FameLab International was a forerunner in global science communication programmes, with the original FameLab concept created in 2005 by the UK’s Cheltenham Festivals, setting a framework and model in place for international expansion.
With its global network of offices and existing links and networks with the higher education and research communities, the British Council represented a strong fit for an international partnership with FameLab.
The success of FameLab International as a pilot with a selection of countries in its early years encouraged other British Council country teams to join FameLab International by identifying partners, organisations and institutions that were ready to consider a fresh approach to public engagement in science while boosting skills and career development for participants.
New countries adopted the programme following the FameLab formula, but with adaptations to tailor the competition to suit national and cultural considerations.
- 2005 Initial launch of FameLab UK
- 2007 Launch of FameLab International in 9 countries in South East Europe as part of the Beautiful Science programme
- 2017 FameLab International peaks with 31 countries running the programme
- 2020 In response to the pandemic, FameLab successfully adapts to a predominantly online format around the world for two years
- 2021 The partnership between the British Council and Cheltenham Festivals draws to a close, marking the culmination of a successful 15 years of collaboration.
“FameLab was a trailblazer as it was the first major science communication competition, and gained popularity really quickly. Without FameLab we wouldn’t have that interest in science communication and the expectation that scientists should be able to talk to the general public.”
Joanna Bagniewska, FameLab Poland winner 2014
UK-led masterclass training
The British Council and Cheltenham Festivals worked together with a group of UK science communication experts who came on board as masterclass trainers including Dallas Campbell, Quentin Cooper, Malcolm Love, Timandra Harkness and Wendy Sadler.
As the programme evolved, alumni themselves progressed to delivering training, including Joanna Bagniewska from Poland and Kareem Helmee from Egypt.
Breaking down barriers to public engagement in science
Attracting annual TV and press coverage, FameLab achieved widespread support and involvement from a diverse range of high-profile figures around the world ranging from royalty such as the Queen of Spain to popular youth figures such as Thai pop idol STEM influencer and FameLab Thailand ambassador Cherprang BNK.
Adding to the sense of occasion and national importance, FameLab competitions often took place in iconic locations. The Pyramids formed an awe-inspiring backdrop for the FameLab Egypt final 2019 and attracted large audiences to watch the events.
This widespread support and popularity of FameLab helped to break down barriers for public engagement in science, particularly for underrepresented groups in STEM including women.
In recent years, female representational in the International Final reached 50 per cent, bolstered by initiatives by country teams to reach and attract women and other underrepresented groups in STEM, receiving regular press coverage and widespread support for their inclusive approaches.
FameLab also served as direct inspiration for other projects including science festivals and educational resources, and in 2020 a special climate change-themed edition with FameLab Climate Change Communicators in the lead up to COP26.