STREAM 1: It’s a two way street: engaging ALL Australians in the sciences

Stream Moderator
Jenni Metcalfe
Director of Econnect Communication
Brains Trust
Dr Bruce Walker
CEO of the Centre of Appropriate Technology
Brains Trust
Dr Jen Skattebol
Research Fellow Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW

STREAM HOSTED ON THE 6th June
Workshop 1: 12.00pm – 1.30pm
Workshop 2: 2.30pm – 4.00pm

Considering Australia’s relatively small and geographically dispersed population, where are the significant gaps within science engagement in Australia and how can we ensure a more equitable system of two-way science communication irrespective of geography, ethnicity, age or social condition? In the future how will we communicate to and learn from under-served groups, such as those living in outer metropolitan, regional and remote areas; Indigenous communities; people for whom English is a second language; and people who are disabled or have limited mobility?

Participate in the Summit and leave a comment

55 comments
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Craig Cormick
Craig Cormick

The top impediments and solutions from yesterdays workshop. What do you think?

Stream one: It’s a Two-way Street: Engaging all Australia

Solutions to all impediments cover:

1.Community

- Increase understanding of communities

-Understand individual needs

-Gain credibility and trust

-- Undertake broad and local ‘engagement’ into better understanding communities’ needs, and trust factors.

2.Collaboration

-Find common ground

-building relationships

-- Provide best-practice models for collaboration and mechanisms to bring potential collaborators together.

3. Critical thinking

-Information overload prevents more critical thinking

-Not being able to sort the wheat from the chaff

-To think critically you need to have defined the problem in a way that people can understand

-- Establish mechanisms that allow for independent critical thinking as a quality check, and then promote them.

4. Culture

-Embed science into broader culture of the community

-Not just for smart elites

--- Provide best-practice models for collaboration and mechanisms to bring potential collaborators together.

5. Curriculum

-resdesign the curriculum to free it up for teachers to be more independent

-Provide support for teachers to do what they need to do.

-- Provide input to the Australian Science Curriculum to provide more flexibility for teachers to be more flexible in how they teach.

Jenni Metcalfe
Jenni Metcalfe

It’s a two-way street: engaging all Australians in the sciences

Written by Jenni Metcalfe, Bruce Walker and Jen Skattebol, 5 June 2013

Changing the question

If it is a two-way street then the other way to look at this question is: How do we engage the sciences and scientists with all Australians?

If I am a person living remote from the decision-making centres of Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne, and the convenience of urban services attempting to survive, and I am surrounded by poverty then I am unlikely to want to engage with science in the way most people think about it.

On the other hand, I do have a body of knowledge that keeps me alive, albeit in survival mode.I do have systems, techniques and strategies that are replicable and predictable, but they don’t work to the same rules of science – or do they?

With the relatively recent changes to the funding of science, which has led to the corporatisation of science outcomes and IP, the relationship between the scientist and their community has declined significantly since its noble beginnings.The rise of individualism, high end marketing and consumerism means many are satisfied in not knowing, understanding or interacting with the science – if it feels right then do it.We don’t need science.

The problem is not one of communication. Neither is it something that will be resolved by developing ever more sophisticated technological options or smart messages for those people who are going up the street rather than down the road, or even for those who are still on the dirt track headed towards the intersection with the bitumen.

Science engagement needs to be shaped around people, their community and specific need.How can science help resolve their concerns and be demonstrated very practically to them?At that point then people will directly engage.

Where do we need to get to?

Engaging all Australians in science requires going beyond one-way communication from scientists to a passive audience, which is usually referred to as the ‘general public’.The audiences for these one-way communication activities are also usually the ‘converted’; those already interested and involved in science.

The biggest change that needs to be made is for scientists and science communicators to let go of some of their power and participate with specific groups (e.g. policy makers, business leaders, farmers, Aboriginal communities, etc) to jointly work with the communities to define and solve the problems that confront them.

