Sharing ideas in science, technology and innovation

Monthly Archives: May 2012

I have just come back from an enjoyable and very informative few hours at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust’s first Research Open Day.  The event, held at University Hospital Coventry, was a chance for staff, patients and the general public to meet clinicians and R and D staff, and to see first-hand what happens in the world of R and D.  The afternoon threw open the doors of a usually closed-to-the-public world, inviting us to witness numerous innovative technologies and techniques that are used in hospitals.

This was no leaflet-overloaded seminar nor was it a ‘death by powerpoint’ affair.  Instead, it was buzzing and dynamic, with staff taking time out of their schedules to share their enthusiasm and interest in a show-and-tell way.  There was an equal measure of passion for science AND commitment to meeting the needs of patients themselves.  Such a mix of ingredients is so important in public engagement because they really help to humanise R and D. 

The business of R and D is often thought of as cold and unfeeling,  This is in some ways unsurprising, as to undergo a clinical trial a person submits their physical body to certain types of experimentation and intrusion.  But then there is the very human end– the aim of improving the quality of life.  It should also be the case that clinical R and D must be emphatic in assuring very human means, too- respecting the views, feelings and needs of the individuals who are generous enough to make this offering. UHC and W hit this nail on the head perfectly today. 

I was taken to see both an oncology trials centre and a metabolics research lab (containing the Birmingham Science City-supported Human Metabolism Research Unit- more on this later).  The staff were fantastic in showing me how the various technologies worked and explaining the relevance of their research to everyday health benefits. All of this left me feeling reassured that were I to sign up to be a clinical trial participant, I’d feel like a highly-valued contributor to an innovation journey rather than a homogenous lab rat amongst other lab rats.

The interactivity of the day really aided public understanding.  I had a go at pipetting some blood into a test-tube (by the way, this was fake blood).  I look rather content in the photo, but I was actually horrified by my lack of dexterity in getting so many bubbles into the fluid, which would explain why I do not work in a lab.  But, still, I learned all about phlebotomy and the very many variations in clinical procedures for collecting blood for different types of trial. 


I had a meeting with this young lady, by way of the ‘anatomy time trial’-  in other words putting all of her organs in the right place against the clock and other competitors.  I came second- next to the winner,who is a clinician- a small achievement of which I was slightly proud, but for the fact that I tried to insert her liver the wrong way up. 


Next came the BodPod, a giant egg- a bit like the one in the film ‘Cocoon’.  This device measures metabolic function.  It allows clinicians and individual patients to learn about the best ways to balance nutrition, exercise and other lifestyle factors.  It also allows research teams to monitor sets of volunteers’ reactions to changes in situations relating to  many different conditions including diet and climate.  Much as I wanted to, I did not climb in, as a swimsuit and a swim hat were prerequisites (in order to scan bodyshape).  However, I did get to see the Human Metabolism Research Unit, of which BodPod comprises a part.  Here I gained a good layperson’s understanding of HMRU’s relevance to the wider world and, by the end of the afternoon, a strong sense of how much hospitals like UHC are dedicated to not just treating us and helping us in our immediate ailments, but to responding to future bespoke and collective health needs.

All the best


Susannah Goh




At the end of an-eye opening, informative, thought-provoking, and at times a little scary, course on Social Media through an EC project called PLACES, all about science communication. We have learnt about tools, attitudes, the power to galvanise, the internet’s life of its own and much more from Podnosh and friends, a local organisation passionate about changing the way we communicate with each other.  Other participants from across the region and across Europe come from universities, science centres, local authorities, science festivals etc which has made for an interesting mix and informed and useful sharing of ideas and discussion.  Some of the course has been captures via Twitter at #sciplaces or on the scienceplaces You-Tube link.

Whilst I have learn a huge amount, at this stage I have more questions than answers about how social media can best help the goals of Birmingham Science City to  develop, use and promote science and technology to improve prosperity and quality of life for Birmingham and the surrounding region.  But here are some immediate thoughts to share and discuss with the local science and technology based innovation community we seek to support and develop:

