Sociology Mind
2012. Vol.2, No.2, 191-199
Published Online April 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 191
Means of Knowledge Dissemination: Are the Café Scientifique
and the Artistic Performance Equally Effective?
Darquise Lafrenière1, Susan M. Cox2
1Department of Social and Preventiv e Medicine, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada
2W. Maurice Young Centre fo r Applied Ethics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Received December 17th, 2011; revised January 25th, 2012; accepted February 19th, 2012
An increasing number of health researchers are opting for innovative approaches to communicate research
findings. This article compares two methods for disseminating findings to various audiences: the Café
Scientifique and the artistic performance. Analysis of surveys completed by 78 respondents indicates that
the artistic performance is more effective in communicating research findings based on three of the four
evaluation criteria used: it generates more questions and emotion among audience members and influ-
ences a greater number of individuals to alter their initial understanding of and opinion on an issue. The
Café scientifique and the artistic performance both help participants to better understand the topic exam-
ined. The arts, however, shine a different light on the issue.
Keywords: Arts-Based Research; Café Scientifique; Evaluation; Health Research; Knowledge
Dissemination; Performed Research
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the major
funding agency for health research in Canada, has dedicated
significant effort to improving the effectiveness of public out-
reach and knowledge dissemination activities across the coun-
try. Indeed, knowledge dissemination and public outreach cons-
titutes one of the four areas of CIHR’s Citizen Engagement
Framework, a strategy aimed at “realizing a more systematic,
ongoing integration of citizens’ input in priority setting, gover-
nance and funding programs and tools” (Venuta & Graham,
2010: p. 216). To support their action plan, the CIHR intro-
duced, among other initiatives, the Café Scientifique program.
This initiative provides funding to scientific investigators to
organize public discussions of their work. It is a way of engag-
ing scientists and the public in open dialogue in a non-academic
setting where participants can enjoy a beer, glass of wine, or
cup of coffee (Dallas, 2006). The Café Scientifique is intended
as an “opportunity to bring together researchers with members
of the public to spark a discussion about some of the most in-
teresting—and sometimes contentious—research currently under-
way in Canada” (CIHR, 2007: p. 3). Initially launched in Leeds,
UK in 1998 following the French Cafés Philosophiques model
(Dallas, 1999), the concept has since caught on and cafés have
been held all over the world (Davies et al., 2009). More than
330 Cafés Scientifiques have been sponsored by CIHR since the
program was initiated in 2007. This represents close to one
million dollars in funding if applicants receive the base budget
of $3000 (CAD) to organize each individual Café.
The arts have also emerged in the last few years as an
innovative method for communicating with the Canadian public
about health-related matters (Cox et al., 2010). Initially used in
research for representation and dissemination of findings,
arts-based methods are now employed in all stages of inquiry
(Fraser & Sayah, 2011): as a stimulus for data generation, a
method for eliciting meanings and values, an intervention tool
or a form of dissemination (Bergum & Godkin, 2008). A wide
range of artistic forms are utilized by Canadian arts-based
researchers: dance (Boydell et al., 2011); poetry (Groft & Rob-
inson-Vollman, 2007; Lapum, 2005); theatrical performances
(Cox et al., 2009a; Colantino et al., 2008; McIntyre & Cole,
2008; Clarke & Nisker, 2007; Doucet et al., 2007; Kontos &
Naglie, 2007; Eakin & Endicott, 2006; Mitchell et al., 2006;
Nisker et al., 2006; Sinding et al., 2006; Gray et al., 2000; Ivo-
noffski & Gray, 2000); visuals (Poudrier & MacLean, 2009, Cast-
leden & Garvin, 2008; Oliffe & Botorff, 2007; Moffitt & Rob-
inson-Vollman, 2004); and a combination of various forms of
art (Cox et al., 2009b; Lafrenière & Cox, 2010).
Some (Haines, 2010, Knowles & Cole, 2008) argue that the
empathic understanding generated by arts-based methods can
provide deep insight into what others are experiencing. Some
experiences may not be possible to articulate in ordinary dis-
course and could remain virtually unknown through traditional
research methods (O’Donoghue, 2007). Arts-based methods
may be especially effective in knowledge translation as they
open scholarly work to a larger community and provide a
stimulus to dialogue (Nisker et al., 2006). It has been argued
that inequalities in the distribution of knowledge impacts health
disparities (Viswanath & Emmons, 2009). Forty-eight percent
of the Canadian adults cannot read or can read only simple
language. Not surprisingly, most belong to the socioeconomic-
cally disadvantaged populations (Rootman & Ronson, 2005).