This is about letting go of hierarchies of scientific information that elevate disciplinary methods above pedagogies that capture the popular imagination. Children and young people from communities that are educationally disadvantaged perceive early on that science is not for them. They disengage from science education that too often focuses on disciplinary methods and lacks the pedagogical creativity that explores the fantastic, the quirky and phenomena that defies our expectations. They turn away from science education that fails to connect to the everyday issues and struggles faced by communities

We need to respectfully work with communities to pull apart those responses and beliefs that are not based on evidence, remembering that fear and hysteria can be communicated much more easily than logic and reason.

And once we have worked with a community to correctly (in their mind) define problems and identify solutions built around good science and evidence, we need to work with the community to present scientific results in ways that engage those who may be low in scientific literacy.

This sort of engagement will be much more likely to lead to behaviour or policy changes. It will also increase the ability of people to critically review science and science communication and its place in Australia’s culture.

Making it happen

For this to happen, there needs to be greater resources available that allow experimental activities with a high risk of failure. How can you inspire without the possibility of failure?

There needs to be an investment in getting scientists back to the grass roots to rebuild the social contract with their community. If you can’t trust the message or the messenger then there is little positive communication.The authority of the communicator should be grounded / linked to the community’s experience otherwise the legitimacy of the message is diminished

We need to recognise that all knowledge, including Indigenous knowledge, is valuable. We should also recognise that some of this knowledge may not be as effective today in transitioning between different economic and geographic settings as it was in the past.Many of the situations being faced by remote Australians are new to all.Prior knowledge may be useful but new knowledge arises from joint enquiry.

We need to accept that controversy creates energy and excitement and should be embraced rather than avoided.

Australia needs to be proud of its science communicators, and needs to showcase, promote and award successful examples of community engagement with science.

This suggests there is a much more complex skill set required in scientific leaders – community development and participatory research skills are very different from most traditional science based skills.

These skills need to begin with science education in primary school which is traditionally content driven rather than process oriented.

In addition to science communicators we need science interpreters in communities. People who can interpret every day need in scientific terms and present that to the community in terms they can appreciate, value and act on.

Craig Cormick
Craig Cormick

Okay, a very BIG question for all panel streams - are we too distracted by the word 'Science'? Is Science our obsession - and should we rather be talking less about the Process and more about the Endgame, such as:

- Environmental sustainability

- Productive industries

- Better health services

- More informed citizens

- Being healthier, wealthier and wiser etc etc etc?

Vicki Martin
Vicki Martin

Also, has there been much of a discussion around getting a clear definition of 'engagement' in the field of science communication? What do we really mean by it? And how on earth do we measure it so that we know when we're successful? I know other fields are also grappling with a clear definition. It seems to be the latest catchcry in some areas.


Craig Cormick
Craig Cormick

What if we stopped thinking about, or saying, The General Public, and accepted that there were many different publics out there - some of whom are really interested in science, and some of who are only sometimes interested in it, and some who fall asleep when you say the word? And some are only engaged when the topic is of personal interest to them, and some only trust friends and family to tell them about whether a new development is good or worrysome, and some are just too busy trying to get on with their lives to even spare a thought for science and technology issues much?  And when we've done that - have a look at the audience of most science and technology engagement or communication exercises and ask yourself - which part/s of the diverse Australian publics have you actually reached?  I believe we do an awful lot of talking to the already converted and not talking to the others. What do you think?

samaskin
samaskin

I think it not only comes down to who, where and how, but WHAT. Too often when trying to communicate science of any discipline to the wider public, the message falls on deaf ears and glazed eyes because the scientists don't know how their information is received; what is understood and what isn't. There needs to be education for the educators that is prominent and emphasized to make sure that the language and delivery/presentation is received in an understandable way. The opinion, bias and potential misleading information presented by the media needs to be controlled. It's not necessarily the media's fault, rather again, the inability of the expert to communicate the correct emphasis and message to the media.

FizzicsVC
FizzicsVC

I'd be interested in partnered programmes with schools/libraries/galleries etc that have VC capability. Programmes can be extended beyond with good satellite coverage.

