Introducing “Science of the City” , an innovative project designed to show new forms of citizen participation in science and technology, enabling creativity and awakening the curiosity of the individual into all that is hidden in science that pervades our daily lives.

“Science of the City” was born from a simple idea: “the principles of science and technology are not only in books and in the laboratory but at street level: mirrors, lights, cars, trees, bicycles, trains, … Therefore, “Science of the City” is an exhibition project that begins with a video competition and proposes to make every citizen a science communicator, in a two-minute video, showing the occult science in its city. The contest will reward the best videos and all will be part of a project for open research scientists and artists, the result will be exhibited at the Centre d’Arts Santa Mònica de Barcelona.

We talked to its leaders, Irene Lapuente and Ramon Sangüesa:

Q: How does the idea of this project come up?

A: The project is a continuation of our line of experimentation in the design of participatory processes in the field of culture and science, as Adam Bly, founder of SEED magazine says: “science is culture.”
For us, the communication of culture goes through expand current strategies focused on cultural marketing or one-way communication standard used by the institutions: museums, cultural centers, art centers, technology centers, science museums, research centers, etc. We believe strongly in the value of communicating and in the agent that builds the message alone or in collaboration with cultural creators and communicators of science and technology.
Our approach comes from the mixture of different methods, such as the culture of participatory design, collaborative technology and complexity. We create situations and involve processes that lead to a open and emerging co-creation situation. In this process all the players learn, not just the “formerly public.”

The richness of the approach is the intertwining of ways to communicate and learn in various formats since the creation of digital contents to physical objects or the proposed experiments. Participation is created from the contribution of the public but also the public can, by project, redirect the process. At the same time the contribution may be anything from providing an idea expressed in the text or by voice to create a three dimensional object to illustrate a concept. The interference to the world is via workshops within a project, and through 2.0 virtual platforms.
Finally, we believe that the hybridization of art, design, technological and scientific approaches involve very different audiences. Each door is a different process, something that resonates and makes you take the step to participate. Today’s culture is hybridization and collaboration. The public, scientists, designers, technologists can learn from each other and come up with new questions for our projects. The most direct antecedents are the projects we have in parallel and in collaboration with the Tech Museum in California, that can be found here. All our projects are documented in this blog: Co-Creating-Cultures.

Also, we consider very important the research on participatory processes that we carry out and the approach is design. Therefore when we want to investigate any dimension, we created a project to test the hypotheses and learn more.
In one hand “Science of the City” explores the fact that we all are able to find science in our immediate environment, on the other hand plays with the starting point in creating ideas. “From contemplation, participation and beyond”, this was the direct predecessor of “Science of the City”. The starting point was working with materials “low tech” for users to have ideas for a presentation on Internet, after that the work was with “high tech” virtual environments worldwide that the Tech Museum of California lend us. It means that, we move from physical to digital.
“Science of the City” began as a digital video from a digital platform shared collaboratively.

The entire process is documented to see which concepts are used by the public and how they interpret the artists. It may be interesting for museums and institutions involved. Should strive to listen and understand what the public says from their videos. The other point that “Science of the City” explores is the translation between scientific and artistic concepts, language barriers and bridges connecting.

Q: Which are the organizations that contribute to the project and to the networking?

A: The project is driven by the Tangerine Newton that is a scientific communication company, exploring science in a broad sense, and the company set up a small network of collaborating institutions.
The more active partnerships are the Tech Museum of California that brings its collaborative platform and the Centre d’Arts Santa Monica in Barcelona, which provides support and space to create the exhibition. There are other institutions and actors in this first phase of the project that give visibility, such as the Paris Academy of Sciences and the Association Paris-Montagne, Observatori de Comunicació Científica de la Universitat Pompeu Fabra, the Tercer Milenio del Heraldo of Aragón, Liberty science Center, the NY Hall of Science, the NY Academy of Science, l’Associació Catalana de Comunicació Científica and the Singapore Science Center. Some of them also host workshops and elaboration of scientific movies.

Q: Which are the main challenges and goals to be approach by the project?

A: The main objective is to show that science is everywhere and we can all try to capture it. Therefore, we chose the city as a place to offer our participants a playground of exploration. To show that the scientific process can be incorporated into creative activities and that communication in new formats is very important. In fact, we believe that science is more an attitude than a set of content. So, for example, together with questions and findings highlighted we promoted the category “experiment in the city” where participants have to consider what they want to show and how to create an experiment in the city.
Examples of this are shown in the video below:

  • Finding: “Urban Fossils”.
  • Experiment: “Newton’s First Law.”
  • Question: “Why the sky is sometimes blue and sometimes red?”

