Insect Week returns in 2022
Some advice from The Royal Entomological Society on running outreach activities about insects.
Think about your motivations for doing outreach and the aims you wish to achieve. At the Society we often focus on communicating the importance of insects in our world and on studying and working in entomology.
Perhaps you have a specific event in mind such as a BioBlitz or you may wish to collaborate with a specific organisation. You may be looking to attract citizen scientists to collect data for your project.
Outreach could bring your story to new audiences or help inform the opinion of a community. You could be inspiring the next generation and addressing the ‘nature deficit’ of those who may not be able to access the outdoors.
You may see outreach as an opportunity to develop your skills and gain experience in communication. If you are a researcher then doing outreach could be a requirement for funding from a research council.
Outreach with insects can be in many forms and environments. What you do should relate to your overall aims and the audience you wish to engage.
You could do an activity such as giving a talk, handling live insects, carrying out a simple experiment or playing educational games. These could be indoors in an educational institution such as a school or university, or in a public institution such as a museum, zoo or aquarium. Outdoor activities could be a bug hunt on a nature reserve or a session with a forest school. You may contribute to a wider event such as a science fair, a summer camp or the Society’s Insect Festival or Insect Week.
To reach new audiences you could do something in a place where people may not expect to find insects, such as a shopping centre, a music or a food festival. Community organisations such as youth clubs, the WI, and the U3A are often looking for interesting and unusual sessions.
You could engage with the media, talking about your story to newspapers, websites, radio and tv. You could work with a production company to make a specific programme or podcast series. If you are a writer then writing popular science blogs, books and magazines can open your area to a new world. Social media can be excellent for reaching out and also for engaging with celebrities who may amplify your message.
Working with artists can be a great way to explore the relationships between humans and insects, through performances such as theatre and music, as well as art exhibitions and film showings.
The equipment that you need to do outreach will of course depend on your activity, but think about how durable it is, how accessible it is to audiences of different abilities and knowledge levels, and how sustainable the sourcing of it is and the potential for recycling or disposal afterwards.
Equipment directly relating to insects includes living and preserved specimens in appropriate containers, raw or cooked edible insects, and images and videos of insects. You may prepare information to accompany these, ranging from simple labels to specialist identification guides.
Going on a bug hunt generally requires insect surveying equipment such as different types of sweep net, white beating trays, pooters and sample pots. You could also pre-set pitfall and Malaise traps to show different insect groups.
If your activity is outside you will need to plan for adverse weather by providing shelter or having an alternative activity plan.
Often with insects the challenge can be to make tiny things visible. This could be with magnification by a hand lens or sheet lens, a dissection microscope, a usb microscope with a computer screen or a smartphone lens attachment.
Focusing on different senses can create memorable experiences. The looks and sounds of insects can be appreciated through visual and audio aids, live insects or 3D models. Some insects can be smelt, others safely tasted.. If you can afford it, technology such as virtual reality can transport visitors into different worlds.
Whatever you do, providing some art materials, such as non-toxic chalks and paper, can help children express what they experience with your activity and provide them with something to take home.
Other post-activity materials could include a handout with an activity to do at home, insect-attracting plant seeds to grow, information about online resources or a smartphone application. Branded materials to give for free such as pens, credit card-sized hand lenses, stickers, badges and keyrings are often very popular.
Don’t forget that you will often need a team around you. They may have specialist entomological knowledge or be generalist communicators. Remember to plan any team training and briefing, clothing to identify them and to support them during the event with breaks and refreshments. Be sensitive to the diversity within your team of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and socio-economic backgrounds, diverse role models could help inspire future insect scientists.
When you plan your activity be sure to account for all of your costs and keep within your budget. You may need to apply for funding to cover some of your costs. Time your event carefully so that it does not clash with anything similar and perhaps make it coincide with initiatives such as Insect Week.
The most important thing is to attract an audience. Your promotion could involve an eye-catching poster or short video on social media, or a colourful display on your stand at an event. You may have a webpage about your activities and you could do a press release in advance if it is of interest to the media.
Your activity paperwork may include evidence of public liability insurance; risk assessments and method statements for the build, activity time and break down; ethics and killing guidelines if you are trapping insects; welfare plans for insect handling; photography/video consent forms to sign if you would like to use images of people. For a large event you may need to book furniture, electricity, audio visual equipment and carpet in advance.
Plan your first aid cover and provide a well-stocked kit if needed. At a large event this may already be taken care off, but make sure that your team is aware either way. Consider mental health first-aid as well and inform your team of the potential needs of visitors who have communication difficulties, such as those on the autistic spectrum or with hearing or sight issues.
You will need to gather information about your team, such as contact details, DBS checks, medical conditions including allergies and emergency contacts, but remember to keep this confidential. Depending on what has been agreed you may need to provide timesheets for hours worked, and claim forms for travel and accommodation expenses.
Plan the logistics of your activity: how will you, your material and your team arrive, do you need to organise a courier and are there specific travel instructions such as a public transport station or parking?
Evaluation of your activities can provide evidence of achieving aims and help improve future activities. Be sure to plan this in advance. Quantitative methods include counting numbers of visitors, materials given out, time spent doing an activity or numbers of visits to a follow up webpage. Qualitative methods can include interviews, focus groups and ethnographic observation. Often these methods are combined within a survey with different types of questions.
Don’t forget to provide any warnings to visitors about potential sensitive images and age limitations, for example forensic entomology may involve images of decaying dead animals.
Your first point of support will probably be where your activity is taking place. This could the event or venue host or the media platform. They will be able to advise you on logistics and expected audience size and make-up. They may also have a communications team to promote your activity.
You should also look for support within your own institution. Many universities and businesses have outreach and communication teams. You may also find valuable experience within your department and colleagues.
Don’t forget the many insect-related organisations in the UK which may have materials that you can use and with whom you might collaborate: societies such as the RES, the Amateur Entomologists’ Society and the British Entomological & Natural History Society. There are also charities such as Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, the British Dragonfly Society and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. More general organisations include the Royal Horticultural Society, the Woodland Trust, the Linnean Society, the British Ecological Society, the Field Studies Council and the British Science Association.
There are several Science Communication organisations that can provide training and share best practice, such as Stempra, the BIG STEM Communicators network and the European Science Communication Institute. The STEM Ambassadors scheme has hubs around the UK and provides training on engaging with young people, can provide a DBS check and will link you with educators looking for activity sessions.
Organisations that represent those with a particular need may be able to advise you on the accessibility of your activity. These include the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Action on Hearing Loss and the National Autistic Society.
The Royal Society and the Wellcome Trust have published several reports on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion within Science. There is also an excellent book ‘Equity, Exclusion & Everyday Science Learning’ by Emily Dawson. These focus on the environment surrounding outreach and how this may exclude certain groups within society, perhaps by taking place somewhere they would not normally visit or using a language or wording with which they are not familiar.