Vicki Martin
Vicki Martin

@Craig CormickHi Craig, for me, these "solutions" are far too vague ... I was expecting that we'd come up with answers such as how we can go about understanding communities better, how we can improve credibility and trust, how we go about building relationships, how we can embed science in the broader culture etc.  I was looking for more direction and action, so was disappointed that we didn't get it.  So, my question for you is ... what now?  (And yes, I was there until the end when you and Ana-Maria were discussing action but I still have questions).  Now that we've identified some ideals (I wouldn't call them solutions), I'd like to know who is going to make sure this happens, what are they going to do, and what processes can we use to make sure we keep moving forward so that we don't maintain the status quo.  More of the same is simply not going to increase engagement ... the research tells us that ... and to me, it sounds like it's definitely time to get more social scientists on the case.  By the way, the Summit was a really valuable experience, thank you.  It showed me how far we have yet to go if we truly want to engage ALL Australians. 

Claire Harris
Claire Harris

@Craig Cormick Endgames or outcomes are achieved through decisions and actions influenced by all sorts of things including values and beliefs. What we try and do in the discipline of sci comm is bring to the table what science can contribute to the endgame. Putting the science in the context of these outcomes - yes, makes sense but we are bringing a science hat (albeit a hat connected to policy and other parts of the 'system'). I was on a jury once and I remember saying to a few friends that the courts need law communicators!! It was an interesting experience being part of the legal process, dealing with legal terms etc. and I found it challenging.

Vicki Martin
Vicki Martin

@Craig Cormick Depending on your audience, using the word "Science" can either turn them "off" (eg. when talking to some people about science generally - you can get the glazed eyes, ears shut off, they turn their attention to something else) OR turn people "on" if they are looking for answers to a particular problem (eg. when a particular industry or community needs to work out a way to improve what they are doing and want to be able to back up their decision with a "credible" and independent source of information).  So maybe there's a time and a place for calling it "science" or using another way to describe what we're doing?

sciencerewired
sciencerewired moderator

@Craig Cormick That is a *great* question and observation. We tend to agree the focus should be on the end application rather than the process. Far more benefit driven.

samaskin
samaskin

@Craig Cormick I don't think so. People are aware of what the endgame is (as you described above); they get constant media attention. It's how you get there that is what we are marketing, and that is "Science"! And this is why this is such a brig, ongoing, important, and great discussion. Because it's HOW you get that importance and message behind the process of science across that makes the importance of the endgame more relevant for the end-users.

Melanie McKenzie
Melanie McKenzie

@Vicki Martin Yes! The term "engagement" seems to be a synonym for "communication" for some, whereas other definitions refer to engagement as something at the participatory or "Science and Society" end of the spectrum (indeed, this is what the word itself implies). I think our attempts to use indicators of good communication (one-way and two-way) to measure engagement have been insufficient at best. Would be great to get some clarity around what successful engagement would mean.

Vicki Martin
Vicki Martin

@Craig Cormick I agree, Craig.  We do seem to be really quite good at creating interesting - engaging, even! science communication for those who are already tuned in to science.  Of course, understanding the audience - general public or otherwise - is the starting point to create effective and engaging communication strategies.  We need to get a better handle on what the barriers (and benefits) are to communication with the audience we want to engage.  And if you want to break the General Public down into segments, as some scholars do, being "attentives", "interested", and "non-attentives" (or disinterested), I think the problem with that is people's interest in science can be (as Rob Lamberts put it) fleeting and sporadic.  So - one person could fit any of these categories at different times or for different science topics.  So do we want to increase science engagement broadly (for all areas of science, and to all people in our wider community), or is there value in promoting specific areas of science (in my case, marine science) to specific groups - and what are the reasons for doing this? 

sciencerewired
sciencerewired moderator

@samaskin not sure the media would like being 'controlled' - do you think some form of guideline or closer working relationship between the media and science would benefit the issue here? 

Craig Cormick
Craig Cormick

Vicki, thanks for the comments - yes, one of the outcomes was definitely showing us how far we still have to go, but it is important to try and identify the areas we need to most work on so we can focuss attention on them. It would have been very ambitious to try and solve the problems at the Summit considering we have such a broad community with so many differing and sometimes conflicting perspectives.Just mapping out the diversity of ideas and points of view was something significant - but you raise the relevant question - what we do with that knowledge will be vital.