  • We are concious that our Twitter and LinkedIn activity reaches wider than the traditional groups we acess though e-mail lists, meetings and word of mouth.  We accept this might go wider that our target, but assume that will self-regulate as people will continue to participate only if the fora interest them.  For me the bigger question is how we open the eyes of those already active members of our community though traditional routes to the much greater potential of sharing, discussing and developing through social media?
  • Whilst I am not too concerned about Birmingham Science City’s brand per se, as we have to adapt to needs, I am concious of our representation of many well established organisations with their own images and routes to engagement.  How far can we go taking our partners with us on this social media adventure and will they agree that the benefit of opening conversations out outweigh some of the loss of control that is an inevitable part of this world? 
  • Unlike some of the examples we have heard of, our aim is not to go viral.  We need to remain very concious of the community we are supporting and keep a degree of focus.  At the same time we can help to link to overlapping communities so need to retain some openess.
  • We need to give more thought to the best tools to use and how better to use the tools we are currently using – admittedly in a fairly amaturish way (though learning fast by doing, as seems the norm in social media).  We have taken a big jump in our knowledge in the last days, but would value the thoughts and views of the Birmingham City Partners/ community – so please comment!

Pam Waddell

A second post from EC PLACES training on social media and now thinking about applications in Science Communication.  All based around three principles of listening, linking and sharing.

@ShaneMcC of ‘I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here’ and ‘Science is Vital’ telling us the history of the latter.  It started with Vince Cable’s 8 Sept 2010 proposals to cut science funding ‘because we are not worth’ it that led to an immediate Blog response that quickly snowballed into a campaign.  Within a day a Facebook group ‘Science is Vital’ was up with 500+ members, 1000+ by 5 days, with 500+ Twitter Followers.  Although smaller number, Twitter allower further reaching of followers’ networks, including people like Brian Cox and Stephen Fry.  Face to face meetings of core group made decisions based on feel of campaign and proposed a rally on 9 October.  Use of ‘Basecamp’ allowed organisation of campaing rather that discussion which continued on Facebook.

There was a leveling off of interest until a website was established something for followers to do and talk about.  Also reached a point of being an internal conversation, so needed to get followers such as universities and celebrities to help break out into wider public through whatever means they normally used.  This led to huge response to launch of e-petition with 8k+ signatures in a week and 20k+ by the time off rally.  Slightly belatedly they asked for some funding from followers.

Day of rally came and 2000 scientists came with plakards.  It was a positive message – science is vital to economy and worth keeping.  BBC reported.

Next stage was to hit politicians.  120 people came to parliament to lobby MPs, petition grew to 36k signatures and was presented to Downing Street, which resulted in a positive meeting with David Willetts.  He was grateful for campaign that had positively and with evidence made a case that helped him to secure cash freeze rather than cut in science budget.

This shows how a bottom up campaign of people passionate and positive about a cause (albeit naive and inexperienced) can successfully use social media tools to suceed in changing things.

Pam Waddell

In a internationally mixed room with a range of social media experience, but we all have in common an interest in science communication.  But how will we be different from each other, because we all need a niche, says our ‘tutor’ Nick Booth from Podnosh.

For a start we are using a variety of tools, to learn, teach and be entertained.  Each tool works differently and has different rules – different communities have different rules in the virtual world as in the real world.  But social media works best when we are prepared to be generous, giving and taking in the communities in which we operate.

Social media can be used for linking, sharing, campaigning, re-working.  The key is to think of this as a big global conversation and behave accordingly – a very big conversation with millions involved- something like 300m tweets a day – and increasingly engaging people more that traditional media.

Taking Birmingham as an example, Birmingham’s active citizens have been given a voice through Podnosh.  This started with a remarkably popular podcasting site that simply broadcast about social campaigns.  This unintentionally led to Podnosh acting as a networking node, which led to a Facebook site, then then real face to face networking of Birmingham bloggers – people with a shared interest in Birmingham.  There was no immediate goal, but a ‘stock-pot of social capital’ was created and bubbles of interest emerged and branched out on their own, eg Big City Plan Talk enabled real engagement in an important consulation exercise.

What can Birmingham Science City and its partners learn from this story of evolution?  Those of us joining the big global conversation a bit later may not have the luxury of slowly cooking our ‘stock pot’ – we join when precidents are set and we need to understand and join in appropriately.  Those of us who represent long eastablished organisations, or in the case of BSC many established organisations, with images, strategies and structures to respect might not have the freedom that this bottom up community enjoyed.  But there is no choice but to join in as the whole nature of social media is that if we don’t join in, other will do it for us in our absence.

If we do join in we will be surprised at where common interest lie – connecting niche interests across and between communities – allowing ideas to be shared and developed.  Even big organisations can be part of this as long as they are useful to people and not just self promoting, eg CoventryCC Facebooking about snow.

So, we are going to do it do it, and take Nick’s advice be open, share and collaborate because while there are challenges, there are opportunities in this world conversation!  Please tell us what you think, what you want to hear about and how you can contribute.

Pam Waddell

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