Hillsborough Castle


Hillsborough Castle is the official residence of the Queen when she’s in Northern Ireland, as well as the residence of the Secretary of State. Located a short motorway drive from central Belfast it’s a lovely village setting.

The State Rooms weren’t open during our visit, but we had a quiet wander round the extensive grounds.20140802-114017-42017543.jpg




The house featured a taste of Greece with this Temple…


A beautiful sculpted yew tree walk leads to a small pond, complete with another Temple, dedicated to Lady Alice Hill, one of the family who gave their name to the town and called this grand Georgian house home.







It’s a working palace, and who wouldn’t want these views from their office. Historic Royal Palaces have recently taken over the site, so hopefully it’ll see more visits in the years to come.

St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast

This Church of Ireland cathedral is a late 19th/early 20th Century addition to the Belfast skyline: construction began in 1899, building  around the existing church of St Anne’s, and the new structure opened its doors to the public in 1904.  However, the most recent addition to the structure – the Spire of Hope – dates from 2007 and was built to commemorate 9/11.



Not many cathedrals can boast a science pillar – this is one of a series dedicated to celebrating Belfast’s early 20th century industrial heritage. Others focus on linen, agriculture, and shipbuilding.

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Shipbuilding is also the focus for another recent addition: the “Titanic pall” unveiled in 2012, to commemorate the sinking of the Titanic. Designed by staff from the neighbouring University of Ulster School of Art and Design, it’s an indigo felt and linen tapestry hand-embroidered with crosses and stars to commemorate the 1517 fatalities a century earlier.


The cathedral is unusual as it is the only Anglican cathedral to house to Bishops’ chairs.  Here are a few more images from around the building.

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Digital revolution

20140723-201121-72681468.jpg20140723-201121-72681468.jpg20140723-201121-72681468.jpgThis week, I got the chance to see the brilliant Digital Revolution exhibition at the 20140723-173954-63594828.jpgBatbican.

It’s a wonderful journey for those of us who grew up in the 80s and have seen computers change from the first zx spectrum and BBC micros that I experienced to the types of technology that enable films like Gravity and Inception to be made. And where else would you get to play with and direct lasers, or flap your arms wildly to make birds fly to showcase the creative process?

The exhibition didn’t help to make the kind of distinctions that one of my digital colleagues was trying to make – in defining digital it’s clear that the convergence of technologies that bring us from the first Altair machine, through Ceefax, Gravity and 3D printed dresses can mean many things to different people – maybe the key thing is that digital is just the enabler in bringing stories to life, making things happen and enabling stories to be told and creativity expressed in new ways.


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Digital: the power in your hands?

I’ve blogged before about some of the perceived barriers to doing digital: the elements that make up “the fear“. Many civil servants quote lack (or is that just a perceived lack?) of senior management support.  So, as part of our bigger package of activity to embed digital around BIS, we’ve worked with our internal comms colleagues to showcase senior level support.  And today we’ve introduced three great posters (produced completely inhouse).

Gemma, Duncan and David are all active online, and show different aspects of using digital in day to day work.  We’re using “the power in your hands” strapline to get people thinking about how they can use digital tools to empower themselves – that reflects nicely back to our strapline for digital fortnight when we talked about how digital was an enabler for policy makers.  Here are the finished products!




Public Attitudes to Science 2014: what we learned about and from social media


March saw publication of the BIS Public Attitudes to Science 2014 report.  I watched and listened with interest from the sidelines on this one in contrast to my direct involvement with the previous two studies.  There were some great infographics that really seemed to be appreciated on Twitter.

The results are positive, showing that the vast majority of the population recognise that it’s a good thing to be interested in science and technology, with 91% agreeing that young people’s interest in science is essential for our future prosperity, and 76% agreeing that scientific research makes a direct contribution to economic growth.  People are keen to hear about new scientific developments, and for scientists to discuss their work, although yet again the situation remains slightly more complicated as people often don’t want to be involved themselves.  There was – for me – an interesting new insight showing the influence of women in promoting informal science learning.

But, I was particularly interested to read what the study would tell us about how people were getting their information about science.  As I asked on one of the project blog’s posts, would people get more of that information online now compared to earlier studies?

infographic onlineThe infographic above shows that nearly a third of people are now getting their news about scientific discoveries online (a higher figure for younger people), although TV still remains the most popular way in which people hear science news.  I was surprised that women were less likely to get their science insights from online sources (with 20% mentioning online  as one of their two top sources, compared with 25% of men).  There are some interesting nuggets that suggest that many people don’t quite yet see content posted on social media as trustworthy and serious.