Vicki Martin
Vicki Martin

@Melanie McKenzie @Jenni Metcalfe

Jenni - thanks for the definitions on the ASC email list.  For those who don't subscribe, I was wondering about the usefulness of the UK's National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement [NCCPE] definition of engagement (see http://www.publicengagement.ac.uk/what): 

"Public engagement describes the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public. Engagement is by definition a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit."

So - interaction and listening are key.  I suspect we could find it useful in some instances to broaden the process to being multi-directional, and multi-channelled, not just a two-way process, depending on how far you want your communication to reach.  By this, I mean making the most of groups informing other groups in their networks, and so on. 

I'd certainly love some more ideas on getting a definition that we can all work with!  

Jenni Metcalfe
Jenni Metcalfe

@Vicki Martin @Craig Cormick so who is the general public???

too many people in my view talk about communicating with the general public without really thinking about who they are!!!

the recent audit of science engagement activities in Australia (funded by Inspiring Australia) found that most people targeted the general public or school children with their activities. There was very little specific targeting of groups like politiicians, business people, farmers, etc

there's also the interesting question about how "publics" are generated by science communication or engagement activities...especially about controversial science

samaskin
samaskin

Misunderstanding. Not saying the media itself needs to be controlled, they are of course paramount the projection of science to the public. What needs control is the information they are given and how it is given to ensure that quotes can't be taken out of context, stories and emphasis can't be altered to appear more "interesting" to the public. The scientists need to know how to tell the story of their own science so that the media not only understands when receiving the story, but can easily transfer that story to the public without their own spin.

Vicki Martin
Vicki Martin

@Craig Cormick Yes - I realise I came to this conversation as a researcher, having spent the last three months (and still continuing) getting up to speed with where science communication research is at.  Unfortunately, I assumed most science communicators were operating with the same knowledge, so I thought the discussions we were having were going to be more inline with the discipline of science communication, and therefore able to work out tangible solutions that would progress practice.  So now I'm really looking forward to more conversations about realistic solutions we can work on in the near future, and the many ways that research can help!

Vicki Martin
Vicki Martin

@Wendy Russell Thanks Wendy - that's also really helpful.  I hope to talk to you about this some more at the Summit.   

Wendy Russell
Wendy Russell

@Vicki Martin @Melanie McKenzie @Jenni Metcalfe My impression is that there are two different types of engagement that are being discussed here, in the Summit and within Inspiring Australia. They are often presented as a spectrum, and I have done that myself, but I think it might be useful to consider them as two different things (a true dichotomy!).

1.engagement with science

2.engagement about science

Inspiring Australia is largely focussed on engagement with science, and this is where the marketing and message and outreach fit in. When we think about the public as audience, when we focus on what effects our activities have out in the community, when we are working to create a scientifically engaged populace, when we are telling people about science, teaching them about it, inspiring them in it – this is engagement with science.

Lewenstein is referring to engagement about science, as is STEP (Science & Technology Engagement Pathways), the engagement framework developed under the National Enabling Technologies Strategy.

Engagement about science is when we are focused on the public as stakeholders in scientific and technological development, when we focus on what effects our activities have on decision making, when we are working to create a democratically engaged science and technology system, when we are asking people about science and seeking their advice.

Our definition of engagement in STEP is:

Engagement is a process that involves sharing information and perspectives, dialogue about issues of mutual concern, and action resulting from new understandings of the issue.

The ‘two-way’ refers not only to information flows (we listen as well as speak) but also to the impact of the engagement - both parties benefit and act based on the engagement. The action may not be immediate, and may result from new understandings or opinions, but this is engagement that ‘makes a difference’ on both sides.

Vicki Martin
Vicki Martin

@Melanie McKenzie@Vicki Martin@Jenni Metcalfe

Thanks Melanie.  I like your breakdown, and I think there is a time and a place for all of these methods.  The term engagement is still likely to have quite a broad range of meaning.  For example, we might say that we are engaging the "education" (school kids) audience when we get them to come and have a hands-on experience at a science lab - and maybe assist with an experiment or two, but not really make any decisions about the research.  This is then quite different to the other end of the definition, where we talk about the participatory model and the audience becomes part of the process itself (similar to what Lewenstein was saying) - so we might see a particular audience (say, industry or a particular community) helping to decide what research needs to be done, how to go about it, being involved with the data collection and feedback, then uptaking the science and using it to inform the direction they take in their business or community decision-making.  If this is the case, then we need to incorporate this breadth of meaning in our definition.