The arts could assist in providing information in an accessible
form. Arts-based researchers also claim that artistic means of
knowledge dissemination engage more effectively the imagina-
tion and emotions in the act of understanding experiences,
problems and practices (Eisner, 2008a, 2008b; Rossiter et al.,
2008; Cahnmann, 2008). This generates emotional as well as
intellec tual engagement with the issues presented (Mienczakowski,
2009), may foster critical awareness, encourage audiences to
envision new possibilities, and affect change.
CIHR has funded 22 arts-based research projects since 2008
for a total amount of $4,075,887 (CAD). This is encouraging
but remains a small portion of CIHR’s annual grants and
awards budget (of roughly $930 million (CAD)). However, as
the field matures methodologically and theoretically, and a
larger body of evidence demonstrates its effectiveness, it is
likely that more researchers in health and other science based
disciplines will begin infusing the arts into their research.
Case Study
Centring the Human Subject in Health Research: Under-
standing the Meaning and Experience of Research Participa-
tion1 is a three-phase project designed to further understanding
of the experiences of human subjects participating in a wide
range of health research (McDonald & Cox, 2009; McDonald et
al., 2008). The goals of the project were to gain insight into the
subjects’ experiences of being a research participant, and fo-
cusing on the human subject’s perspective in particular, we
sought to compare and contrast their perspectives with the per-
spectives of researchers, research workers and members of
research ethics boards. Participants in various types of health
research studies (i.e., clinical trials, behavioural, biomedical or
public health studies) were interviewed about their experiences
of participating in specific studies and asked to comment on
what being a human subject means to them. Our knowledge
dissemination plan encompassed several strategies including
the Café scientifique as well as the combined use of various artistic
forms (including drama, “found” poetry, song and visual art).
In this article, we compare the effectiveness of a Café Scien-
tifique and an artistic performance, two knowledge dissemina-
tionn interventions that aimed at communicating research find-
ings from the Centring the Human Subject study.
Café Scientifique
Our Café scientifique entitled Volunteers for health research:
guinea pigs or partners? was held on May 11, 2009 in Van-
couver, Canada. The structure of our Café was similar to any
other with the exception that we included a formal evaluation
component with the approval of the UBC Research Ethics
Board. First, the facilitator (Co-PI M McDonald) introduced the
topic and the objectives of the Café. Then, three panelists each
offered a ten-minute oral presentation, without any visual aids,
on their perspectives on being a human subject in health research.
The first panelist talked about his personal experience of being
both a participant in health studies and a patient advocacy ac-
tivist. Then, two other presenters from our research team (PI S.
Cox and Co-Investigator J. Kaufert) reported on selected results
that emerged from the Centring the Human Subject project.
One of the Café presenters (Cox) commented on fou r t hemes :
trust between human subjects and research workers, costs/burdens
for human subjects of participating in health research, reasons
for participating in health studies, and relationships between
human subjects and research workers. The other speaker (Kaufert)
described salient issues of community relationships in health
studies explaining the risks and benefits to individuals and eth-
nocultural or Indigenous communities. He took the perspectives
of the workers who mediate the relationship with the research
After the three formal presentations, members of the audi-
ence were invited (by Lafrenière) to complete the first section
of the survey that was distributed upon arrival. They were given
10 minutes to complete this section which had four open-ended
questions about the effects of the presentations on understand-
ing of the topic, specific emotions generated, questions arising,
and prompts leading to altered understanding of or opinions
about research participation. The facilitator then launched a
fifty-minute dialogue that was followed by a draw for two $25
gift certificates intended to encourage continued participation in
the event. Audience members were then asked to complete the
second part of the survey dealing exclusively with the discus-
sion period.
Thirty-seven participants filled-out our paper and pencil-
based survey (Table 1). Close to two-thirds of the survey re-
spondents were women. One third were aged between 30 and
39 years. A quarter were between 40 and 49. A majority of the
respondents identified themselves as being part of a research
community (i.e. researchers, research workers, research ethics
board members, research participants, policy-makers, funding
agency members, etc.) and more than half indicated that they
were also members of the general public. Just over one third of
the participants said that they were exclusively members of the
general public.
