The Rector of the University of Iceland has launched an annual series of lectures called the University in Society. The lectures aim at engaging the public and professionals in discussions on pressing social issues. The lecture series are in line with the University of Iceland’s Strategy for 2016-2021, which states that the University of Iceland stands for a vibrant discourse with the general public and professionals on pressing societal issues. The series forms a part of the university’s efforts to ensure that research is is used in a way that support Icelandic society’s social well-being and competitiveness.
The first series pertains to the welfare of children and youth. A wide range of subjects are addressed, including anxiety and psychological health, how to support literacy, ways to promote children’s participation in sports and out-of-school activities, the importance and effects of nutrition and sleep for healthy functioning, and the role of parenting and positive communications in children’s development. Efforts were made to select speakers who are experts in a topic relating to children’s wellbeing, are respected researchers, excellent lecturers, and who have experience or relations to applied work with children and youth. Each lecture is streamed online, will be available via the University’s website, and is accompanied by short videos where the lecturers give a short summery of the topic they addressed. In this way, the lectures will have an impact on the discourse in society long after they have been delivered. The first lecture of this year’s series has been very successful in reaching these goals.
The aim of the lectures and seminars is to analyse social problems and provide practical advice of how parents or professionals can prevent or treat these problems, thus supporting the healthy development of children and youth. The lectures are designed for the general public, parents, young adults and children, as well as professionals, policymakers at the municipality- and national-levels, and University students and staff. In this way, the University aims to ensure that the expertise of academic staff can be used to supporting Icelandic families and society, as well as increase the public’s trust in the University, and create awareness of the diverse scientific work that is conducted within the University.
The Best Choices for Our Children
The first lecture in the series, in January 2018, addressed anxiety among children, a topic much discussed in Iceland, recently, and according to recent surveys, is a problem that is on the rise in Iceland. Dr. Urður Njarðvík, Associate Professor of psychology, described the symptoms of anxiety in this age group, the links between anxiety and behaviour problems; how signs of anxiety are often confused with wilfulness and aggression, and why children with ADHD are at a high risk for developing anxiety. Finally, she provided advice for parents of how to address children’s anxiety at home.
Significant efforts were put into branding the series. The first lecture (and the series as a whole) was promoted in a variety of ways with a sharp focus on integrated marketing and communication mix. Promotional videos were made based on interviews with the lecturer, providing a sharp focus on the topic and providing practical advice for parents and professionals. The lecturer reived professional help in creating slides that were designed specially to include images that had clear messages that supported the issue being discussed.
As a first step, an event was created at the university web site including a teaser video with content from the speaker. Subsequently, an advertisement was placed in the largest news web portal in Iceland, published on the best possible spot; inside news stories; containing a link to the event on the University’s webpage.
- An event was created on Facebook and promoted to target specific groups, parents and people in certain business sectors.
- A teaser video was posted and promoted on Facebook including what would be covered in the lecture.
- A mailing list was formed with teachers and other professionals in schools and preschools across the country, as well as psychologists, psychiatrists, and other experts in the education and healthcare sector. Furthermore, the mailing list included ministers and members of the Icelandic parliament and other policy-makers.
The media was contacted directly with phone calls and emails and with a press release with a rather short notice before the event itself. The lecturer, Dr. Njarðvík, appeared in various contexts in the media, including radio, newspapers and web media, creating awareness of, and anticipation for the event. The lecture was streamed live, in cooperation with one of the most popular news portals in the country and the recording was posted on YouTube and Facebook. The recording was disseminated in collaboration with the second largest news web provider in Iceland.
A video was posted and promoted after the lecture on Facebook where the lecturer gave advice to parents and experts in various fields where children and youths are involved.
This approach, using a marketing and communications mixture of traditional media, and great attention to social media, was highly successful; the main hall was completely full with people standing by the sides and sitting on the floor – and there were two extra halls that also filled up where audience could enjoy the lecture streamed live. The introductory video on Facebook got 70 thousand views in less than a week, in a nation of only 330 thousand; and a video on Facebook with advice to parents posted as a follow-up got 30 thousand views.
A news story about Dr. Njarðvík’s lecture was item number one simultaneously on both the largest web news providers in Iceland. Around five thousand watched the lecture live on-line, and the video of the lecture on YouTube trended among the top ten in Iceland in the week following its delivery. Most importantly, this pressing issue became the main topic of the discourse on social media for many days after the lecture had been presented, both among parents and professionals.
It is safe to say that the first lecture in the series was highly relevant to the concerns in Icelandic society, and that there is great demand for knowledge based on high level research relevant to pressing social issues. The turnout exceeded anyone’s expectations and the series seems to be very a promising step towards bringing scientific knowledge and expert advice to a wide audience.