The emphasis on working with media formats is not only justified by the proximity which express certain segments of the population with digital material, but is beginning to be a form of communication between the experimental results of scientific profession. It is very interesting in this regard, for example, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, which wants to become a form of scientific publication as respectable as the usual scientific journals that focusing on the format “text”.
As challenges, we are particularly interested in knowing concepts and visions of science that manages the public. We will conduct a discourse analysis using an artificial intelligence software that we share with the University of California. It is a database that can be used as complementary inspiration for visual and plastic artists that conduct the exhibition in Santa Monica.

For this first edition of “Science of the City” we are concerned about the whole aspect of the public handling concepts and how they present them to others. We are not interested in getting large volumes of data, but enough content to reflect together with scientists, cultural managers and artists on these conceptions of what science is, what is a discovery and what is an experiment.

Q: To whom is address this initiative and who can participate in this contest?

A: The phase of video competition is open to anyone who wants to participate. The period ended on June 30th, except the videos that are expressed in French and the term runs until the 19th of July. On this date there is the Festival of Science in Paris, and the best videos in French can be chosen.
To participate, simply edit the video, upload it to YouTube and then link it from the platform Tech Virtual from Tech Museum. Here you can learn more about the contest and how to participate: Video Contest .

Q: We talked about the opportunities presented by the audiovisual format to explore new forms of participatory communication and dissemination of science and technology. Why recommend its use to other professionals and science communicators?.

A: For the digital native it is a very natural form of communication, they are immersed in media culture. But not only for them, those who are around forty and fifty are now full of a culture based on the image. Moreover, as we said, scientists themselves are walking towards this type of format to explain their work in either disclosure or professional life.
The main difficulty is the time, to edit a video requires dedication. More and more people spend time in accessing platforms like YouTube, even more than searching in Google. We must reach the public where it is.

Q: Of all the videos received so far, which ate your expectations and curiosity?

A: In open and participatory iinitiatives the most surprising thing is the result, for sure is different than what we had in mind at first … What we can say is that we reaffirm what we already know from other participatory processes in the environment of scientific and technological culture: the public is extremely creative and raises interesting questions. Wants to know and if has the opportunity, not only wants to hear but do.
In terms of themes and contents there are about everything, from proposals for new energy, original presentations of scientific principles to proposed renovation of the cities. And, of course, there are plenty more people than we thought.
One of our most emotional tests was conducted during the workshop for youth at the Youth Correctional Center, near Granollers in Barcelona. We were pleased to see that they were very interested in learning more about science, and actually saw science as something that was present in their lives. You can watch a video about this experience:

Q: As professionals of social disclosure and communication of science and technology findings, which are the lessons learned and insights drawn from this singular experience, combining a commitment to new models of communication based on participation, technology and, in some way on both.

A: Well, mainly, there is a great need to increase the repertoire of tools, processes and ways of making professional science communication.
We must go beyond the “educational” vision that has been handled by the institutions of science.
As Bernard Schiele says (University of Montreal), “we must communicate knowledge knowing interbreed different ways” between the public and experts. “There are many experts”, he said. And they must be able to communicate and to listen not only to send a message and “pull” the public to understand and work together. Not all media professionals are trained in this field. Grow a group of people where once sought to create public, increase educational visits and sharing experiences is difficult.
What is clear and we have seen in these participatory processes, is that if you know how to design and carry well, increase the public’s identification with the institutions that promote the event. For example, if you participated in the design of an exhibition, is “your” exposure and “your” museum.This also introduces the concept of the common patrimony around the project but also the institution or group that promotes it.
We talked about the museum and the exhibition because it is an institution and a format that will closely linked and are useful to contrast with the new dynamics. We could also talk about centers and groups without space identifier, or at least out of these classical institutions.

Our experience is that there are difficulties in understanding these changes at both individual professionals and institutions. Just open up research and testing processes to then share the results with industry professionals.
This year in September, in the CCCB it will be held the collaborative practices workshops for the cultural sector and science is always considered. In this event we shared the difficulties and methods for designing participatory processes, it is a slow process but we love it.
In Octuber, the American Association of Museums asked us to work with the hundred best professionals showing our methods along with three other “researchers” who are specialized in creativity and innovation, as Alex Mayhew, the creator of transmedia projects and with Peter Gabriel, among others.

Q: What will the future brings? Do you have already new design initiatives and participatory media for popular science?

A: The main challenge is a good and proper analysis of how the process was developed and understand what the participants have told us (also the artists on the second phase of the project). We want to use what they learned in both editions of “Science of the City” and other participatory projects.
In this sense, we want to experiment further with the sequence and connection of processes that require face to face participation in a particular time and space, with virtual interaction and construction. We have stabilized a few methods and virtual classroom translation and vice versa but we have found new opportunities that we want to try again.
In addition, we are happy because we have been awarded a grant from the FECYT to support the project. We believe that the main challenge is to stabilize the project and make it grow. This means to share the financing effort that is being done now by La Mandarina de Newton and that’s what we are doing now.

More information: Science of the City

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