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Edinburgh Science Festival - “Welcome to Scientists Have Your Data”

By Carol Porteous


Sitting in the Old Anatomy Lecture Theatre on Monday 3rd April 2017, I am suddenly very nervous about the event due to start in the next 30 minutes. Lots of questions float around my head at superfast speed

  • Will I remember what I am doing?
  • Will the researchers we have worked with remember what they are doing?
  • Will the paying attendees enjoy our event?
  • Will they be engaged in our presentations? and, more importantly
  • Will they engage and question us on about our research?


I didn’t have long to wait as the room filled with expectant faces. And we are off……..


“ Welcome to Scientists Have Your Data”


The joint event between ADRC-Scotland and Farr Scotland had been in the planning for several months. We had submitted a lengthy application to the science festival, which was modified and agreed. We wanted to engage the public in an informal and fun yet serious way and getting the balance is always difficult, particularly when discussing administrative data and the use of it in research. Administrative data research and its associated processes, security measures and technical aspects can be complex and perhaps a tad dry to explain to a non-specialised audience in the usual presentation style. We also wanted to explore with publics whether they think our projects have public benefit, which is a key condition of all projects who access the ADRN. We also wanted them to critique and question the researchers and really engage in the work we are doing.

We chose 3 researchers to speak about their projects covering the breadth of social science and health research:

Project 1 – Care homes, transition from hospital and caring for Scotland’s aging population

Project 2 – Crime in the community

Project 3 – Environmental pollution and pre-term birth


We chose an informal presentation style, choosing to engage the audience in a quiz show called ‘whose benefit is it anyway’ a cross between blind date and QI, where our researchers competed for a box of data! Our researchers were quizzed on their research and the audience voted on the public benefit of the projects and then voted on which project had most public benefit out of the 3 presented. The event which was attended by our Director Professor Chris Dibben actually ran, to my delight very smoothly and the audience asked interesting and at times challenging questions, which included questioning the quality of data, the size of datasets (sample size) and a whole host of other questions and comments.

All of the projects were considered to have public benefit and the winner of the data was Project 1 on Care homes, transition from hospital and caring for Scotland’s aging population.


The Edinburgh Science Festival attracts a science savvy and aware crowd, which is why we didn’t fear using a title that could perhaps be construed as controversial. Within the opening few minutes my colleague Dr. Mhairi Aitken had assured the audience that scientists never have your data and only get access to it for a specific pre-defined purpose. Given that the audience is an engaged and active one, we had 50% response rate to our evaluation and were happy to see the positive responses to both the event and the public benefit of our research.

We hope to roll this format out again in the future to engage different audiences at other science festivals and events, given the success and enjoyment of both the audience and our researchers. I think at times, doing discrete public engagement events with small audiences can be seen as less valuable than large media campaigns or positive press stories about our work. However discrete engagement events allow invisible researchers to be seen and in-depth conversations, understandings and relationships to be forged which bridge the barrier between science and non-specialised publics.


Written by Carol Porteous from ADRC-Scotland and published on the ADRN blog under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Published on Tuesday 2 May 2017

Page last updated: 27/07/2018