Artistic Performance
Our pilot project, Designing, Implementing and Assessing
Arts-Based Methods of Knowledge Translation in Research
Ethics, was part of the dissemination strategy for Centring the
Human Subject, and constituted an experiment in the use of
arts-based methods.2
To achieve this, we first collaborated with artists to create
works in one of four artistic forms—“found” poetry, drama,
song, or visual arts—from selected portions of transcripts from
the Centring the Human Subject study. The four types of artis-
tic media used the same portions of thematically coded inter-
view transcripts and hence were based upon the same set of
substantive ideas and experiences. The relevant themes (which
were also covered by the second panelist in the Café présenta-
tion) were:
1) Reasons for participating (e.g. seeking access to better treat-
2) Costs/burdens of participating (e.g. missing time at work);
3) Relationships (e.g. sensitivity shown by a researcher), and;
4) Trust (e.g. in research institutions).
The pilot project was conducted over an 18-month period,
involved more than 50 artist-collaborators, amateur and profess-
sional, produced 39 poems, two songs, four visuals, and one
theatre play. A graduate student who had extensive experience
as a theatre practitioner acted as our artistic director and put
together the artistic performance from a selection of the artistic
1Centring the Human Subject in Health Research: Understanding the Mean-
ing and Experience of Research Participation is a five-year research pro ject
funded b y the Canadian In stitutes of Health Research. Susan M. Cox, Prin-
cipal Investigator; Michael McDonald, Co-Principal Investigator; Patricia
Kaufert, Joseph Kaufert, and Anne Townsend, Co-Investigators. The study
is a two-site project at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the
of Manitoba.
2We received a small grant from the UBC Humanities and Social Science
(HSS) Research Fund/College for Interdisciplinary Studies HSS Research
Grants (#17R72572) - ( 7000 $ CAD) to conduc t the pilot-project.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Table 1.
Profile of respondents.
Characteristics Café
Scientifique Artistic
performances (2)
Not specified
20 - 29 yrs
30 - 39 yrs
40 - 49 yrs
50 - 59 yrs
60 - 69 yrs
70 yrs and ov er
Not specified
Funding agency member
General public
Patient organization member
Research Ethics Board member
Research worker
Not specified
works created. The performance unfolded as follows:
1) Introductory remarks about the research project and ethical
aspects (Cox);
2) Commencement to situate the broader study and arts-based
project (with all the artists involved in the production);
3) Thematic theatre scene on trust;
4) Song, featuring also a tango dance;
5) Recitation of three poems about trust and practical costs;
6) Thematic theatre scene on practical costs;
7) Song about practical costs;
8) Recitation of three poems about practical costs, relation-
ships and reasons for participating in health research;
9) Thematic theatre scene on reasons for participating;
10) Recitation of three poems on relationships and trust;
11) Re-commencement (with all the artists involved in the pro-
The final production of approximately 40 minutes was per-
formed twice for two very different audiences: participants in
the research, and members of the University and wider community.
Both events took place in Vancouver in November 2009.
Following each performance, members of the audience were
invited (by Lafrenière) to complete the first section of a survey
provided upon arrival. This section of the survey assessed the
effects of the artistic performance on individual audience mem-
bers in the same way as the Café Scientifique. We then
launched a dialogue between the audience members, the artists
and the research team. This conversation lasted about 50 min-
utes and followed a fairly traditional question and answer for-
mat. Audience members were then asked to complete the sec-
ond part of the survey dealing exclusively with the impact of
the dialogue on the same four criteria mentioned above. The
same questions were asked in the Café Scientifique and the
artistic performance survey. Approximately 70 people attended
one of the two artistic performances and 41 completed the sur-
vey (Lafrenière & Cox, 2010).
Eighty percent (80%) of the survey respondents were women
(Table 1). Close to 20% were aged over 60 years. Most of the
respondents identified themselves as being part of a research
community (i.e. researchers, research workers, research ethics
board members, research participants, funding agency members,
etc.). Slightly over a quarter of the respondents indicated that
they were members of the general public.
Participants in both events (i.e., Café Scientifique and artistic
performance) were recruited using a similar approach. We
posted flyers at strategic locations in Vancouver, sent emails
through relevant listserves and spread the word among col-
leagues and relatives. We published an ad in a local newspaper
to advertize the Café. Attendance at the first presentation of the
artistic performance was restricted to the participants in the
Centring the Human Subject study. We took advantage of the
fact that we were organizing a two-day-and-a-half workshop on
the use of arts-based methods in health research to present the
artistic performance a second time the following day during a
portion of the workshop that was open to the public.
How effective are the Café Scientifique and the artistic per-
formance for conveying study results? Here we report on the
results from four questions asked to the respondents in the
open-ended survey.
1) Did the presentations from the panelists (Café Scientifique) or
the artistic performance (arts-based event) help you under-
stand the experiences of research participants enrolled in
health-related studies? Explain briefly.
