This government has expressed its intention to create a more democratic society in the UK by raising the levels of community participation. But what does it mean to be active and participate? We have set up a project to bring together researchers to do practical online science along with young people, who are interested in helping them to control the research initiative. Young people will define the aims of these science investigations, design their implementation, run the investigations, and share and discuss them with others. This science is made by young people and shared with a young community. These young people will also be able to go beyond the confines of the traditional role of “participants” required for the gathering of data for a pre-defined research purpose. They will instead become full partners in an effort to make science popular and attractive. As a research team, we want to promote young people becoming scientists, by the simple incentive of creating with them an online open science laboratory for genuine scientific practice.
The project aims are these: 1. To design and develop a set of open access tools for scientific investigation, adapted from the OpenScience laboratory in collaboration with young people. 2. To support young people aged 15-19, individually or through organizations such as British Science Association, to engage with the tools and investigations. 3. To implement cycles of design, evaluation and reporting, though a sequence of workshop activities with the Sheffield University Technical College (UTC) and the young user community online.
In all phases of the project, the role and contribution of young people (specifically students from the newly established Sheffield UTC) are of core importance as they drive how the project is organised, determine the final outcomes and support the promotion of the project’s insights to the young community.
We want to minimize the gap between the enticing science often broadcast on TV and young people’s opportunities for real hands-on scientific investigations. We want them to develop a personal sense of wonder. We expect that, having young people as co-designers and partners in the process of development and design we will manage to raise young people’s interest in science and lift some of the barriers between them and science education. We will empower young people with the reasoning and problem solving skills used by scientists, assist them in developing skills as practical scientists, and in gaining a better understanding of the big issues of society, as well as accessing science careers. This is our effort for a deeper and more effective form of public participation of young people in science endeavours.
The nQuire project is coordinated by Professor Mike Sharples and also involves Dr Eloy Villasclaras-Fernandez.
It is a one-year research and development project funded by Nominet Trust and coordinated by The Open University in collaboration with Sheffield UTC. M ore information about the project here or follow us on twitter and facebookwww.facebook.com/nQuireYCI.
This contribution has been commissioned for an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and Participation Now, a project that aims to support exploration, innovation and debate about contemporary forms of participatory public engagement. Participation Now is an Open University project supported by OpenLearn, the Creating Publics project in the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance, and the RCUK-funded Public Engagement with Research Catalyst project. Explore the initiatives here.