The Most Effective Method of Public Engagement With Emerging Technologies – An Ice Cream Van!

We're Justified and Ancient and we drive an ice cream vanIn that last ten years of nanotechnology just about every kind of public engagement exercise conceivable has been tried, There have been public lectures howled down by anti GMO protesters, focus groups who often come to the conclusion that nanotech is OK once its benefits are are explained, and a series of obtuse and patronising projects aimed at explaining nanotechnology to kids. The net effect of it all has been negligible, producing pointless and cringeworthy videos like these and a series of high budget public outreach projects like this.

The missing part of course is imagination. Imagine if you could make it rain ice cream using nanotechnology? Then instead of spending millions of euros on web based projects you could just drive around in an old ice cream van producing ice cream rain at will.

That’s what designer Cathrine Kramer and Zoe Papadopoulou have been doing for the past few years, and using ice cream rain to successfully engage people in debate about nanotechnology and geoengineering. In an interview in Don’t Panic Magazine Kramer talks about public reactions:

We are generally met with questions and curiosity. I have two favourite interactions – one was with a group of inner city Dublin boys (about twelve years old) who were really fascinated and amazed. They started off saying they didn’t like science, but after making them ice cream and inviting them in the van to have a chat, they skipped off with a new glimmer in their eyes.

My second favourite interaction was with a man who said the project was evil. He accused me of Disney-fying geo-engineering and making it palatable to the public. I felt like he was one of the few visitors critical enough to pick up on the underlying dystopian tone of the project. He believed that the visitors would be unable to apply a critical lens to this project as it uses a visual language that people inherently associate with consumerist tendencies and passive entertainment.
So, in ten years and tens of millions of euros of money squandered, the best and most effective bits of public engagement have been Nano & Me and and an ice cream van representing some 0.1% of the total amount spent.

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