Reflections on 2018 at the Ri

As we approach the end of 2018 our Director, Shaun Fitzgerald, reflects on another remarkable year for the Ri.

  • Leaves falling around two women on tv set

    Alice Roberts and Aoife McLysaght at the 2018 CHRISTMAS LECTURES

    Credit: Paul Wilkinson

As we approach the closing of 2018, I thought I’d take the time to reflect on a remarkable year at the Ri and the increased, inspiring opportunities we’ve created with all of our supporters for people to engage with science.

I joined the Ri in February, but could only do so initially on a part-time basis in order to manage a smooth handover with my previous role. This allowed me the time to realise just what an incredible place the Ri is, and to start gathering my thoughts as to how I might help build upon its amazing work.

I joined the Ri because I care passionately about inspiring people with the world of science and how it can be used to transform our lives. It is something I have done all my life – both through the academic establishments I have had the fortune to work within as well as the applied world of business. The Ri is extremely special in that it brings its own unique heritage to help us inspire people; something I see as significant, for the future of the world is shaped by the past as well as the present. I believe the Ri is needed today more than ever before.

This year has seen the launch of our new five-year strategy, which sets out our vision for how we will grow and how we will work to achieve maximum impact. Our rate of growth will be determined in part through the success of our fundraising efforts. Initial signs are good and there are plenty of 'green shoots'.

We welcomed our new Development Director, Katie Cotton, in early December; a new Director’s Circle patron scheme was launched earlier in the Autumn, and with the generosity of our corporate sponsors, Ri Members and Ri Patrons, and trusts and foundations, 2019 is set to be our most ambitious year. However, there is always more to be done, and we are relishing the challenge of gathering more support by sharing our infectious enthusiasm for science and its place in our lives.

I have been amazed at the growth in our public events programme in 2018. We held 22 more events in 2017/18 than the previous year, including our second hands-on fun ExpeRience event for members, and our new Ri Patrons Present evenings. I am excited by our new spring programme and our plans for new event formats in 2019, as we seek to bring our audience members into debates and discussions with policymakers on science-related matters – look out for our new Future of... series in 2019.

  • Cloud of fire over a woman's hand

    ExpeRience 2018

    Credit: Royal Institution

The expansion in our education offering is also exciting. We are doubling the number of STEM grants we distribute and are offering free Science in Schools shows to schools in disadvantaged areas in 2019. These initiatives are truly excellent and are at the core of our social values – making science available to all. The STEM grants scheme gives us a great opportunity to contact new schools, where we’re then able to provide help and resources to encourage those students in their lifelong journey with science.

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES are probably the aspect of the Ri for which we are best known, and we are keen to build on this amazing success. This year we provided a debate kit to schools on the topic of privacy, continuing the communications theme of the 2017 CHRISTMAS LECTURES. This ended up being the most downloaded debate kit the I’m a Scientist team have ever produced.

More importantly, evidence from teachers about our debate kit's appeal to children not normally interested in science, and the fact that attitudes of pupils changed as they held the debate (showing a critical examination of science), is fantastic. We will be running a similar debate in schools this year as well as developing the CHRISTMAS LECTURES further. This year’s format has been changed to involve two speakers, increasing expertise and maximising impact. I am excited to see this innovation, and look forward to building on this further.

  • A group of children in Ri's Lecture Theatre

    Family Fun Day 2018 - Science Fiction

    Credit: Royal Institution

We are also continuing the theme of the 2018 CHRISTMAS LECTURES – 'Who am I?' – in our public programme during 2019, and I am buoyed by the reaction from everyone I speak with regarding this idea.

A great deal of the impact we have is via our digital work, quite simply because the number of people we interact with online is more than we could ever cope with at Albemarle Street. Our YouTube channel subscriber base has increased from 330,000 subscribers at the end of 2017 to 482,000 as of today. This is quite remarkable, with our long-form deep dive science videos now having reached 45 million views. Extending our reach beyond our wonderful building is a central part of our new five-year strategy.

One of our strategic objectives at the Ri is to increase our profile. Putting it bluntly, we have so much incredible material we want to share that we want us to be front-of-mind for everyone when it comes to science. The Marketing team have done a wonderful job at raising our profile, and helping to protect our national heritage, with our recent campaign to locate the missing episodes of the CHRISTMAS LECTURES. They have more exciting initiatives planned for 2019, so look out!

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to comment on our finances. We know all too well the importance of managing finances carefully. After a challenging start to the financial year of 2017/18, the whole team pulled together and what was projected to be a loss-making year is currently looking like breakeven or even better. The whole team at the Ri is to be congratulated on navigating the year, and coming out in buoyant mood having achieved many amazing things, with even more planned for 2019.

The Ri would not be able to fulfil its mission without your continued support, for which we are obviously grateful. We are a membership organisation and have been for over 200 years. There is no other organisation like us, and with your support, I look forward to engaging and inspiring even more people in science during 2019.

I wish you a Happy Christmas and look forward to seeing you at the Royal Institution in the New Year.

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