Meet the Team – Interview with Saskia Visser from the University of Oxford, UK

Meet Saskia Visser, Coordinator of the Oxford Pop-up Science Shop in
Artificial Intelligence at the University of Oxford, UK talking about their involvement in the SciShops project.

Q: Firstly, tell us a bit about how you became involved in the SciShops project?

I have been working in a Science Shop at the University of Groningen for a long time, the last 10 years as the co-ordinator, and I still feel it is the best job in the world! I know Science Shops can really bring about change and make people feel they are contributing to that together. That is why I am always interested in, and supportive of, new initiatives in this field. Earlier on in the project I was approached by SciShops partners for a case study interview and later a presentation, so I already knew about the project. When I saw an opportunity to become involved establishing a pop-up Science Shop in Oxford, I did not hesitate.

Q: Tell us a bit about the Science Shop that has been set up at the University of Oxford, and why the focus on Artificial Intelligence?

The pop-up Science Shop at the University of Oxford is in Artificial Intelligence. It is an exciting area of research with also a lot of ethical questions attached. AI can feel far away, but simple applications are often already influencing people’s lives and our society. There is a need to bring researchers, developers and citizens together to work on issues that can arise.

You can read more about the Science Shop and the activities we have been undertaking in our web profile. 

Q: The SciShops project is coming to an end shortly, so what are your hopes and expectations for legacy of the project and new Science Shops?

Our pop-up Science Shop was a pilot to see if a Science Shop could work in the Oxford situation and explore various ways it could. I have been able to work in close collaboration with a lot of people in- and outside of the university. We made mistakes, but also had a lot of fun in doing various things, like testing the water in the rivers, setting up a deliberative democracy event on the use of health data and discussing technology in the home at a shopping centre! I have written a report about all we have done and what we learned from it with positive advice for establishing a structural Science Shop in Oxford. Recently we have secured funding to do just that, so a new co-ordinator can start soon to take the next step, as I will be returning home to Groningen in February.

Q: What have you personally found most interesting/exciting about the SciShops project?

It has been great to be able to share my experiences in a different setting and discipline. I hope people learned things from me in Oxford and in the consortium, but I have certainly also learned from them. Starting from scratch is challenging, but it makes you aware of what you know and what you take for granted. I think everyone could do with a total reset of the system at one point in their life, it is refreshing!  And it is of course very cool that I could contribute to the establishment of a structural Science Shop in Oxford. I hope it will result in interesting collaborations and exchanges between Groningen and Oxford in the years to come.