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Belgian Case Study

Deliverable 5.4. (D5.4) provides an overview of the outputs of Case Study 1 in the ParCos project, which is led by VRT in Brussels, Belgium. The deliverable describes the actions taken to complete related Task in Work Package 5 (WP) – Case Studies and Communications of the ParCos Project. This report explains how the three case studies worked together and the design and the results of the Belgium case study are explained in more detail, including how the various ParCos tool were used for this. For this we build on the results of stage 1 of the case studies, described in the previous deliverable 5.1, “data and content report”, published in April 2021 (month 16 of the project). We further analysed the experiments that were described in that deliverable, and we also set up new experiments to gain more insights regarding knowledge on how we can represent data as a public broadcaster in an engaging way. The result of this is an overview of learnings that we can share with stakeholders within VRT and similar organisations. The purpose is that this will help them to deliver news and educational content in a more participatory manner to help them fulfil their social mission by reaching an audience less familiar with data interpretation, including children.

The first aspect that we want to study is how to reach audiences with varying levels of data literacy. We want to study techniques to help an audience for whom interpreting data is still very unfamiliar, in this case more specifically children surrounded by their families. Therefore, we designed new ways to present a large dataset at the More Weather Exposition (Ostend (BE), summer 2021), which was an event for families organised by VRT themed about the weather. 

As described in D5.1 we invited students Media & Information design of LUCA School of Arts to explore innovative approaches for data and science storytelling, in the context of the course ‘Data Stories’. This assignment ran for 7 weeks (4 hours a week). The rapidly created designs were tested in small-scale user tests with the target audience, both by students as by ParCos researchers. 

We presented an open dataset on weather conditions as rainfall (precipitation) and temperature in Belgium over the past 100 years, supplied by the Royal Metrology Institute of Belgium. We assumed that weather data are a good starting point to learn more about data, as it is data that is already actively present in people’s daily lives, in the form of weather forecasts. At the start of this design challenge, we presented the first version of the ParCos Storyteller (as presented in Deliverable D3.3) to the students and challenged them to make use of the data storytelling techniques we had identified. We also asked them to provide feedback to optimise this tool. 

Our second goal was to study how to deliver complex, scientific stories to a wide and diverse audience, thus not only those who are already interested or actively seeking information about (science) data.

We selected a news item that presents a short story on astronomical citizen science data. Here, citizens are invited to listen to sounds that were made by the vibrations stars make, which allows scientists to discover new stars.  The news item explains shortly how it works, why it is relevant and how they can participate. Space, as a theme, appeals immediately to a wide audience, yet – due to the fact this story is more complex, this specific astronomical data only appeals to a limited group of people who already have an interest and deeper understanding of science, and more specifically space.

We departed from the concept of situatedness. In information visualization research, situating visualizations in (semi-)public spaces has proven to be a successful strategy to reach a varied audience. If we can encourage a wide audience to engage with this science story by placing it in public space, it may also help them overcome the overwhelming feeling of trying to understand data and charts. In addition, it may even encourage them to become more critical of news articles that contain scientific claims and numbers. 

The resulting public installation was presented at Knal! Festival (Leuven (BE), winter 2022), a city-wide festival that combines art and science in various events with the big bang as the main theme. The festival is organised by Kunst Leuven.
The goals of the study were twofold. We (1) studied the design of the physical installation and how an audience with less interest in science stories engage with, and (2), we investigated the digital content that served as call-to-action. 

Citizen Science platform as departing point for our ParCos design

The specific installation had the goal to present astrophysical research about the sound of the stars in an interactive way. Many people think that astronomy is mainly focused on visual observation, but you can also listen to the stars. Some stars actually vibrate; they reverberate like giant gongs. We cannot hear these sounds directly, but we can find out about the changes in light from the stars. These, in turn, can be converted into audible sounds. Thus, it is possible to recognise a star by the timbre or the sound of its vibrations. Within astronomy, there is a true explosion of data thanks to the new generation of space telescopes. Can the human ear be used efficiently to analyse the data flow within this field? This is the research question that lies at the heart of the citizen science project AstroSounds, set up by KU Leuven, Hogeschool UCLL, PXL Music and the Planetarium of the Royal Observatory of Belgium.

AstroSounds is a call to everyone, young and old, to help advance science by listening to stars and classifying them based on their timbre and pitch. The AstroSounds team is investigating to what extent the human ear can distinguish types of stars and can help analyse new (star) data in the future.

“With AstroSounds, we want to demonstrate that our hearing is a very powerful instrument that can also be used for scientific research,” says Katrien Kolenberg, astronomer at KU Leuven. “Stars like our sun are gigantic balls of gas, with different properties that give rise to different sounds when we convert the data to sound. By letting a large audience listen to different types of stars without prior knowledge, we can find out how powerful the ear is for data analysis. We might even be able to hear some of the subtle differences between stars more easily than we can see them! With this approach, we also make science more inclusive.”

At this festival, we want to encourage citizens to actively participate in this and invite them to identify stars themselves. The installation has the goal to present a difficult scientific subject in an understandable way for all passers-by and visitors of the event.


For the design explorations of the installation, we worked together with students Media and Information Design of LUCA School of Arts (in Belgium) in the same way as with the More Weather Exhibition as described above. During the atelier ‘Data Stories’, coordinated by dr. Sandy Claes, they explored different artistic ways to present the dataset in an innovative an interactive way for a diverse audience.
In the same way as with the More Weather Expo, the design process was organised in different phases. In the first phase, a wide variety of ideas were presented, and different formats were explored. These include for example a walk in the city, a picture book, candles, and various formats that can help create an interactive installation. 


Our third goal is to also support scientists to reach audiences through data storytelling. Besides the cooperation with the scientists to develop the AstroSounds installation as discussed above we were also involved in the course “science communication and outreach” of the Catholic University of Leuven and we shared in-house knowledge about science communication in a vlog. 

Involvement in the course “science communication and outreach” of KU Leuven
For this we have taken on an expert role in the course "science communication and outreach" taught by Dr. Katrien Kolenberg at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven to about 150 master students in science, with a variety of backgrounds (figure 16).

Vlog “Science communication at Flemish public broadcaster VRT”
Within the ParCos project, we also created a vlog with insights from VRT experts, which was also published on the ParCos YouTube channel “Science communication at Flemish public broadcaster VRT” In this video, science communicator Jacotte Brokken speaks with leading voices at VRT about the role of science communication and interaction to help people communicate science stories in an engaging and transparent way. 

For this she interviewed Katleen Bracke (Editor-in-chief University of Flanders), Koen Wauters (science journalist), Tim Van Lier (education expert VRT) and Karen Donders (director of public affairs VRT).

Read more in the case study deliverable.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 872500.