2) Did the presentations from the panelists (Café Scientifique) or
the artistic performance (arts-based event) generate emo-
tions/feelings in you? Explain briefly.
3) Did the presentations from the panelists (Café Scientifique) or
the artistic performance (arts-based event) raise questions
that were so intriguing or important that you would like to
engage in further discussion about it? Give some examples.
4) Did the presentations from the panelists (Café Scientifique) or
the artistic performance (arts-based event) and the con-
versa- tion that followed between the panelists (Café Scien-
tifique) or the artists and the researchers (arts-based event)
move you to change in some ways your opinion or your ini-
tial understanding of the way research participants experi-
ence health research? Explain briefly.
Café Scientifique
Understanding of Researc h Part icipation
A majority of participants (31/37) felt that the presentations
contributed to their understanding of the topic. However, only a
few respondents could provide specific examples of elements
they better understood following the presentations by panelists.
This is something that a participant learned from the Café
The participants are in a trust relationship with the re-
searchers. It [research participation] can involve a great
deal of time off work (female, general public, 60 - 69
years old).
Approximately one third of the respondents stated that the
presentations had a limited effect or no effect at all in helping
them understand the experiences of research participants.
Slightly. No information or case studies that were sur-
prising (male, scholar, 60 - 69 years old).
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 193
Some indicated that the information presented did not go into
sufficient detail. Others said it was too basic. One of our panel-
ists was a participant in health related studies, as well as a pa-
tient advocacy group member. Although two panelist research-
ers were also reporting on the lived-experience of individuals
who participated in health related studies, audience members
were particularly interested to hear the speech delivered by the
research participant on the panel:
It was good to hear the viewpoint of the volunteer [panel-
ist] first hand and speak of the motivations, benefits and
risks of volunteering in research studies (female, general
public, 30 - 39 years old).
Interestingly, a fair number of participants mentioned that
they gained a better understanding about topics that were not
specifically covered by the presenters. Those topics, such as
vulnerable populations, conflict of interest, or consent forms,
were brought forward by audience members during the discus-
sion period.
Creating Emotions among Audience Members
Six different emotions were identified by nine respondents in
the Café: anger, empathy, empowerment, frustration, guilt, and
pride. Empathy was the emotion most commonly reported, as
shown by one of the participants who felt empathy towards the
panelist who was member of a patient advocacy group. Most of
the emotions that were reported were in relation to the presen-
tation of this panelist.
To participate as a research participant can be especially
emotionally rewarding as described by the individual par-
ticipating in arthritis research. I can now see the need to
want to give something back after receiving the benefits
of science in treating one’s chronic arthritis (male, general
public, 50 - 59 years old).
A few audience members explained that the presentations
resonated with their own experiences, and thus that they could
relate to what was expressed by presenters.
I could relate to the volunteer’s emotion of trusting the re-
searchers and the process of research while also being a
bit hesitant and frustrated with not receiving enough in-
formation or data at the end of the study (female, general
public, 30 - 39 years old).
However, most of the participants said that they did not feel
any particular emotion while listening to the presentations.
Raising Questions
The respondents were invited to identify questions raised for
them by the presentations. Most of the answers obtained re-
ferred to comments rather than to questions: “Mistrust is very
crucial in the topic of health research” (no demographic infor-
mation provided by respondent). When questions were indeed
identified by participants, they were for most part very general
in their content.
I would like to know more about consumer patient advo-
cacy groups (female, research facilitator, 30 - 39 years
Some of the questions that were identified by the respondents
in the survey had no direct connection with the presentations of
the panelists. They referred for instance to conflict of interest in
research, funding priorities in health research, the power of the
research ethics boards (institutional review boards), the differ-
rences between various research designs.
Moving to Change Opinions and Initial Understanding
Two audience members reported that the presentations and
the subsequent discussion changed their opinion or their initial
understanding of the nature of the relationships between re-
searchers and research participants.
I was very impressed with the depth of concern for [re-
search] subjects by medical researchers. This was not my
impression before attending the presentation (male, gen-
eral public, 40 - 49 years old).
A few individuals mentioned that the Café made them think
a little bit more about aspects of the volunteer experience in
health research: “It gave me a lot to ponder” (female, general
public, 40 - 49 years old). However, most of the respondents
said that the presentations and the following conversation did
not change their thinking about the topics discussed during the
Some audience members also commented on the overall for-
mat. The following participant response suggests that the dis-
cussion period after the panelists’ presentations did not raise
additional and/or valuable information, as it was not focused on
the topic covered by the Café.
