Researchers at the Universities of Birmingham and Reading are seeking innovative ways to engage communities in environmental science, through story-telling and citizen science projects.

In a new £1.3M project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), researchers will re-evaluate the impacts of environmental science from a community perspective with the aim of using these insights to inform the UK’s research agenda.

Issues such as energy, pollution, climate change and air quality will all be addressed through the project, called the NERC Community for Engaging Environments. It forms part of NERC’s wider Engaging Environments programme and builds on earlier pilot projects, ENCOMPASS, based at Birmingham, and Opening up Science for All!, based at Reading

Dr Carl Stevenson of the University of Birmingham is Co-Director of the project alongside project lead Dr Hilary Geoghegan from the University of Reading. The Birmingham team also includes Dr Derren Cresswell, Community Organiser in Environmental science, and Alice Roberts, Professor of Public Engagement in Science.

Dr Stevenson said: “This project is a real opportunity to move beyond traditional public engagement. Through our previous work with Citizens UK in Birmingham we have developed ways to understand how communities see the relevance of science and the environment to their everyday lives. This has helped us reframe the impact of research from a new perspective.

“In the NC4EE we will be able to export this approach to other cities and areas of the UK, building meaningful partnerships and making science relevant to society in society’s eyes."

The project is led by the Universities of Reading and Birmingham, in partnership with University College London, the Universities of Salford, Manchester and Newcastle and also involves Earthwatch, Tekiu and Citizens UK. A further 25 partners including the Woodland Trust, the Natural History Museum and open science portal, Figshare, will also contribute to the project.

Dr Hilary Geoghegan, the lead academic on the NERC Community for Engaging Environments platform at the University of Reading, said: “I’m very excited to continue working with communities across the UK, NERC researchers and our partners. We’ll be developing our capacity to listen and exchange stories about the environment and environmental change to co-create and make environmental research meaningful and relevant. For the entire team, Engaging Environments is critically important, and offers the chance to transform public engagement with environmental research, to ensure  it can make a real difference through learning with those traditionally marginalised from science, but most likely to be affected by environmental issues”

The NERC’s Engaging Environments programme supports ambitions projects to engage the UK public with contemporary environmental science issues on a national scale.

Duncan Wingham, NERC Executive Chair, said: “As NERC’s largest investment in Public Engagement to date, the second stage of Engaging Environments represents our recognition of the importance of public involvement, and our commitment to enabling high-quality engagement with environmental research. This programme will equip the NERC research community, and wider groups, with the skills and confidence to take innovative approaches to collaborating with the public in research.”

For further information please contact Beck Lockwood, Press Office, University of Birmingham, tel 0121 414 2772.

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