Knowledge throughout
the Neighbourhoods


In 2022, scientists and researchers throughout Leiden have stepped outside of their libraries and laboratories — and not without reason! Together with residents of the city and region, they’ve been investigating interesting subjects in a fun and accessible way.

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Robbert Dijkgraaf

Minister van OCW

'Why do we do science? To advance society, to enhance our knowledge. But we have to share it with society.'

December 22nd 2022. Author: Sophie Zimmerman.

Header picture: Shot by Marc de Haan. ‘During the biodiversity activity, children could discover the biodiversity of the Plantsoen in Leiden together with biologists’

In 2022, Leiden wore the crown of European City of Science. In earlier editions, this meant that the city hosts the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) — the largest multidisciplinary scientific conference in Europe. However, the organisers of Leiden2022 took a different approach. For 365 days, they transformed Leiden and its surrounding municipalities into the stage for a science festival, brimming with activities every single day. The goal was to connect science and society. This innovative approach has created a new model for 'Public Engagement with Science': the Leiden2022 Model.

One of the pillars of the Leiden2022 model was the local Knowledge throughout the Neighbourhoods programme. In 2021, residents, associations, and organisations within the 101 neighbourhoods of Leiden and its surrounding municipalities were called upon to submit interesting topics. Based on these submissions, a 2022 tear-off calendar was released, with each day of the year dedicated to a specific topic. Everyone was then invited to come up with fun, accessible activities based on those daily topics. This resulted in more than 200 community projects.

During the Quantum activity, local residents of the Vreewijk came together and learned about their neighbourhood and it's connection to the quantum revolution of the future. Photo credits: Pim Overgaauw
New forms of interaction

“We really wanted to connect science and society every day of the year, while experimenting with new formulas,” says Meta Knol, director of Leiden2022. “It was, of course, a European Year, and we presented numerous high-profile international science events. However, with this program, we deliberately opted for a local approach with as many non-usual suspects as possible, basing it on a broad spectrum of science, knowledge, art, and expertise. That way, everyone could participate.”

Residents who came up with a good idea based on the topic of the day could become the 'owner-of-the-day'. The Knowledge throughout the Neighbourhoods team then helped them to turn their idea into a reality. In addition to granting a microcredit and assistance with organisation and communication, they also connected the residents with scientists and researchers who could help them along the way. For the scientists who wanted to participate, there were basically two rules: step out of your institution and don’t give a lecture.

Thousands of people participated in the neighbourhood activities, giving the programme an average of 8.5/10. Of those surveyed, 95% found the day's topic appealing, 80% were inspired by the activity, 22% said they had more confidence in science, and 32% said it changed their worldview. By organising small-scale events, Leiden2022 wanted to bring science to the people by catering to their own curiosity and interest in certain topics. In practice, this model has proven to be a success.

The ice-cold liquid nitrogen tricks performed by students from Leiden University on the weekly market in the Merenwijk were very popular - Photo credits: Taco van der Eb

A grassroots approach

There was a great deal of teamwork between the participating scientists and the residents, resulting in all kinds of playful interactions and incidents. In Vreewijk – the neighbourhood where, at the beginning of the 20th century, Professor Paul Ehrenfest invited Albert Einstein to his home to talk about physics four scientists stepped onto a soap box set up in the street to talk about the importance and meaning of

quantum. Local residents handed out homemade 'quantum soup' to everyone, and there was even a quantum puppet theatre. Although most residents knew that Ehrenfest had once lived in their neighbourhood, this piece of history only really came to life during this event. More than a hundred people participated in the activity, which took place on April 14: World Quantum Day.

Locals from in and around the Vreewijk neighborhood served
quantum-soup during the quantum activity.
Photo credits: Pim Overgaauw

The Knowledge Centre for Psychology and Economic Behaviour, and Leiden
University organised the Wijsneusfestival in Leidse Hout. -
Photo credits: Taco van der Eb

Transparency and equality

Allowing science to come to life for city residents is exactly what the organisation of Leiden2022 had envisioned. “For centuries, science has been allowed to operate at a distance from society. But in today's society, that’s no longer viable. Citizens demand transparency and equality, challenging academic institutions to reinvent themselves and their relations with the public domain,” Meta Knol explains. "By bringing society and science together in surprising, creative, and playful ways — such as with Knowledge throughout the Neighbourhoods — valuable new connections are created."

The small-scale and accessible nature of the events held during Knowledge throughout the Neighbourhoods offered a space for real contact between city partners, ensuring lasting connections. “Small-scale often ensures that you really get to know the people who participate. For example, on March 21, only eight people attended a haiku writing workshop in Leiden-Noord’s community centre. You could say that this is a low turnout. However, several participants liked it so much that they came to the follow-up workshop,” says Chris Jaeger. “As a result, the culture coaches, haiku lovers, and Leiden’s Japanese museum Siebolthuis found each other in a lasting way. These are exactly the sort of connections that are what it’s all about for us this year: when you bring people together, new things are created."

The model of Leiden2022

Lucien Geelhoed and Meta Knol are happy to share their experiences. That’s why they used the last months of this year to incorporate their approach into the Leiden2022 Model for Public Engagement with Science. This model offers tools that other organisations can use to establish similar impactful connections between scientists and citizens in the future. Lucien Geelhoed says, "as the year draws to a close, our next chapter begins: disseminating the knowledge and experience we have gained in this year full of experiments."

“We hope that our model will inspire other cities, universities, and scientists to develop new ways of interacting with their local community”

Meta Knol, Director

Leiden2022 European City of Science

Leiden European City of Science 2022 is a 365-day science festival packed with activities, lectures, workshops, excursions, exhibitions, and events, for anyone with a curious mind, the goal of which is to connect science and society.

For more information contact Leiden&partners at or +31 71 516 600.
Leiden2022 is an initiative of the Municipality of Leiden, Leiden University, Leiden University Medical Center and the Leiden University of Applied Sciences, supported by the European Commission and many local, national and international partners.