The initial presentation [panel] was more informative.
Questions and comments seemed to go off on a tangent or
many different tangents depending on who was speaking
(female, funding agency member/patient organization mem-
ber, 40 - 49 years old).
Artistic Performance
Understanding of Researc h Part icipation
Responses to the survey revealed that the artistic production
allowed for a deeper understanding of the realities of human
subjects’ participation in health research. None of the respon-
dents mentioned that the artistic performance did not help them
understand these experiences. Interestingly, in general, the re-
sponses to the survey were far more complete and extensive in
the case of the artistic performance than of the Café Scienti-
I understood that the consent process is confusing and si-
lencing. It brings up questions regarding informed consent.
I also better understood the imposition some aspects of
the research is on a participant (e.g., taking time off work,
urinating into a measure). Participants are not treated with
the respect they deserve (e.g., absence of thank you
notes—even for those who leave the study (Female, re-
searcher, scholar, research partic ipant, 30 - 39 ye ars old).
Some respondents claimed that the media that were used im-
pacted their understanding. The artistic representation of the in-
formation allowed them to understand differently the experi-
ences of the human subjects.
One example that stands out for me (as someone who ob-
tains informed consents from vulnerable participants) was
the dance, the tango that made me think of how the re-
searcher needs to be seductive to convince participants.
Very evocative, and without watching that performance, I
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
would not have thought of it that way” (female, researcher,
40 - 49 years old).
It seems that because the artistic media that we used person-
alized participation in research, it also helped some respondents
to understand differently research participants’ experiences.
Poetry readers—as if hearing the research participants
speaking allows for a way to sense that they are real peo-
ple and not just the “file numbers” that the “system” uses
(Female, scholar, 30 - 39 years old).
For others, the artistic performance allowed them to under-
stand the complexity of the emotions felt by the research par-
Yes, the gap between inner doubt and resistance on one
side, and compliance with authority on the other (Male,
scholar, 60 - 69 years old).
Still others picked out the capacity of arts to create a unique
type of understanding.
Usually, this kind of understanding is achieved only when
one talks to participants personally, where body language,
situational, casual speech really convey how so meone feels.
As second-hand explanation of someone else’s experience,
this is more effective than a textual document in really
conveying the emotion of a clinical patient (Female, re-
search participant, 20 - 29 years old).
Creating Emotions among Audience Members
The performance created 15 different types of emotion (e.g.,
empathy, guilt, sadness) among 38 of the 41 respondents to the
survey. As with the Café Scientifique, empathy is the emotion
that was the most commonly felt. It was the case among more
of one third of the audience members. However, more often
than not, several emotions were felt at the same time.
I felt upset with myself for all the studies I’ve done where
I didn’t disseminate findings to the subjects or thank them
appropriately. I felt protective of the subject who was
given drugs and a urine collector. I wanted to speak out
for her (female, researcher, scholar, research participant,
30 - 39 years old).
We can feel that the respondents were engaged and that the
intensity of emotions was palpable in the artistic performance.
I felt angry, helpless and frustrated. When one subject
wondered to herself all the questions she has… but is un-
able to ask the clinician. It seemed to capture for me the
frustrations of the “institutional” structure of clinical tri-
als (Female, researcher and scholar, 30 - 39 years old).
For more than one third of the respondents, the artistic per-
formance brought them back to their own experiences, which
were often painful and loaded with emotions.
As I am a research participant in clinical trials for metas-
tatic cancer, feelings around lack of choice and helpless-
ness were strong for me during the performance i.e., I
have taken a drug that quite possibly was harming me, but
it was the better of two options—the other being death.
This put me in a position as a research participant of feel-
ing compromised and unsafe. This was well conveyed by
the performers (Female, general public, patient, research
participant, 30 - 39 years old).
Raising Questions
The artistic performance generated almost five times more
questions than the presentations in the Café Scientifique. The
questions pertained to the content, as in the next quotes wherein
a respondent refers to two poems that were recited during the
arts-based production.
Yes, especially “Trust” and “Vital Statistics”. Without
trust the system of health related studies could not exist. It
is hard for patients to understand statistics used by the
physicians. How to make it understandable for the human
subject? (female, research worker, 30 - 39 years old).
Other respondents wondered about the media that were used.
What are the implications of interpretation of subjective
experience? How much empathy is required to really ex-
perience another’s experience… which medium is the
most effective at expressing each case of subject matter?
(Female, researcher, 30 - 39 years old).
Still others were concerned about the impact that Under-
standing the Human Subject study will have in the medical
community and the general public.
