Bright Club is a series of events where academics perform stand-up comedy about their research in a professional comedy venue to an audience beyond the usual suspects. Full details of the project are available at www.brightclub.org
Since May 2009 UCL has run 41 events, featuring over 180 researchers and attended by 4646 people. 60 podcasts have been produced with over 120 000 downloads. Themes have varied from Books, to Food, to Crime, and Bright Clubs have started in Edinburgh, Manchester, Cardiff, Cambridge, Bristol, Belfast and more.
Bright Club responds to a specific challenge; To find a programme which connects UCL researchers with 20-40 year olds from outside academia. It also aims to improve researcher communication skills, to act as a gateway into dialogue-based public engagement, and to build a mixed community of researchers, professional performers and members of the public through which ideas and expertise can be shared in every direction.
Bright Club aims to improve their audience members’ attitudes towards research and higher education and to make them more aware of the nature of research and researchers.
The Impact of Bright Club has been wide and significant, and the project is informed by a significant programme of evaluation and monitoring.
Monitoring takes place at every gig, and Bright Club is evaluated by UCL’s Evaluation Officer (Public Engagement) who attends events to meet audience members and performers. We have held focus groups with researchers, professional performers, audience and organisers to understand and refine the project, for example altering the training to ensure researchers meet audience needs better. Evaluation findings form part of this training, acting as an exemplar for the use of proper evaluation in a long-term programme like this.
The average audience for events is over 100, and Bright Clubs usually sell out all over the UK. In London more than 50% of the audience are from the primary target group, with a large minority of the audience being supportive friends and colleagues of performers.
“It’s been brilliant so far. It’s very unique. Just totally different. Welcoming and entertaining. I enjoyed the people who told stories the best and I’ve learnt a lot of new things.” – Audience feedback
The project is evaluated under the UCL Public Engagement Evaluation Framework (available online), making findings comparable to other projects, and informing practice across UCL.
Two major evaluation reports have been written, one focused on the London events and a second, which compared the experiences of Bright Clubs in Manchester, Edinburgh and Cardiff, commissioned from Jenesys Associates. This report has strongly shaped how UCL supports new Bright Clubs, including a policy of Steve Cross attending all first gigs, for example, to help programmes stabilize.
Bright Club has had a huge impact introducing staff to public engagement, and we have had many successful funding applications from staff whose first experience was Bright Club. Performers have also gone on to television, radio and numerous festival appearances and prize public lectures. Performers have won research funding for ideas formed during the Bright Club process.
Although “science comedy” nights have existed in the UK for a few years, Bright Club was the first event to focus on involving researchers rather than professional communicators as performers, and the first to encompass all types of University research. Bright Club’s innovative nature can be seen from the press coverage that it has garnered, which often focuses on the unlikeliness of researchers being funny, combined with affirmation that they are. This idea has fuelled coverage in the New York Times, on the front-page of the BBC website, in the Guardian and on BBC 6Music, as well as local newspapers and radio stations. Bright Club won its co-founder, Steve Cross, The Joshua Phillips Award for Innovation in Public Engagement With Science, the only specific award available to practitioners, in 2010. Bright Club was also UCL’s Social Enterprise of the Year in 2011, reflecting the importance of the ideas of Social Enterprise to Bright Club for sustainability.
We have assessed our impact on audiences in a variety of innovative ways, including organizing “revolution” events in which regular audience members receive Bright Club training and perform sets about their own work or interests.
Bright Club costs UCL nothing but staff time; There is no grant or sponsorship in place for it, although it has had grants from the Wellcome Trust and the Science and Technology Facilities Council during its set-up phase in 2009/10. The programme is now funded entirely by ticket sales, and can be sustained indefinitely. UCL also helps Bright Clubs to become established in other cities at no charge, and there are 12 regular Bright Clubs across the UK, with more being established all the time. Bright Club has even spread to Sydney, Australia, where three sold-out gigs have been staged. Organisers of Bright Clubs across the UK share ideas and evaluation findings online, allowing refinement of local models using national knowledge. Shared resources have helped to shape events such as Bright Clubs attached to academic conferences, which were painful to begin with, but for which there is now a strong publicly-accessible model, developed by London, Edinburgh and Manchester Bright Clubs together.
Bright Clubs are supported by pairs or networks of individuals in each city, providing resiliency against life changes for organisers. Each Bright Club can fund-raise as it sees fit, and in some cases they are sponsored (often in-kind). In some cities Bright Clubs are supported directly by Universities (for example Newcastle), and in others run as commercial or social enterprises. This diversity ensures that they are locally sustainable.
The Bright Club live events have also led to the creation of 60 podcasts (podcasts.museums.ucl.ac.uk/brightclub.xml) which reach a national and international audience.
Bright Club has also informed the development of new activities to support more traditional outreach, having led directly to the development of Science Showoff, a new programme of open mic events to bring the tribes of science communication together to share ideas and learning (www.scienceshowoff.org).