Of all the places you might expect to encounter science, your local shopping mall doesn’t usually figure highly. However, if you happened to be in Olsztyn’s Galeria Warmińska on 27 September 2019, then you might be forgiven for thinking you were in a massive laboratory.
What was Researcher’s Night and who was involved?
Researchers’ Night with EIT Food was organized in Poland by a group of scientists from the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences and from Maspex Group. The event was part of EIT Food’s Project #AnnualFoodAgenda which encourages consumers to reconnect with the food they eat and takes place across 3 countries – Poland, the UK and Spain.
European Researchers’ Night is an initiative organized across Europe on the last Friday of September each year. Scientists from the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research PAS have been involved in this for the past six years and have previously organised events in a range of locations including within labs at the Institute, but this year they wanted to do something different, and something specifically related to food. So rather than inviting people to the labs, they decided to take the labs to the people!
In order to engage with the widest range of people, from all ages and backgrounds, the event was organised in the region’s biggest shopping mall, on one of the busiest shopping days of the week.
Over 70 researchers on more than 20 different stands organised 9 hours of experiments integrating education and entertainment as well as providing a plethora of hands-on activities. From testing the antioxidant levels in different drinks to learning how to read food labels, all the activities related to health and nutrition, focusing on how we can adopt balanced dietary choices to make informed, healthy, decisions.
Watch the highlights video below:
Increasing consumer trust: Debunking myths with real-time experiments
We get bombarded with so much conflicting information about food, and we are exposed to plenty of “experts” trending on social media who claim that we should follow particular types of diet. People find it difficult to differentiate between facts and myths, and to know who or what to trust. It is this that Researchers’ Night with EIT Food sought to tackle.
“Researchers Night with EIT Food enabled us to provide people with first-hand scientific data” explains Iwona Kieda, the organiser of the event and Communications Specialist and from Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research PAS. “We are not sharing opinions; we are educating people by inviting them to do experiments themselves and to see results with their own eyes.”
But Iwona accepts that the learning isn’t just confined to the participants, it goes both ways. “When we get this face-to-face contact with the public, we can get so much information. People ask so many questions, and this is when we realise just how confused consumers really are. Meeting people in this sort of environment is a great test of whether the research we are doing is going in the right direction, whether we are meeting the expectations, needs, and doubts of consumers.”
How many consumers were engaged?
Over 20,000 people were reported as visiting the shopping mall over just that one day. To measure how many actually engaged in the Researchers’ Night activities, the team came up with a passport which was stamped every time someone completed an activity. Those who got five stamps received a prize, and the team gave out 1,500 prizes of food-related gadgets, including EIT Food water bottles and shopping bags.
This number is a very conservative estimate, and the actual engagement total will be much higher. Importantly, a significant amount of people engaged and left the shopping mall better informed about their food.
Public events such as Researchers’ Night provide the opportunity for producers and researchers in the food chain to interact with consumers and respond to their doubts and their fears concerning the food system.
Iwona feels this is an important way of increasing knowledge, as well as dispelling myths and stereotypes. “Face-to-face contact helps to build understanding and understanding then builds trust. I think this is the key to all science engagement, and food consumer engagement activities.”
To learn more about trust in the food system join EIT Food’s free online course ‘Trust in our food’ where you can explore key consumer concerns surrounding trust including food safety, nutritious food and sustainable food production. Click here to explore the course or find out about other EIT Food online courses here
About the author: Dr Lucy Wallace is a freelance writer with a background in research communications and an interest in novel engagement methods with diverse audiences.