The most important question is how this research is going
to affect/change the medical profession’s attitudes, and
possibly get to a wider audience so that the public/subjects
feel more empowered and able to question (Female, gen-
eral public, 60 - 69 years old).
How do we take the experiences and needs of the human
subjects and incorporate them into our system? How do
we ensure our system is responsive and addressing the
actual concerns of those engaged as subjects? (Female,
researcher, 30 - 39 years old).
Moving to Change Opinions and Initial Understanding
Eight respondents reported that the viewing of the artistic
performance would alter their professional practice.
All performances artistic pieces generated feelings—for
me as a research scientist, feeling strongly that I will be
different in my RA’s research assistant approach to con-
senting and explaining research (Female, researcher, re-
search ethics board member, 50 - 59 years old).
A respondent mentioned that her opinion about the lived ex-
perience of her relatives changed after attending the artistic
I further realized how my experience in the healthcare
system resonates with others. I feel I can relate further to
family and friends who express frustration when treated as
an unfeeling “subject” (female, scholar, 30 - 39 years old).
Laswell’s communication model (Lasswell, 1948) identifies
the five major components of a communication transmission
process. Who says what in what channel to whom with what
effect? Although very simple, Lasswell’s formula, developed at
the end of the 1940s, inspired Lavis and colleagues (2003) who
came up with a similar organizing framework designed for use
by researchers when planning knowledge dissemination strate-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 195
gies. What should be transferred to decision-makers? To whom
should it be transferred? By whom should research knowledge
be transferred? How should research knowledge be transferred?
With what effect should research knowledge be transferred? We
will refer to these five common elements—communicator, mes-
sage, media, audience, effect—in the analysis of our case study.
The “Communicator” (“Who”)
It is worth pointing out that audience members attributed a
high level of credibility to the one panelist in the Café who was
representative of a patients advocacy group and who was also a
health research participant. This does not mean that the other
presenters were contested or that their expertise was challenged
—not at all—but elements of the presentation of the non-re-
searcher panelist were clearly at the forefront of the responses
in the surveys, as if they weighed more. Yet, the researcher-
panelists were also the voice of the research participants in our
study. They were reporting on the accounts of the interviews
conducted within the Centring on the Human Subject project. If
credibility is a measure of perceived trustworthiness combined
with perceived expertness of a source (Hovland & Weiss, 1952),
we could suggest, then, that experiential expertise communi-
cated first-hand attracts greater attention from audience mem-
bers than more analytical descriptions of an experience deliv-
ered by intermediaries, no matter how trustworthy and com-
Also, one must know that sharing one’s own experience gen-
erates a more emotional response, in particular empathy, as this
act is linked to a positive verisimilitude assessment by the au-
dience (Boyd III, 2006). This is without the fact that the health
research participant panelist was an out-spoken individual, very
talented at communication. He delivered his presentation with
great enthusiasm, a loud tone and confidence, which also
probably contributed to increase audience member warms feel-
ings towards his talk (Thomas & Soldow, 1989). Again, this is
not to diminish the quality of the delivery performed by the
other speakers, but just to highlight that the effect of his pres-
entation on the audience members was enhanced by his per-
sonal style.
Issues pertaining to the messenger are totally different in the
case of the artistic performance. The idea of the artist as the
messenger was not challenged by anyone who responded to the
survey. However, some respondents questioned the various
layers of interpretations that are inevitable in an artistic per-
formance. Those questions are legitimate if one considers that
the human subjects told the story about their experiences during
the research interview, the researchers coded the transcripts
according to what they believed were emerging themes, the
artists used the thematic transcript excerpts provided to them
and selected the portions that “talked to them the most” to cre-
ate their artistic works, and the audience members made sense
of the information that they received based on their own ex-
perience, beliefs, values, etc. Clearly the human subjects, the
researchers, the artists, and the audience members all engage in
varying levels of interpretation.
Given these numerous layers of interpretation, one could
challenge the validity of the représentations of the research data
that were being disseminated (Eisner, 1981). Indeed, some sur-
vey respondents pointed out that the negative experiences of the
research participants were featured more predominantly than
the positive ones. However, the resonance with the audience
members of the situations presented in the artistic performance
were such that we cannot doubt the validity of the research data
that was communicated. Close to one third of the respondents,
without being invited to do it, spontaneously described how the
situations expressed in the artistic performance were similar to
the ones that they themselves lived, were currently living, or
that some of their relatives were living. Interestingly, only two
such comments came from participants in the Centring the
Human Subject study. This is particularly significant because
the perceived relevance of the study results by the audience
members is a decisive factor in the uptake of new knowledge
and practice change (Kontos & Naglie, 2007).