Melanie McKenzie
Melanie McKenzie

@Vicki Martin @Melanie McKenzie @Jenni Metcalfe There's also Lewenstein (2003):

"Because of the importance of social trust as an issue in policy disputes about scientific and technical issues, a "public participation" or "public engagement" model has emerged, focusing on a series of activities intended to enhance public participation and hence trust in science policy. These activities include consensus conferences, citizen juries, deliberative technology assessments, science shops, deliberative polling, and other techniques [46-49]. The public participation activities can be driven by a commitment to "democratizing" science – taking control of science from elite scientists and politicians and giving it to public groups through some form of empowerment and political engagement [50]"

The above definition implies something more than a two-way process. Isn't that just PUS?

 

samaskin
samaskin

@Vicki Martin @Craig Cormick This is a really interesting conversation and one that I think needs the emphasis being discussed here. "The public" are such a diverse group that you can't target everyone for all of the reasons listed above. How about a bit of a different angle; without sidetracking the conversation too much, maybe consider "Science" as a brand (or your stream of science). You need to market this, not just communicate it. If Nike just told "everyone" that their shoes were good an went into analysing the highly specific details behind the make-up of their shoes, would they be as popular/well-known etc.? They break down the research behind their products into understandable and relatable concepts and marketing. They know their target audiences, and they market to them specifically and individually.

Obviously we as scientists don't have Nike's budgets or staff, but the concepts remain the same. If I am working in vaccines (a hot topic right now) for example, I would be much better off targeting those in the demographic of young adults to middle-aged (when you have a family), and take into account areas where the vaccine rate is low etc. etc.

So you have your demographic, then you "market" (engage) your target audience with your "product" (research/science information/blog etc.). If you can't sell it to the target demographic, you are fighting a lost cause anyway. Everyone will have their own interest and as mentioned these may be sporadic, so you need to make sure that core message and marketing strategy is present for when the members of that demographic sit up and take notice for 5 minutes


Long-winded dorry, but hopefully communicated well enough to get my point

Vicki Martin
Vicki Martin

@Craig Cormick Thanks Craig - that's exactly why I want to do research on the audience for marine science!  So we can get a better understanding of who they are, their communication needs, the barriers to communication, and how we can overcome these barriers by creating more effective and engaging communication strategies that will, at the end the of the day, help us to track our progress and determine whether or not our strategy was successful.  But first, we really need to work out what we mean by engagement (see the comments above).  After that, I can start working on who we mean by "audience"...

Craig Cormick
Craig Cormick

(Author warning: mixed metaphors ahead)  I think science communicators are great at doing the front end work on their messages/activities/engagements/etc and sending our precious creations out into the world, but we don't then do much in the way of effectively tracking them and finding what impact they have, or don't have, on different audiences, nor how they create and define different audiences - if we were to release a new chemical into the environment we'd be tracking it for impacts and what paths it took and so on - but we tend to send our carrier pigeons into the world untagged, un-tracked and then get really happy when one returns to us, without wondering where the ones that didn't return got to.

LeeHarrison
LeeHarrison

@Jenni Metcalfe @Vicki Martin @Craig Cormick Wouldn't one expect specific targeting of politicians/business/farmers/etc to be a much smaller slice of the engagement-activity pie? They are, after all, a much smaller demographic than 'general public'. I agree that targeted outreach to these groups can be important but it's going to depend on the purpose of the outreach (I can't see too much point in general science communication to politicians without an issue and a goal to frame it, for example).

samaskin
samaskin

To a degree yes, media training is critical. But so is training of the scientists. The jargon and scientific terms can be a whole other language to media or the public in some cases, and you can't expect the media to develop an expertise in understanding this across multiple fields. So it's just as important to train the scientists to communicate to the target audience. This way, the media or public won't just grasp the aspects they understand which ultimately may result in an inaccurate message being conveyed.

sciencerewired
sciencerewired moderator

@samaskin so the issue here would be media related training, or rather, the lack of it as part of science communication process/education etc

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