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Putting the open engagement of societal actors into practice: the ‘Air of the Anthropocene’ example

  • Francis Pope
  • Margaret Gold
  • Robin Price
  • Sybille Lammes
Friday 30 June 2023
Oude Sterrewacht
Sterrenwachtlaan 11
2311 GW Leiden

This seminar of the CWTS Institute at Leiden University is the first to be hosted by the new Engagement & Inclusion Focal Area,  and will explore the concept of Societal Engagement as an essential component of Open Science.

Drawing upon the example of the 'Air of the Anthropocene' initiative led by Dr. Francis Pope from Birmingham University and artist Robin Price, the seminar will investigate the power of interdisciplinary collaboration and Art + Science participatory events in bridging the gap between scientific research and societal impact.

The open engagement of societal actors is one of UNESCO’s key pillars for Open Science, referring to ‘citizen and participatory science and other extended collaboration between scientists and societal actors beyond the scientific community, opening up practices and tools that are part of the research cycle and by making the scientific process more inclusive and accessible to the broader inquiring society’.

Within the movement towards opening up science, the concepts of  transparency, accessibility, and inclusivity in scientific practices are increasingly emphasised. Central to this concept is the active involvement of various societal actors, such as citizens, policymakers, industry professionals, and artists, in the scientific process. By engaging these diverse stakeholders, open science aims to democratize knowledge production, enhance its relevance, and foster innovation.

The 'Air of the Anthropocene' project serves as an exemplary case study for Art + Science interfaces for engaging the public, in this case with the science of air quality monitoring and the societal urgency of addressing air pollution in the places where we live, work, and study. Dr. Francis Pope, a Professor of Atmospheric Science at Birmingham University, and Robin Price, a renowned artist, have collaborated in a project that seeks to raise awareness of the Anthropocene epoch, characterized by human-induced environmental changes, by exploring the invisible and ubiquitous presence of air pollution through the medium of photography.

In this seminar, Margaret Gold, Coordinator of the Citizen Science Lab at CWTS, will introduce the theme of Societal Engagement as a key pillar of Open Science and the related fields of Public Engagement with Science and Citizen Science that are represented in the CWTS Engagement & Inclusion Focal Area.

Francis Pope and Robin Price will then introduce their Art + Science collaboration. Through the fusion of scientific measurements, data visualization, and immersive installations, they have created an interactive experience that transforms scientific research into a multisensory encounter that aims to evoke emotional responses and inspire behavioral change among participants. They will highlight the role of art in stimulating public engagement and promoting dialogue on complex scientific issues.

We will then invite all attendees (both in person and virtually present) to join us in an open discussion of these themes of public engagement, societal inclusion, citizen science, and the role of art. By utilizing art as an interface and tool for communication, such creative explorations can bridge the gap between complex scientific information and the public's perception, making it more accessible, relatable, and enjoyable.

By encouraging public participation via a creative medium, Art + Science initiatives can create an inclusive space where individuals from diverse backgrounds and knowledge levels can come together to explore and discuss scientific topics, and provide a lower threshold for discussing topics that have a degree of societal urgency, such as the impacts of air quality on our health, on the health of the natural world, and on climate change. Artistic expressions allow for alternative perspectives, encouraging critical thinking and questioning of scientific ideas. This dialogue stimulates creativity and fosters an environment where both scientists and the public can learn from one another.

Moreover, participatory events that combine science and art have the potential to break down barriers that often exist between scientific institutions and the general public. They promote a sense of ownership and empowerment among participants, as they become active contributors to the scientific discourse. This can lead to increased trust in scientific processes and findings, as well as improved science literacy in the community.

The Seminar will close with an invitation for all who are able to come to Leiden to join us in person at the ‘Luchtkwaliteit in Beeld’ Kenniscafe that same evening (June 30th),  where we will be building the Pollution Painter kits used by Francis and Robin in the Air of the Anthropocene project, and taking our own air pollution photos in various neighbourhoods of Leiden and the surrounding areas. The ‘Photo Expeditions’ will happen on Saturday evening (July 1st) at dusk, and an Exhibition of the Photos (with drinks) will take place on Sunday evening (July 2nd).

Event details and registration can be found here.

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