The Audience (“Whom”)
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Café Scienti-
fique program aims at reaching “the general public”. What
seems clear is that there were not a significant number of at-
tendees at our Café that were “true members of the general
public”, if by this we mean, as CIHR does, people who have an
interest in the topic being discussed but who are not particularly
knowledgeable about it (Kurath & Gisler, 2009). Most of the
participants to the event were people concerned by the topic
discussed: researchers, research workers, ethics board members,
research participants, etc. Thus, if, in theory, the general public
is targetted by the promoters of the Cafés Scientifiques, in prac-
tice, it seems that audiences are mainly composed of individu-
als from the same community of practice. On a continuum, the
public that attended our Café would be positioned between the
stakeholders, if we define this term as “parties that have a
“stake” (self-interest in terms of resources, power, etc.) in a
given issue” (Abelson et al., 2007: p. 7) and the “individuals
from the general public” as previously described. Participants
were more “affected individuals”, if we refer to CIHR’s typol-
ogy, which is to say that attendees were individuals personally
affected by the issue who can speak to their own experiences,
perspectives and ideas rather than represent the viewpoints of
any organization with which they may or may not be affiliated
( The same com-
ments are worth noting for the artistic performance. Most of the
participants were also “affected individuals”. However, it is
important to specify that almost one third of the audience
members who completed the survey during the artistic per-
formance were also participants in an international workshop
on the use of arts-based methods in health research. This must
be seen as a limitation in our study. We cannot ascertain that
the fact that the artistic performance was largely seen as an
effective knowledge dissemination intervention is unrelated to
the composition of the audience. The individuals who attended
the workshop, upon invitation, undoubtably had an interest in
arts-based methods and it is most likely that they had a positive
opinion about this innovative mode of dissemination. However,
these individuals were also fully aware that this field of re-
search is nascent, and that rigourous theoretical and methodo-
logical development is essential to gain broader acceptance,
credibility and respect in the research community and beyond.
For this reason, we trust that our respondents provided honest
answers to the survey questions.
The Message (“What”)
Even if most of the attendees to our Café were familiar with
the domain of health research, the message that was communi-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
cated did not satisfy everyone equally. Some would have liked
more explanations about our research findings. Others thought
that the information provided was too basic for their level of
knowledge. It becomes difficult for the Cafés’ organizers to
tailor their message to a specific audience as there is no such
thing as a “general public”, as explained above. Thus, we sug-
gest that organizers would benefit from adapting their message
to a more knowledgeable audience than that promoted by the
CIHR, since attendees are mostly “affected individuals”.
There is more to be said about the message. For Marshall
McLuhan (1964), the medium is the message. A photograph
classified in an album will not have the same effect and will not
convey the same message to the individual who is looking at it
as the same picture hanging on a wall in a museum. We te nd to
support this assertion. The structure of the answers to the sur-
vey, as well as the terminology that was used to complete it,
were very different in the Café and in the artistic performance.
Yet, the themes that were covered by each medium were the
same, and the questions on the survey were identical.
It seems that the message acts in synergy with the form cho-
sen to convey the information. The content that was delivered
with a more analytical form (Café Scientifique) generated an-
swers that were more factual and concise. When expressed
artistically (artistic performance), the message engendered writ-
ten reactions that were generally longer and laden with emo-
tions. Little (2009) would probably explain this “phenomenon”
by the close relationship that exists between aesthetics and
ethics. Thus, the artistic media would have the capacity to pro-
voke both aesthetic judgement and moral judgement. As a con-
sequence, one should not be surprised to read excerpts of re-
spondents’ responses to our survey who, emotionally stimu-
lated by the artistic performance, enter into some sort of ethical
reflection, and indicate, for instance if they are researchers, that
they feel guilty for not having provided their research partici-
pants with the study results, or not having taken enough time to
carefully explain the research protocol during the informed
consent process. Some respondents accused researchers of
treating research participants as objects, of not showing respect
to them, etc. These moral judgements were absent from the
responses to the survey completed during the Café Scientifique.
