Ingenious Kick-Off

Ingenious is an awards scheme for projects that engage the public with engineers and engineering.

The Royal Academy of Engineering run the Ingenious scheme to connect with young people, communicate the role of engineering and promote and celebrate all types of engineering. With Engineering UK the RAEng estimate we’ll need to double the number of people studying engineering, and they hope our projects will address the skills gap.

To launch our Ingenious projects we’ve been invited to a full day at the Royal Academy of Engineering hosted by Laura Winters, Jo Trigg and Benjamin Gammon. I came away so inspired and alive I could barely construct a sentence. Laura and Jo work for the RAEng, whereas Ben’s a free lancer who was head of Audience Research at Science Museum. He’s also just about the most helpful person I could meet when it comes to planning and evaluating a project.

Before you lose interest, here are the important reports and activities:

Reports to read:

Things to check out:

Gammon starts the day uncovering the public’s perception of engineering. According to Gammon, a google image search of engineering tells you three things:

  1. You can choose the colour of your hard hat
  2. You always work outside
  3. But that’s okay because it’s always sunny

Gammon quotes ASPIRES and Dwecks Mindset study: engineering isn’t a profession it’s a job, and you’ll spend the majority of your time fixing things. There’s two types of people: those with a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. If girls are in the fixed mindset that’s a bad news because negative stereotypes will only be reinforced.

We heard from an awesome Ingenious alum, Guerrilla Science, who worked in 2015/16 with engineers at BuroHappold to build a 5-pipe Rubens tube that they rolled out at music festivals, schools and arts centres. Within BuroHappold, Guerrilla Science managed to engineer networks between different departments and across all ages, raising awareness of the importance of speaking up and being proud of their careers. The Fire Organ wasn’t only a triumph of engineering but a celebration of creativity within public engagement- from inspiring beat boxing East Londoners to catching the eye of chilled out festival goers.

We had lots of awesome presentations about how to be creative with our projects, how to recruit and train engineers and the factors that affect public engagement.

If you’re thinking of hosting your own event, the RAEng have lots of ideas for helping hands:

  • STEMNet
  • Alumni Mailing List of RAEng
  • PSci-Comm Mailing List
  • Local interest groups
    • Maker spaces
  • BSA Local Branches
    • Science Live
  • Research networks/ CDTS
  • Local Companies
  • Universities
    • WP/ Outreach
  • Engineering Institution IMechE, ICE
  • Science Grrl
  • Engineering without borders
  • Young Member’s Groups
  • Sci Comm Social
  • I’m an Engineer/ I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here!

To train and empower your ambassadors, there’s help for that too:

  • NCCPE, Wellcome, Involve, STEMNET, Science Made Simple, Royal Society
  • Univeristy/ PE/ Training Departments
  • Teacher training (PGCE tutors)
  • Theatres
  • Shadowing
  • Science Centres/ Museum

Ben’s part on Evaluation should be championed at all universities and learned societies. Aside from basic metrics (numbers and types), we have to ask:

  • How will you collect our data?
  • What are your targets?
  • What do you need to find out?
    • From whom?
    • For what purpose?
  • How much: time/ money/ staff/ resources do you have?
  • What will be the most effective and feasible method?

To properly evaluate, you’ll have to allocate time sensibly: : 1/3 – planning, 1/3 – collecting, 1/3 – writing report

What to avoid?

  • If you only look for success, everything looks like it succeeds
    • Only gather evidence proving success >> invalid
    • Come clean about problems/ barriers (“we are succeeding, but is it to the right extent?”)
  • Don’t do things because it is ‘easy’ to do
  • “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”
  • If you can append ‘no shit Sherlock’ to your findings, don’t collect the data..
  • Size of sample does NOT indicate quality of sample
    • Literary Digest (paper) 2,400,000 people predicting the 1936 US General Election. Despite their massive sample size, they got the result catastrophically wrong (19 % error), which was the largest mistake a pre-election survey has ever achieved. In comparison, the error in the last general election was 6 %. Size of sample does NOT indicate quality of sample
  • Avoid “Iceberg questions”: person writing question knows what they mean, but people answering don’t understand
    • “When did you last eat tomatoes”- in what format!? tinned? sauce? raw? Listen to this Radio 4 discussion: Behind the Stats
  • Questions with word AND:
    • “Do you trust banks and building societies”?
  • Rating scales with more good points than bad
  • Questions with word WHY:
    • Instead try Who influenced you? What influenced you? What did you want to see?
    • Museum Survey by Ipsos Mori asked the general public why they didn’t attend a museum/ gallery in the last 12 months. The majority (43 %) said they “didn’t have time”. Ben points out there are 365 days in a year- and even my junior doctor brother doesn’t work 12 hours a day 7-days a week. People lie in surveys for lots of different reasons (humour, malice, fear, compassion, and a general lack of interest. In outreach/university surveys, prospective students are so worried about their image with the university they’d never tell the truth. Would you?

Ben’s full of advice, too…

  • Go for: “Tell Me About”
  • Evaluating Survey PDFDouble barrelled questions
  • To ask awkward questions, Ben’s advice is to phrase it in the third person- “How do you think other teachers would feel about this?”
  • Two very powerful questions
    • Columbo question (reveal why you’re doing it)
    • The Cher question: If you could turn back time? How would you do something differently?

Jo closes the ingenious day by talking us through media engagement. When it comes to your reports, be critical:

  • Is it interesting?
  • Is it new
  • Would you talk about it at a dinner party?
  • Can you summarise it in a sentence?
  • Would people want to know?

Thank you RAEng. Watch this space young scientists!

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