Research communications gains national award

The University has won its fourth award for communicating animal research- including the second consecutive Openness Award from Understanding Animal Research.

At a ceremony held at the Royal College of Physicians, London, on Dec 5, Ather Mirza, Director of the News Centre, received the award for media engagement in the presence of  government Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Mark Walport.

The judging committee selected examples of best practice that they felt were appropriate to a range of audiences, and which had a component that was original or truly leading in terms of institutional practice.

BBC Science journalist Karen Gardner who has championed openness for many years presented the award.  She said: “I have spent 25 years talking about the importance of openness in animal research.  We have come a long way- we have replaced security fences with tours of labs and anonymity and silence with the Concordat, but challenges remain.

“Let us celebrate the good and the brave and this award is for media engagement or media stories.  There were two notable stories about animal research this year but the judges felt that one in particular really stood out.  The organisation that wins – it does win a lot of awards for openness – but every year it manages to push new boundaries.

“The organisation took a bold step to invite a Sun journalist. She chose to look at a study on obesity and the journalists were impressed with the engagement of Sun readers- a hard to reach audience and by the professional and capable way the organisation dealt with the media.  These visits take a great deal of work but on this occasion the engagement and the resulting article has been outstanding.  The award winner is the University of Leicester”.

The judges commented that Leicester was professional and open in its approach, inviting the newspaper to see anything that they wanted to create a really good story. The tabloid papers represent a channel to a hard-to-reach and key audience for scientific research, and the resulting coverage was balanced and well-considered.

The Award follows the 2015 Award from UAR for animal research public engagement activity where Leicester’s approach was described as ‘truly trail-blazing.’ Leicester has also previously won Heist and THE awards for communicating animal research.

Ather Mirza said: “It was truly an honour to be recognised again for the wonderful work in communicating research at Leicester.  The visit by the Sun journalist was spearheaded by the News Centre and Heather Sanders, former Director of Biomedical Services, and a number of colleagues from the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences & Psychology were heavily involved to make the media visit a tremendous success.  This was a truly a team effort.”

Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive of Understanding Animal Research who supported the University throughout the project, said: “Many congratulations - I know it’s nail-biting stuff doing visits like this, but pitch-perfect coverage like this shows that it is so worth persevering.”

Fiona Fox, from the Science Media Centre, said: “It is not enough to only make the case for animal research once in a blue moon or to restrict communications to sympathetic audiences that make academics feel safe. You need to continually make the case and reach the widest audiences possible. Yet again University of Leicester communications team said yes first and then made it happen. They are true pioneers and I am just delighted they won another award to add to the mantelpiece of previous awards."

Commenting after the visit Cherry Wilson, the then Sun journalist, said: “The staff answered all my questions in extreme detail and did not shy away from answering the difficult issues that will naturally arise when discussing animal research. While I can imagine there was some nervousness by the university prior to my visit, this was not at all apparent during my time there and I was made to feel welcome which made my job much easier and was reflected in the overall piece. The staff at the centre were extremely accommodating and I believe the openness and honest approach from both myself and the staff meant that we built up a level of mutual trust and respect.”

The evening was followed by the 80th Stephen Paget Memorial Lecture. The lecture, Animal Research – Then and Now, was presented by government Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Mark Walport. After a historic review of the emergence of legislation governing the use of animals in research Sir Mark challenged the scientific community to provide a more thoroughly researched evidence base to support animal use. While congratulating the excellent examples of Openness that had been awarded, he cautioned against dragooning unwilling scientists into communicating about their research.

You can watch the awards ceremony and the lecture below. The presentation of the University's award for media engagement can be viewed from 11:36 minutes.