Move from outreach to inreach

Deborah Bull, former dancer and Assistant Principal of Kings College London

Recently, the notion that an expert is something to be ignored or derided has been a big wake-up call. How did our cultural institutions all get it so wrong?

For science, the notion of outreach offers some clues. Maybe we need to stop saying, “We’re coming out there to join you” and instead say “We’re going to shift where we are” to make science truly accessible. In doing so we would transition from outreach, that implies a separation of science and the outside world, to inreach, where science reflects on where it should be to be more inclusive.

How could science begin this collective reflection? To begin with, it’s incumbent on all in the science community to support people to share the wisdom of their failings. This is not just about learning from our mistakes: this will also help us dim the feelings of shame that all too often accompany our failures, and over time they will grow to be seen as the roots of future success.

We must differentiate between not trying, and trying and failing, because the former is not acceptable and the latter is totally normal. This means we must share ideas early on, against our instincts. For many of us, our preferred way of working is to polish the jewel until we think it’s perfect and then to show it to people and go “look at my lovely gem”. If you do that in a working environment, people start criticising your gem: “but it’s not very shiny” or “we don’t like the shape of it”. We need to learn about working collegiately as a sector: put your rough diamonds out there!

So, science should show its work, be it public engagement programmes or the science itself, before it’s perfect because that allows others to contribute to the process of making it perfect. It’s about recognizing that you strengthen ideas by looking outside your immediate environment, through the clash of disciplines, by the shock of cultures.

There will undoubtedly be people out there who reject this approach and prefer to remain in their own sectors and silos. How do we get around that? Rather than shouting the opposite to the ‘outside world’, we should let them into the conversation.

Deborah Bull is Assistant Principal (London) at King’s College London, providing leadership for both the university’s engagement with London (one of five priorities in King’s vision to 2029) and for its cultural strategy. Working across all areas of King’s, she has overall responsibility for strategic interactions with London’s institutions, agencies and organisations; and specific responsibility for leading on the university’s collaborative activities and partnerships with the cultural sector

Deborah Bull joined King’s College London in 2012 following a long and successful career in the arts, first as performer and, more recently, as creative leader and cultural commentator. She danced with The Royal Ballet from 1981 until 2001, performing leading roles throughout the classical and contemporary repertoire. In 2001, she joined the Royal Opera House Executive to devise and implement strategies for developing new art, new artists and new audiences, becoming Creative Director in 2008 and taking the lead on the organisation’s Olympic programming.

Check out more of the 100 ideas