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EUSEA23 – Adventures to the Alps!

Planes, Trains… and an Ice Mummy!

Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about the destination!

For #EUSEA23, we invited the Pan-European Public Engagement community to a trip to the beautiful South Tyrolean city of Bolzano/Bozen, nestled at the foot of the Alps and Dolomites mountain ranges.

On the eve of the conference, the hosting team from EURAC research had arranged for us an exclusive EUSEA-visit to the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, to meet Ozti- the Ice Mummy.

Otzi is a man frozen in time beneath an Alpine glacier for over 5,300 years. Found in 1991, Otzi is older than the Egyptian Pyramids, and Stonehenge in England. Being perhaps one of the oldest murder mysteries, there is no satisfying reveal of “who done it” at the end of the tour. But this glimpse into the past and the questions it raised stimulated our curiosity for a thought-filled conference on explorations and discoveries.

After the cultural highlight we enjoyed a relaxed “pizza and beer” get-together at the EURAC Research Centre – the first of many opportunities to catch up and make new new friends among colleagues across and beyond Europe!

And so the conference begins!

It was a beautiful bright and sunny day at the start of the conference. 130 EUSEA friends and colleagues from 20 countries gathered at the EURAC auditorium for the opening ceremony. They were welcomed to the conference by our President Cissi Billgren Askwall and Executive Director Annette Klinkert, as well as by EURAC President Roland Psenner.

The motto for this year’s conference was: Pathfinders on a Mission – Exploring Engagement in a Complex World. Cissi and Annette spoke about the importance of veering off the paths well-trodden and finding new ways to engage our communities about the issues we all face together. With this important message fresh in our minds we were introduced to our first keynote speaker, Marc Zebisch – Head of the Center for Climate Change and Transformation at Eurac Research.

It is not just about understanding… It is about finding solutions!

Marc Zebisch gave a very powerful presentation about Communicating Complexity, specifically around the issues around climate change. Although for a long time this “wicked problem” had been spoken about as an issue for future generations, the impacts of human-driven climate change are happening now. According to Zebisch, we need to communicate this to people from across the social and political spectrum, in order to successfully find a sustainable solution for future generations. For the health of the planet – and for everyone who calls this earth a home!

Following this powerful keynote, participants were free to check out the 47 parallel sessions, workshops, horizon talks, and discussions, including:

  • A “Maker” session with Annette Klinkert, EUSEA, Rony Ben Chaim, Bloomfield Science Museum and Edward Duca, University of Malta, who encouraged participants to “think and build outside of the box”, co-creating a prototype of the engaged university of the future, using LEGO brick, toys, and their imagination.
  • An open discussion led by Niklas Marzinek, Falling Walls Foundation, and Cissi Billgren Askwall, Vetenskap & Allmänhet on Intersectoral Engagement – Freedom as a case study
  • A session on Street Theatre and Parasitology – How to improve communication and public engagement through the art of street theatre – led by Hannah Bialic, Wellcome Centre for Integrative Parasitology, and Nicola Veitch, the School of Infection and Immunity, at the University of Glasgow.
  • A Dragon’s Den-inspired workshop on how to encourage funding organisations to invest in citizen science, by Chris Styles (Step Change) and Andrea Tronsco (Impetus 4CS).

After a busy day at the conference, the day was not over just yet!

In a city full of history and sights, it would have been be a pity not to see more of it. So we all headed off on a guided tour of the Bolzano, where we learned from EURAC historians more about the complex and challenging journey this region took to finding autonomy.

The final stop of the tour was the stunning site of Castle Mareccio/Maretsch. Dating back to the 12th century, this building was the location of our conference dinner, where we enjoyed delicious food and drinks, as well as an unexpected singing course: We all opened up and sang our hearts out, yodeling with Markus Prieth.

And as the night slowly drew to a close, we headed back to our beds for a well-deserved rest and to prepare for the second day of EUSEA23.

The Half Way Point

The second day of the conference was opened with a light show and another inspiring “double-keynote” by Renata Petrevska Nechkoska, Associate Professor and Institutional Erasmus Coordinator at University St. Kliment Ohridski Bitola, North Macedonia and Antonia Caro-Gonzalez, Senior researcher and Director of Internationalisation at Valencien International University. Their presentation focused on the importance of co-creation, co-evolution, and co-dreaming. Together, Renata and Toni shared some of the main ingredients for co-evolution, such as the ‘three MoskEUteers’ denoting social-digital-green transitions as blueprints of global, multidisciplinary engagements around global challenges.

Inspired by the keynotes, participants were then given the chance to check out the second day’s full agenda of parallel session which included these topics and speakers:

  • Broadening STEAM access for all through EU-funded science engagement – Gerard Bros Perez, Policy Officer, European Commission.
  • Science and Arts as a Tool for Integration of Refugee Communities – Emma Clarke, University of Malta: Equal By Nature.
  • Towards a strong foundation: The Principles that Public Engagement Needs in a Europe-wide Effort towards Greater Citizen-Research Exchange – Rebecca Beiter and Tabea Brietzke, Cyber Valley and Sonja Hammann, the Berlin School of Public Engagement and Open Science.

After a delicious lunch in the EURAC garden, we were all invited back into the auditorium for the final session of the conference: a rivetting panel discussion led by the Research Engagement Manager at the University of Glasgow and the current Vice President of EUSEA, Ken Skeldon on What role can Research Funders play in connecting research with society?

Featuring insights from:

  • Cathy Foley– Programme Manager for Education and Public Engagement at Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)
  • Anna Maria Fleetwood – senior advisor with the Swedish Research Council.
  • Steve Scott – Public Engagement Lead at UK Research and Innovation.
  • Gerard Bros Pérez – Policy Officer at the European Commission.

The End of the Journey

And with that, the EUSEA23 conference came to a close. We took this opportunity to introduce our community to the new and improved EUSEA website, with a fresh new look, and a bespoke members platform where you can update all your details, and search for potential friends from all around the world.

We also heard from David Tarkhnishvili from Ilia State University, Georgia, the host for next year’s EUSEA24 conference. More info on the date and venue will follow soon!

A big THANK YOU goes to the EURAC team around Matthias Mühlberger for being such great hosts during our time in Bolzano, and to all those who made the journey to make EUSEA23 the success that it was!

After the conference, our community was invited to join the EUSEA General Assembly, where we had a piece of slightly bittersweet news, as we said goodbye to our long-year EUSEA treasurer Philipp Burkard after a successful tenure with the EUSEA board. But with a goodbye, we also had a new welcome, as Andrea Brunello was elected as a new EUSEA board member! Andrea is founder and director of the Portland Theatre of Trento and the Arditodesìo Company Jet Pulpusion Theatre, uniting science and theatre. Welcome on Board – we are very excited and happy to have Andrea as part of the EUSEA team!

See you all next year in Georgia for EUSEA24!

Click here to see more precious moments from the #EUSEA23 conference.