Oxford Pop-up Science Shop in Artificial Intelligence

The Pop-up Science Shop in Artificial Intelligence (AI) is run by the University of Oxford to reach out to non-profit local organisations and community groups. We want to create an open and friendly way for communities to engage with the university and offer a possibility for researchers and research students to be inspired by real life issues on their doorstep. 

The subject of our Science Shop is AI because it is developing rapidly and also already often influencing peoples’ lives more than they realise. This includes algorithms that drive our Facebook feeds, big data analysis to support doctors’ diagnoses, as well as facial recognition by security cameras. These applications can improve our lives but also have negative side effects on our privacy or make biased decisions. So it is only fair that communities have a say in where and how this technology is used and come forward with their own questions and needs. As AI can be a pathway for research into other subjects, we welcome other questions too. 

Business model 

The Oxford Pop-up Science Shop is based in the Mathematical, Physics and Life Sciences Division, but is looking at AI from a broader human and societal perspective. Therefore it can also collaborate with researchers and students from other divisions. 

The Science Shop projects can lead to meaningful exchanges between communities and researchers and to small scale research projects performed in co-creation by research students. The role of the Science Shop is to bring the right people together and support them with advice, materials and communication. In this pilot we will explore as many different forms and themes as possible. 

The Science Shop is run by an experienced Science Shop co-ordinator from a well-established Dutch Science Shop (twinning) within a small advisory team, which will ensure the Science Shop’s longer term future. In a six and a half month pilot we will build a case to show researchers, the university and funders how a Science Shop can fulfil a role in connecting the local community to the university’s expertise. The aim is to establish a structural Science Shop or similar activities following up on this pilot. 


Activity to date

The Science Shop started off with surveying the local territory and exploring the theme of Citizens and AI. What are the issues people are facing in the Oxford area and where do we find the opportunities to bring people together?


This has led to the identification of 3 themes to work on:

  • The robot doesn’t care? Artificial Intelligence in Health
  • Living rivers on our doorstep. Water quality, biodiversity and citizen science
  • Where does IT leave me? Human rights and ethics in the use of data and automated decisions 


Environmental field trip and follow-up workshop – 15 & 17 October 2019

Theme: Living rivers on our doorstep
Field trip undertaken by 22 Oxford PhD students in Environmental Research to the nearby Cotswolds to hear about local issues in land and water use from local organisations and individuals working in the area. Followed by a four hour workshop on ways to establish their own connections outside of academia.

University of Oxford PhD students on a field trip to the Cotswolds learn about local land and water use issues
University of Oxford PhD students on a field trip to the Cotswolds learn about local land and water use issues

Next steps

The Science Shop is supporting the following upcoming events: 

Master’s students testing the river Cherwell
Theme: Living rivers on our doorstep
Students in Water Science, policy and management will take part in the Drinkable Rivers project. That way they will experience citizen science and discuss the opportunities and consequences.

Meaningful discussions at the Shopping Centre during the Oxford Science & Ideas festival
Theme: Where does IT leave me?
Researchers in the humanities will be asking the public in a local shopping centre about their worries for the future and together create a heat map. In addition, computer scientists will be engaging with the public about various aspects of technology, including digital parenting.



Saskia Visser, saskia.visser@mpls.ox.ac.uk