The tenth in our series on this year’s group projects by Sci Com students . This week Clementine Cheetham, Laura Templer and Antonio Torrisi explore the challenges of policy making and public engagement.
This project is a visual, engaging representation of the various issues that feed in to policy making. The idea was to create a set of scales as a general metaphor of the problem of consensus and equilibrium in policy making: the juxtaposition between the ideal case where all voices and interests are represented and the reality of policy making as a process which only certain voices and interests take part in.
The scales were designed to satisfy three objectives: They had to encourage audience interaction so we made them pretty and approachable. They had to be polysemic in order to remove the possibility of getting ‘the wrong answer’ and to encourage a state of questioning. They were to be familiar but unfamiliar at the same time.
This art craft becomes an interactive tool that wants to at the same time be engaging and reflexive about the big problem of public engagement.
In building the scales we also considered practical aspects such as size and materials as well as artistic and aesthetical aspects.
The scales are constructed using equipment and material from scientific laboratories:
- The clamp stand is used as main support of the scale.
- Capillary tube is used to make the beam in which a copper wire was inserted to connect the beam to the two plates (or scale pans).
- The plates are made of cardboard covered with images of academic scientific publications on one plate and extracts from popular science magazines such as New Scientist. Each plate supports four Petri dishes on which weights are placed.
The materials were painted in gold and black in the artistic style of an old scale as well as “golden” scale.
The weights have been modelled with plasticine and cardboards and each of them represents a class of members of the society, such as politics, media, lobbies or concepts and values such as lay knowledge and trust, in a symbolic way.
The scale was constructed in such a way to enclose a number of metaphors related to many aspects of policy making and public engagement:
- The use of scientific labs equipment as material for constructing the balance deliberately represents the concept of the science knowledge as constructed according to the vision of the French philosopher Bruno Latour. At the same time, the scale itself represents a tool which is used in the scientific lab as well as in other social contexts (i.e. market or home) and it is a metaphor of the inevitable social implications of science.
- Covering the plates respectively with pieces of academic scientific publications and bits of scientific news from popular science magazines is a metaphorical representation of the transmission model of science communication and the largely debated problem of science popularisation.
- The weights sculpted in such a way to represents the members of the public have different weight and have a symbolic value.
- The way weights are placed on the different plates does not want to represent what the members stand for (science in the laboratory or its popularisation), but it follows criteria that want to mimic decisional processes which vary according to the represented issue (i.e. GM food, Nuclear Energy, Steam cell, drug development). According to this, the “mise en scene” of indexical weights implies the metaphorical transition from this model of communication towards one that involves multiple voices from members of society and focuses more on the public engagement.
Furthermore, a web site has been developed by one member of the group: www.jcheetham.dsl.pipex.com.
The web site can be accessed on an observer’s phone via a QR code t. It provides clear pictures of the weights with a full explanation of their symbolic meaning and it encourages further discovery down embedded hyperlinks.
Clementine Cheetham, Laura Templer and Antonio Torrisi are currently studying for an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College, London. Antonio is also one of the editors for Refractive Index.