Inventive: A podcast of Engineering Stories with associated live events and career resources

Lead Research Organisation: University of Salford
Department Name: Sch of Computing, Science & Engineering


Engineering is full of stories. It's about people facing challenges and digging deep to overcome them. Unlike conventional action heroes, however, it is not how far they can jump or climb that saves the day. It's how they apply complex scientific knowledge and practical expertise. Unfortunately, the technical depth that lets engineers achieve what they do, is also a barrier to public appreciation and understanding. The Inventive Podcast will use storytelling to overcome this barrier and encourage its audience to dream about Engineering and what they could do. It will achieve this through a co-creation between engineers, fiction writers and award-winning radio producers. We will mix fact and fiction to create engaging stories that work for podcasts, but with real engineers at their heart.

This is also an opportunity to build on the legacy of the 2018 Year of Engineering to counter engineering stereotypes. We will do this by casting brilliant engineers who have fascinating stories to tell. It will feature great inclusive role models, to counter the dominance of white males in many areas of Engineering. We will work with influencers from other spheres to target hard-to-reach audiences.

Podcasting has gone mainstream, with millions now tuning into shows such as Science Friday, RadioLab and Stuff You Should Know. Unfortunately engineering remain relatively invisible in this growing market with mostly small-scale niche podcasts. When Engineering is mentioned, it is usually badged as 'Science', thereby missing the opportunity to educate the public about engineering. Consequently, we will create a podcast that showcases engineering, exploiting the current space in the podcast market. Through this, we will inspire society about the contribution engineering makes.

The challenge is to create a podcast that reaches beyond those already interested in engineering. Unfortunately, the narrative approaches that the media uses for engineering are too often limiting. Historic narratives are common, but that risks reinforcing the idea that the subject is about heavy engineering from a bygone era; it ignores the current engineers who are transforming our modern world. Story-telling focusing on the biggest, longest, tallest is common - a sort of 'boys toys' approach to the subject - but this has a limited appeal. Another common tactic is to set-up some unconvincing jeopardy, patronising the audience and overlooking the fact that engineering is all about designing out risks and failure. To reach a broader audience, engineering needs to tell better stories with people at the centre. It also needs content that engages with the interests and concerns of a diverse listenership.

Consequently, the podcast will explore different narrative approaches. We will interweave factual interviews with engineers who have great stories to tell, with pieces of fiction that we'll especially commission. For example, what superpower does a particular engineer wish they had to make their job easier, and what engaging fictionalisation could build on that premise? This would allow us to explore in a fun way something that is central to engineering practice: finding ingenious ways to get around limitations.

Two other public-facing activities have been built around the podcast. The first is live recording, which creates opportunities for dialogues with the public, for example over ethical issues in engineering. The second is the development of media-rich resources for careers advice in schools, drawing on the compelling stories of the engineers to inspire the next generation of engineers.

To achieve the above, we have assembled a team of experts in radio, animation, social-media promotion and career/curriculum development. To shape the project and maximise impact, we have a small advisory board who bring expertise in science communication and writing fiction and non-fiction.

Planned Impact

The three public-facing activities are each a primary pathway to impact:
1. The podcasts (and marketing campaign).
2. Live recording events.
3. Career resources for schools with rich media.

These activities will deliver impacts to the following groups:

A) General public:
* Improved knowledge about who engineers are and what they do.
* Improved knowledge about the contribution engineering makes to society.
* Promotion of diversity through showcasing of inclusive role-models.
* Inspire educational influencers and potential engineers about the possibilities that a career in Engineering provides.
* Podcast and animations enrich publics' cultural lives.

B) Project team:
* Principal Investigator: extend communication beyond Acoustical Engineering.
* Co-Investigators, writers and animators: Work across disciplines, broadening and deepening their artistic portfolios to include engineering and exploring new approaches to narrative.

C) Participant Engineers:
* Increased visibility for their professional contribution.
* Improvement to their skills in communicating engineering.
* A route for public discussion around the ethics of their engineering.
* A platform upon which to build further engagement activities.

D) Wider engineering research community:
* Showcasing of cutting-edge engineering.
* Encourage a broader audience to consider Engineering as a career.
* Help address the relative invisibility of Engineering in society and schools.

E) Public engagement practitioners: Knowledge of impact through published evaluation of project activities.

F) Engineering industry
* Help address the shortfall in graduate engineers and technicians.
* Increase business innovation through more diversity in engineering.
* Increase UK competitiveness by encouraging a highly-skilled value-adding career.

G) Creative industries: developing new practice through Inventive Engineering stories.


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