Soapbox Science Brussels, a first experience in Belgium
This guest post has been contributed by Lê Binh San Pham, Karolien Lefever, Arianna Piccialli, Christine Bingen, Marie Yseboodt and Lucie Lamort of the Europlanet Society Benelux Hub.
On October 10 2020, Soapbox Science took place in Belgium for the first time with the generous logistical and financial support of the Europlanet Benelux hub, the Royal Observatory of Belgium, and the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy. Soapbox Science is an international initiative to promote women in science and their work in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. This very first Soapbox Science event in Belgium highlighted seven researchers who shared their passion for science. Due to the pandemic, the format of the event was transformed to a live online streaming.
Soapbox Science, an international initiative for promoting women scientists and the science they do
Created in 2011 in London on the initiative of two researchers, S. Sumner and N. Pettorelli, Soapbox Science was an immediate success, quickly spreading in the United Kingdom then around the whole world and allowing more than 1500 women to present their research. In 2020, Soapbox Science organised 55 events around the world.
The novel format of Soapbox Science, inspired by the famous London Speaker’s Corner, is probably at the base of this success: in a very busy place (which had to be the Place de la Bourse in this Brussels first edition), researchers present their work from a small podium (hence the name Soapbox Science, evoking “science from a soapbox”) and chat with the public. To promote direct contact and informal discussions with this improvised audience, no audiovisual support is used.
A first Belgian experience, that had to deal with COVID-19
The first Soapbox Science event in Belgium was organized by six scientists, members of two federal scientific institutes (the Royal Observatory of Belgium and the Royal Institute of Space Aeronomy of Belgium), involved in research and communication, and wishing to promote both the place of women in science and the general public’s access to science.
A call for applications was launched at the end of 2019 to select the speakers for this first event, scheduled at the end of June 2020 in the heart of Brussels. The pandemic unfortunately disrupted the organisation of Soapbox Science, in Brussels as elsewhere in the world, causing cancellations and postponements. The Brussels organisation decided to postpone the event until October 10, and finally had to opt for an online solution.
An online live event
While reconciling sanitary requirements with the objective of providing a showcase for participants, the online format challenged the original format of informal presentations to passing people. To maintain the user-friendly aspect of Soapbox Science, we chose the format of a conversation in a living room, with a live broadcast to allow the audience to ask questions. The communication strategy was adapted to the online format, and specific support (promotional films, video sequences of presentations, etc.) was offered to the speakers to enable them to make the most of this digital showcase.
Relayed by Twitter and social media, Soapbox Science Brussels 2020 was broadcast live on YouTube and Facebook with a peak of about 40 views, and extensively reviewed thereafter. An encouraging result, given the change in format depriving the event of its target audience and favouring instead a niche audience interested in science.
The COVID-19 health measures did not dampen the enthusiasm of the organisers or of the speakers, who took advantage of this first edition to create a new network of women scientists in Belgium. The organisation of Soapbox Science Brussels is counting on this showcase to be useful for future editions in Belgium, and hopes, if COVID-19 allows it, to organise a 2021 edition in the streets of Brussels.
The Soapbox Science Brussels 2020 event: http://soapboxscience.org/soapbox-science-2020-brussels/
The YouTube channel of Soapbox Science Brussels: https://tinyurl.com/y5jqk6dv
Soapbox Science web site: http://soapboxscience.org (follow the links « Soapbox science events » and « meet the Teams »)
Follow the news of Soapbox Science Brussels on Twitter (@SoapboxscienceB) and Facebook (@SoapboxScienceBrussels).