By Miléna Salci, Falling Walls Engage

After two years of online events, it is with sheer excitement that we were able to return to in-person events with the launch of the Falling Walls Engage Hub Mexico from 29 June to 2 July 2022. Together with our Hub Manager Gabriela de la Torre and her team from Programa Adopte un Talento (PAUTA), we gathered 20 Science Engagement practitioners from 7 countries, as well as universities, scientists, students and local partners to explore the state of the art in the region, learn and exchange on Science Engagement and Planetary Health during an exciting 4-day event in Mexico City and Santiago de Querétaro.

Thanks to the tremendous support of Gabriela and her team, we were able to form a diverse alliance of cooperation, institutional and event partners – including the Directorate for Communicating Knowledge of the President’s Office of the Metropolitan Autonomous University (UAM); the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM); the Science Communication platform Tlaloque; and the Council of Science and Technology of the State of Querétaro (CONCYTEQ).

This alliance contributed to shape a rich program of talks, workshops and networking activities, which sparked critical questions and fruitful discussions to pave the ground for the long-term vision of the Hub Mexico.

Centering the Needs of Communities

We kick-started the event on 29 June at the C3-Centre for Complexity Sciences – a leading centre for inter-and transdisciplinary research. Dr. Mario De Leo Winkler (Directorate for Communi­cating Knowledge,  UAM) set the tone by stressing the need to embrace horizontal approaches in public engagement and to work with communities to achieve a greater societal impact.

Dr. Patricia Magaña Rueda (Faculty of Sciences, UNAM) mapped out some of the challenges and opportunities in the process of achieving a scientific culture in the public communication of science. Dr. Clementina Equihua Zamora (Institute of Ecology, UNAM) further discussed the concept of critical thinking and what it entails for institutions and citizens.

Among various inspirational talks, Hub participants were able to learn about the involvement of disadvantaged youth affected by visual and hearing impairments in museums (Dolores Arenas Venegas, Universum Science Museum), as well as the relevance of artistic and poetic perspectives on environmental change (Ximena Aguilar, University of Stirling).

Last but not least, Dr. Benigno Gómez y Gómez presented the activities of the research centre El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) working to involve communities in the state of Chiapas. The scientist mentioned the importance of collaborating with social work organisations, indigenous and rural populations; of leading co-productive research with non-experts; as well as inspiring vocations among young people through science fairs and events.

You can watch the full session on Science Engagement here.

Weaving a Dialogue between Planetary HEALTH and Science Engagement

One of the objectives of this Hub launch was to discuss the topic of Planetary Health and generate interdisciplinary discussions, best practices and recommendations on how to achieve a more impactful engagement with communities and policy makers.

We delved into this topic on 30 June in partnership with the Metropolitan Autonomous University. A group of fourteen Mexican researchers were invited to share insights on Planetary Health research in their respective fields and to take part in group discussions. To set the frame for the debates, two representatives from the Planetary Health Alliance (PHA) – Dr. Carlos Faerron and Dr. Sandeep Maharaj – shared introductory keynotes on health in the Antropocene and the specifics of the Caribbean region. With a focus on Mexico, Dr. Sandra Gallo shared insights on the climate change strategy of the government of Jalisco, a state which is taking innovative action to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Science Engagement practitioners and researchers were invited to split into three thematic workgroups on (1) Outreach Experiences, (2) Public Policies and (3) Communities to continue these exchanges, which proved rich and fruitful.

As one Hub participant noted: “I really liked the work in the workgroups on Planetary Health. It allowed us to have a very close conversation with Science Engagers working in different contexts […]. It also allowed us to understand what are the challenges of engaging with communities; what our role as scientists, educators and science communicators is.”

Watch the keynote talks here and discover a summary of the interdisciplinary discussions on Planetary Health here in PDF.

Down to Earth: AGRICULTURE aND BIODIVERSITY In MEXICO

To connect Planetary Health with the local cultural heritage, participants had the chance to discover the historical canals of Xochimilco – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The group embarked on a guided tour along the green and decorated chinampas (“floating gardens”) with Arca Tierra, an agroecological project aiming to build an organic ecosystem with the collaboration of local farmers.

After tasting a delicious lunch prepared with local products under the shadow of a hut, Hub participants were able to learn about ancestral and regenerative agricultural practices used in the area.

To foster further exchange, the group was invited to discover the newly-opened Biodiversity Pavilion on UNAM’s campus – a museum and research centre housing more than 130,000 species and displaying the work of 30 Mexican scientists.

With Mexico being the home of around 12 percent of the world’s biodiversity, the museum contributes to raising awareness on a key environmental issue across the country. While visiting the rich collection, participants were able to exchange with the museum’s engagement team on their approach for involving the public.

Activation Workshops in Santiago de QuerÉtaro

On the third day (1 July 2022), we settled in Santiago de Querétaro to co-host a series of activation workshops and activities with the local public and school childrenan event organised with the support of the Council of Science and Technology of the State of Querétaro and the local government.

Gathered in the historical Cultural Centre UNAM-ENES, the audience first attended an insightful interview of Dr. Juan Bibiano Morales Malacara, expert in biodiversi­ty and South American bats (UNAM Juriquilla). The scientist shared about his long experience and passion for engaging young people and the publics in science.

As all the kids were starting to bustle and create fun science experiments with papers and balloons, it was already time to begin the last part of the program. Around 60 science students and academics invited for the occasion joined a series of workshops to hone their skills and knowledge in Science Engagement from science journalism to centering communities and engaging underrepresented groups.

With this eventful day and journey coming to an end, we gathered on our last day to share learnings and ideas, and prepare the next steps over the months to come.

On the key take-aways from the Hub, one participant noted:

“You can write about Latin America and the Caribbean without seeing them. But once you get to know the people, the places, the science engagement scenarios of Mexico and the research being done, a whole new world pops up. It was life-changing.”

Another one pointed out the importance of exchange and peer-learning: “I learned that we still need to develop formal events and organisation strategies, and give ourselves the freedom to look beyond conventional practices. But above all, I realised that the Mexican science outreach community is vast and eager to collaborate as a community.”

 

“I realised that the Mexican science outreach community is vast and eager to collaborate as a community.”

One Hub participant

THANK YOU TO OUR LOCAL PARTNERS, PARTICIPANTS & SPEAKERS

After a successful Hub experience, we would like to thank again all the partners who contributed to this great launch: the teams of PAUTA and the Directorate for Communicating Knowledge of the President’s Office of the Metropolitan Autonomous University (UAM); the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM); the Science Communication platform Tlaloque; and the Council of Science and Technology of the State of Querétaro (CONCYTEQ).

We thank again our great event partners for their invaluable support and contributions: C3 – Center for Complexity Sciences (UNAM); the Biodiversity Pavilion (UNAM), Arca Tierra, the Cultural Centre UNAM-ENES, and the Secretariats of Culture, Tourism and Education of the State of Querétaro.

Finally, we wish to thank all participants and speakers for their presence and wonderful contributions.

Find out the full Hub Mexico program here in PDF.

Photography credits: Diego Tenorio De la Vega & Eugenia Islas