Case study #1: LOL-lab

This entry is part [part not set] of 1 in the series Case studies

In conversation with: Nathan Green, Research Fellow
Working within: HPRU (Modelling Methodology)

What did you do?

‘LOL-lab’ was a collaboration between Imperial scientists and the public. We created and hosted a public ‘science comedy’ event, which was developed jointly with members of the public. LOL-lab was designed to celebrate and share scientific achievements.

We aimed to connect researchers (i.e. biologists, epidemiologists, and mathematicians) with the public through light-hearted, plain-speaking 10-minute talks at an informal stand-up comedy evening event hosted by a professional comedian.

The public were involved in the preparation of the researchers’ comedy sketches about their work by attending three evening workshops facilitated by an expert comedian. We chose this approach as an interactive, fun way to promote mutual dialogue and understanding.

What were you trying to achieve?

The value to us would be in better understanding how our research can be communicated and understood. We wanted this work to help us identify the most interesting elements and key messages of our research for non-experts. Both the content critiqued by members of the public and the style of clear, succinct communication are useful for presentations, journal and grant authorship.

Who did you involve and how did you find the right people?

We aimed to have a diverse range of participants from the local community. The communities we reached out to were:

  • Sixth form students (e.g. City of Westminster College)
  • North Westminster Community Network
  • St Mary’s hospital visitors (e.g. via noticeboards)
  • Healthwatch Central West London network (~6,000 members)
  • HPRU (Modelling Methodology) website and Twitter profile
  • Other local community organisations (e.g. libraries, Paddington Development Trust)
  • Canal Café Theatre (our venue) also advertised the event through their network

In general, people were recruited by including details about LoL-LaB on Facebook, in local newsletters, circulating emails, and by putting-up posters and handing-out leaflets.

Were the people you recruited given any training?

Members of the public and the researchers attended three evening workshops where they learned from an expert comedian about conveying scientific information in an entertaining way. Part of this process involved the researchers explaining to the members of the public about their research so that together they could develop a way to convey it to a larger audience in a light-hearted manner.

Did you achieve what you set out to do?

Definitely. LOL-lab helped us develop effective communication and story-telling skills, which in turn positively impacts our research efforts. It also gave us a better understanding of how the public perceives science, and how to catch and keep their attention too.

Link to YouTube from screenshot of Charlotte Mykura during her comedy sketch performance
[YouTube] LoL-Lab presents: Experiments in Funny (Charlotte Mykura) 21st March 2017 (Contains strong language)

What impact did it have on the people involved?

We got great feedback from the members of the public who were involved in LOL-lab. Here’s just some of the things they said they learnt:

“How to give positive criticism, and understand what makes a good talk.”

“I learned science is not such a serious subject.”

“How comedy and science can work together to be made humorous.”

What was the most challenging part of doing PPI and how did you overcome it?

The most challenging part was recruitment and retention because the people we most wanted to recruit – local individuals who don’t usually take part in such an event – were unsurprisingly the hardest to reach. This called for quite a bit of creativity and persistence. What’s more, as there was more than a month and half between recruiting people and the final event, we experienced a bit of drop-out, both researchers and members of the public.

What advice would you give others interested in doing something like this?

The format of the workshops and final event were really rewarding and had a positive impact on our research outputs and on the public members and scientists involved. My advice though would be to have a larger group of people available to take part (public and researchers) at the start of the project in order to accommodate for any drop outs.

So, what’s next?

I will be co-delivering a workshop at National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement’s (NCCPE) Engage Conference: Exploring Collaboration around the lessons learnt through the organisation of and performances at LOL-lab.

An article for the NCCP’s Research for All journal is in preparation.

We were featured in several Imperial College London podcasts and performed a second LOL-lab event at the Imperial Festival, 6-7 May 2017.

And of course, we’re always on the look-out for the next PPI opportunity and are formulating some ideas as we speak. There is clearly an appetite among scientists and members of the public for engaging projects of this type.


If you’ve got a public involvement story you’d like to share, please get it touch.


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