Children and families enjoy an adventure for the senses with researchers at the ESRC Festival of Social Science

In an inspiring programme of activities hosted by the Social Sciences Division in October and November 2023, hundreds of people engaged with social scientists and their research as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science

The Festival, which is the UK’s largest annual celebration of the social sciences, provides an excellent opportunity for researchers of all levels of experience to develop their skills in public engagement. Sharing their research with family audiences were University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University researchers from the fields of anthropology, education, sociology, geography, archaeology and built environment. Supported by the University of Oxford’s ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, the exciting programme of interactive events showcased the amazing breadth and diversity of social science research and how it can help us understand and influence the world around us. Activities, many of which were around the theme of wellbeing, included everything from discovering unusual smells from the past and creating mini ‘zines’, to learning nursery rhymes in new languages, and having a go at writing while wearing scuba gear! 

In a continuation of the creative collaboration between Social Science Division and the Pitt Rivers Museum's research and engagement teams, many of the activities took place in the Museum spaces where, over two days in October half term, there were over 1,400 interactions between visitors and our researchers! Two other events took place in community venues in Oxford (Oxford City Farm and Flo's The Place in the Park), enabling our researchers to connect with families in new ways.

Dr Ashley Coutu, Deputy Head of Research at the Pitt Rivers Museum was delighted with the activities that took place in its galleries: ''The festival has been a real highlight of the Pitt Rivers events calendar. It brings researchers with new ideas into our museum galleries to engage the public. The excitement, laughter, and energy that the festival creates in the museum really changes the atmosphere into a dynamic space of creativity and learning. The festival has also been a great way for us to experiment with new ways of engaging visitors with the museum collections. We have really enjoyed delivering the festival with our colleagues at Social Sciences and Oxford Brookes, and are able to deliver a larger, more impactful visitor engagement experience together.''

See our full programme:

Hear from our researchers

University of Oxford Archaeology DPhil Student Melody Li had a brilliant time putting her public engagement skills to use in the Pitt Rivers Museum: ''It was amazing to see many children and families engaging with smell in the museum and learning about the history of objects. I want to share stories about the past in a fun, relatable way and this was exactly the type of museum experience I have been hoping for. The Festival of Social Science team were so supportive every step of the way, and I’m very thankful to have participated!''


Hamish Chalmers from University of Oxford's Department of Education agreed: "It was wonderful to be able to share our research and enthusiasm for applied linguistics with people young and old. The Pitt Rivers was abuzz with inquisitive minds learning about all sorts of fascinating aspect of social sciences research. The organisation was excellent, and we are looking forward to next year already."


Dr Jason Danely from the Healthy Ageing & Care Research Network at Oxford Brookes University found the Festival a fantastic opportunity for making connections : "By focusing on public engagement on a broad topic [wellbeing], the Festival was the perfect chance for us to make connections with each other, with the museum, and with the community. Seeing the older volunteers talk about well-being with children and families at the creative corner really expanded our imagination about how we can spark conversations that matter."

Find out more

About the ESRC Festival of Social Science

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)’s Festival of Social Science, now in its 21st year, is the largest celebration of social sciences research in the UK and this year included some 350 events nationwide.

For more information visit

Get involved in public engagement with research

If you’re interested in public engagement with research, get in touch with our impact team at

Further resources