There’s also a great chapter, “Discussing science in a digital age”.  The research behind this is a great example of a policy team taking insight from online discussions as I discussed with one of the research team in an interview almost a year ago. This part of the study looked at how people discuss and share science stories and content online.

While for many, science will be a key part of their consumption of social media, in the grand scheme of things it’s discussed relatively little compared to celebrity news for example.  And traditional news media can still drive online conversation.  Given that the previous study showed that the Late Adopter category – who can come to science via their own ethical concerns and interests –  were particularly active on social platforms, the point was made that discussions can involve strong partisan views.  Generating engagement with science content would seem to be a challenge – but unsurprisingly, the point is made that stories are more likely to be shared if they’re funny, visually appealing, or have a public health link.

That’s just a quick canter through some of the results – but if you’re involved in communicating science online (and off!) the full report is definitely worth a read.


Friends, Romans, Courserans


As it’s clear from this blog and my other blogging home, I’m a bit of a fan of Rome.  So I decided to do a free MOOC (massive open online course) with Coursera on Roman Architecture to see what I could pick up, and to exercise my brain a little as well.

I’ve taken online courses before, but in English Lit, which was more within my comfort zone.  I loved the whole experience there, including engaging with both tutor and fellow students in real time through the forums on the course.  I’ve gone on to maintain contact with a few of my classmates through Facebook (and Goodreads to a lesser extent) where we continue to share our thoughts on our reading and more.

Those were paid-for courses, and it gave a little taster of the Oxford experience – so detailed feedback, email contact and more, with a finite set of people able to enroll on the course.

A Mooc was always going to be different – this one apparently has 40,000 people signed up.  Whether they’ll all finish is open to question, but that’s not really the point. People are learning in different ways, sharing experiences, and interacting on a subject that interests them.  They’re dipping in to varying degrees, and that’s all good.

Like the Oxford courses, here the online discussion forums are active ways of sharing with fellow students, with the staff at Yale, and also with a worldwide set of experts.  All for free.

And, from a digital engagement perspective, it’s really interesting that the course leader, Professor Kleiner, is a keen advocate of using digital tools to bring the course to life a little more through sharing stimulus material on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.  I’d love to see how this develops in future.

Birthdays, visions of democracy and back to BIS


So, this is my last day with Involve before I return to my day job.

It’s been a very different week in a small third-sector organisation as opposed to a large government department.  There are fewer people around, it’s a smaller building, and Old Street/Corsham Street is very different to Victoria Street.  It’s given me an insight into the different issues faced by smaller organisations, and I’ve been lucky to get a little insight into their work and projects over the last few days, as well as having a little space to reflect more on some of the aspects of my day-to-day job.

I’ve had an introduction to the NHS Citizen project, and a timely reminder of how facilitation skills can be applied in other settings – including in the type of digital training that we offer to policy makers  My time has also coincided with the organisation’s 10th birthday, and I was delighted to be able to attend their anniversary celebration at the University of Westminster last night (on Tweeting duty, although the team all share the digital load normally, and have got really strong online profiles).  As Simon let the cat out of the bag that I was tweeting for @InvolveUK during the event, I’d have to say I didn’t find it necessarily freer, although it was fun trying to distill some rather cryptic comments about pigs and cows.

The focus of last night’s event was a forward-facing one, with guests asked to think about their visions of democracy. While some of that, unsurprisingly, focused on areas that the impartial civil servant in me can’t really comment on or influence, it was gratifying to find such a resonance with what we in the BIS digital team are trying to achieve by empowering policy makers to listen and engage online – that’s our contribution to shaping the future of democracy, enabling both policy makers to have a voice online, and ensuring that the public voice as it’s expressed online is more easily heard.

So, I was really interested in some of the thinking last night.  Geoff Mulgan, for example, from Nesta discussed a European project that Nesta is involved with to make digital participation more widespread. But equally, later, in the speed dating/networking session I was reminded that some members of the public have the same misgivings about engaging online as policy makers.

It was also great to catch up with many of the current and past Sciencewise teams that I don’t get to speak to in my current role, and to hear about some exciting projects that will definitely be of interest to staff across BIS.

So, as I go back there it only remains for me to say a really big thank you to all of Simon’s team at Involve for making me so welcome over the last few days.