The Media (“Channel”)
Dearing & Kreuter (2010) claim that knowledge dissemina-
tion differs from knowledge diffusion in that the former in-
volves creating and providing access to information, and the
latter is about engaging in a social process to resolve uncer-
tainty about adopting a new information, innovation, program,
etc. According to these descriptions, we could assert that the
Cafés Scientifiques are structured to include both of these two
processes. First, the information is disseminated by the speak-
ers (a “push approach”). Subsequently attendees have the op-
portunity to engage in a discussion with other members of the
audience and the presenters to make up their mind about the
information provided, by listening, talking, asking questions (a
“pull approach”). They will then decide if they adopt the in-
formation, reject it or search for more details from other
Interestingly, respondents were divided as to whether the
conversation between the presenters and the audience members,
and the discussion between members of the audience, helped
their understanding of the topic. Some thought that questions
and comments were tangential to the main topic. This is proba-
bly one of the main difficulties that we experienced with the
format of the Cafés Scientifiques. Attendees have different
needs and motivations for participating in this type of event
(Michael, 2009). In our specific case, some participants had
their own agenda and tried to push it during the discussion.
Others were seeking advice (i.e. what do other researchers un-
derstand by “risks/benefits” in a consent form?). Some wished
to voice their community’s concerns (i.e. claimed that the needs
of vulnerable communities are not understood as they should be
and that their interests are not part of funding priorities), or to
learn more about a specific issue (i.e. monetary payment of
human subjects’ contribution to research). Since the objective
of the Cafés is to favour discussion in an atmosphere that is not
too formal, it is not always easy to bring back the conversation
to the main topic. In this context, effectiveness of the diffusion
process within the Cafés is thus far less predictable than the
effectiveness of the dissemination process.
We did not experience the same situation with the artistic
performance. The attendees remained focused on the content of
the production during the post-performance conversation. They
were also shrouded by the emotions generated by the arts-based
The Effect (“Effect”)
Our goal in comparing two modes of knowledge dissemina-
tion interventions is not to establish the superiority of one over
the other. We are fully aware that the assessment criteria that
were used for comparing the two media were taken from the
literature on arts as a research method. If we had selected crite-
ria more adapted to oral presentations such as in Cafés Scienti-
fiques, conferences or symposiums, the results on effectiveness
probably would have been different. For instance, the Cafés
Scientifiques are promoted for their capacity to democratize
scientific debates. Participants attending these events have the
opportunity to ask questions and talk about their concerns per-
taining to scientific developments (Bauer, 2009). Organizers
can thus hardly direct the discussions as the very concept of the
Cafés implies that the participants attend these events to ex-
press themselves and not merely to obtain information. They
are the ones who lead the conversation on what is of interest to
them about the topic. In this regard, the artistic performances
leave less space for participants to determine what they want to
discuss. There is a greater focus on themes the researchers want
to cover. As a consequence, if the flexibility regarding the dis-
cussions post-performance (arts) or post-presentations (Cafés)
had been identified as one criteria of effectiveness, the Café
would have probably obtained better results than the artistic
Overall findings from our survey suggest that the effective-
ness of the Café Scientifique as means of conveying study re-
sults is similar to more traditional methods of knowledge dis-
semination in that the panelists and audience discussion seemed
to foster intellectual understanding. We did not find evidence
that the Café Scientifique format offers a novel method of
knowledge dissemination when compared to other alternatives
such as arts-based methods which appeal to the emotion as well
as the intellect, and seem to be also more effective for generat-
ing questions and moving people to change their opinions, atti-
tudes and even practice.
In light of our experience in holding a Café and an artistic
performance, we conclude that:
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 197
Communicator. Experiential knowledge delivered first-
hand by talented communicators has more effect on the au-
dience than knowledge reported by intermediaries even if
they are competent about the subject and good communica-
tors. There are several communicators in an artistic per-
formance. The research participants, the researchers and the
artists are all involved in the creation of the end-product.
Audience. Most attendees at knowledge dissemination in-
terventions open to the general public have at least a gen-
eral knowledge of the topic discussed and/or are personally
affected by the issues.
Message. Messages to be conveyed in Cafés Scientifiques
should thus be tailored to audience members with a general
knowledge of the topic.
Media. Cafés scientifiques encompass both dissemination
processes and diffusion processes. Given the objective be-
hind the Cafés, the effectiveness of the diffusion process is
less predictable.
Effect. The artistic performance is more effective than the
Café scientifique organized in the traditional way (a few
short presentations without visual aid, facilitated by an MC,
followed by a discussion period) in communicating research
findings based on three of the four evaluation criteria used:
it triggers more emotions a mong audience members, generates
more questions on the topic discussed, and influences a
greater number of individuals to alter their opinion and
initial understanding of an issue. The Café Scientifique and
the artistic performance both help participants to better
understand the topic examined. The arts, however, shine a
different light on the issue.
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