I am personally interested in public engagement (in particular with the sciences) and because I do research on a related topic (communication of scientific research), I try to look out for interesting ideas that can be adaptable in various ‘social worlds’. This week, an article in the Globe and Mail about a mobile phone application (app) from Parks Canada, connecting food and history, caught my attention. In this post, I’ll briefly discuss this interesting app and suggest some ideas for the sciences.
This year Parks Canada is celebrating it’s 100th anniversary. To mark the occasion, the organisation is launching its first mobile phone application , ‘Heritage Gourmet’. This particular app offers to the public in excess of 70 recipes that are connected to the country’s historical landmarks.
The idea behind this app is to make the historic sites “come alive” for the visitors. According to the project manager, Ms. Tamara Tarasoff, “By making a dish that is related to that site, people can actually bring that historic site right into their home and even talk to their family or their dinner guests about the origin.”
But before one’s imagination gets carried away, these recipes have been modified for the modern context. This was done with the help of the chefs from the Algonquin College School of Hospitality and Tourism. Thus, foodies will be able to test out recipes from the olden days in the modern context (You can check out some of the behind the scenes material here), while hopefully learning a bit about history. The other hope is that they will be able to pass on the knowledge. Even the development of this app has actually generated insights. Early Canadians relied heavily on breads, pancakes, soups and stews. Furthermore, despite Canada being such a vast nation, there have been a lot of similarities in the dishes from different parts of the country.
The evaluation of the effectiveness and success of this app will be made at a later point in time. In my opinion, the idea is interesting in the fact that it connects something that doesn’t interest everyone (history) to something that most people can relate to (food and cooking).
Ideas for Science
First, there are two quotations that I’d like to mention:
Good food leads to good talk – Geoffrey Neighor, Northern Exposure, Duets, 1993
I came literally to the table with a wealth of knowledge by simply understanding how food should taste. – Rocco DiSpirito
In part, the second quotation captures the idea behind the Heritage Gourmet app. In this case, the public can come to the table with a wealth of knowledge by simply using their mobile devices to get the recipes and learn a bit about the historical landmarks and the way of life during the ‘old days’. I like the idea of making the connection to the ‘everyday’; and what’s more everyday than ‘food’.
In my opinion, there’s something here that science, and in particular chemistry (especially food chemistry) can pick up on. For example, this app can be further extended to incorporate chemistry by providing information about the fundamental molecular components of the ingredients involved in the recipe. Similarly, chemistry information can be combined with diet apps, cooking apps, etc. It seems that there is lots of potential for such avenues of scientific knowledge communication in particular for chemistry; a field which is not the easiest for incorporation of science communication and public engagement. Furthermore, similar ideas can be adopted to other scientific fields through various adaptations and modifications.
In general…take home message
Without getting into a full blown out discussion of public engagement (whether it be with science, social science or humanities), its methods and effectiveness, engagement would benefit from striking a note of relevance to the everyday existence of the publics (in particular the ‘lay’ publics in comparison to the ‘informed’ publics). In other words, it needs to connect to the context or in the very least to some constitutive component of the context (e.g., food in this case). It appears that the Heritage Gourmet mobile phone application takes a step in this direction.
On the ‘About the Blog’ page of this blog, I made a pledge to steer away from a constant bias of being a former scientist and being someone who studies communication of scientific research in my posts. In keeping with this pledge, I’d like to begin with history. I love history, which is why I was so excited when I came across this post from Open Culture (who mention The Atlantic story).
At the moment, there is a brilliant exhibition going on at the Amsterdam Museum, named Amsterdam DNA. The exhibition is designed to capture the rich history of Amsterdam. The museum teamed up with the Dutch creative agency PlusOne to produce a series of videos for the exhibition. Here is the trailer for the exhibition:
The exhibition provides a 45 minute multimedia experience through the rich history of Amsterdam. The agency produced 7 films for the exhibition. Below you can see a clip from the second film called Revolt Against King and Church, which takes you back to 16th century Amsterdam.
You can read the interview with the director of PlusOne, Martijn Hogenkamp, about the creative development of the project here.
Lessons for Research Communication
Video is a powerful medium with the ability to reach a variety of audiences. More researchers across all fields should to consider doing videos to communicate their research to non-academic audiences. Having said that, not everyone has the technical know-how or the budgets the size of Amsterdam Museum. This is where collaboration comes in handy. There are plenty of graphics designers, illustrators and animators out there with various skill levels. And with tools like Twitter, they are a lot easier to find than one may think. So why not try? (Yes; I am aware of time constraints, job commitments, life, etc.) It is still possible to achieve great results. Check out this health promotion video that went viral here.