University of Lincoln’s ‘Really? A Dig On A Council Estate’
By Professor Carenza Lewis, professor for the Public Understanding of Research at the University of Lincoln
Carenza Lewis, from the University of Lincoln, gives us the inside scoop on how she planned her fantastic event which engrossed local shoppers with archaeology. Find out why location is crucial to the success of a public engagement activity and how to make great things happen on a small budget. This event was part of the Being Human Open Call pathway.
Tell us a bit about your event. What did you want to achieve?
‘Really? A Dig on a Council Estate’ was a one-day hands-on exhibition presenting our research, which explored the development and use of a post-war council estate through archaeological excavations carried out by today’s estate residents. Held in a shopping centre, it included a wide range of posters, artefacts, activities, games and surveys, each exploring our research in a different way.
Our goal was to make members of the wider public as interested and excited about the topic as we are. We wanted visitors to enjoy learning something new and leave feeling intrigued by how important finds of children’s rubbish had been to advancing knowledge. We also wanted to see how well our new ideas for ‘guerrilla engagement’ (using unexpected opportunities and unusual methods to attract people’s attention) would work!
Who was your target audience and how did you go about reaching them? What was the audience’s experience of the event?
We wanted to reach local people of all ages and backgrounds. To do so we used Waterside Shopping Centre as our venue, which enabled us to reach out to wider publics who might not intentionally visit an exhibition/educational event.
The feedback we received from attendees was 99% positive with 96% reporting that the event had increased their awareness of research on the subject and 93% said it increased their understanding of the relevance of humanities research to our everyday lives. All those that filled in feedback forms said it had encouraged them to find out more about the subjects covered. We received some lovely comments, with one saying that ‘It was good to get the whole community involved’ and another stating that the event was ‘very important for inspiring the young!’
A key part of our event was to make the experience fun, which seemed to have been appreciated by attendees. We received positive feedback on including a game of bingo (using images from the dig) as part of the event and another explained ‘I enjoyed the digging for the marble on the excellent large board showing where the digs had been’.
What worked particularly well in the planning, design and delivery of your events? Did you face any challenges?
It was incredibly satisfying to see people of all ages enjoying learning new things so much, and how entranced they were by the research methods and findings. The exhibition worked really well in attracting and sustaining the focussed attention of a wide range of visitors, most of whom hadn’t intended to visit an educational activity. The shopping centre location brought people in, the stand’s high visibility attracted their attention.
In particular, activities engrossing younger children for sustained periods enabled carers to linger, look at finds and talk to volunteers about the research. Giving out A5 copies of the information panels also helped ensure people had a record of what they’d seen.
Designing the exhibition and developing the event materials did take more time and effort than we’d anticipated and funding limitations meant we had to think creatively and call in favours. On the day the stand was also very busy, which meant volunteers sometimes couldn’t give all visitors enough personal attention. We could have done with more seating around the stand due to its popularity.
What was your motivation for getting involved in Being Human?
We took part in Being Human because we wanted to promote the University of Lincoln’s research to new audiences and to develop new resources. Being part of a national research festival raised the status of the event, the university and the city in the perception of visitors. Being involved in the festival’s London launch event also helped promote the research amongst launch attendees and their networks. In addition, we were interviewed for the BBC Radio 3’s ‘Free Thinking’ programme based around the festival, which allowed us to share our research to yet another group of people.
Do you have any top tips or lessons learned for future Being Human event organisers?
- Think about your target audience and include appropriate activities.
- Make it fun, even when the subject is serious – our sandpit, the table-top finds-hunt and bingo all facilitated ‘stealth learning’ where people found about research into social housing without having to consciously commit to formal learning.
- Elements of chance and reward are popular – awarding chocolate brownies to visitors who correctly guessed where on the estate child-related finds had been made encouraged people to pay close attention to explanations about the research.