The changing science communication landscape
The COVID-19 pandemic showed that constructive interactions between science and society are not straightforward. Digital communication platforms have revolutionised the ways in which scientists, R&I stakeholders and a variety of publics communicate and interact. Scientists and citizens now generate and disseminate (scientific) information themselves and are able to interact in a direct manner. Online, everyone seems to be an expert on the COVID-19 pandemic. Scientists are often looked at to provide the answers, but are not always capable of doing this – for ‘doing science’ involves accepting some level of uncertainty. Moreover, public conversations about the pandemic entail not only a wide diversity of scientific disciplines, but also involve cultural, political, societal, economic and ethical dimensions.
Science communication practitioners, originally the ‘gatekeepers’ responsible for checking the quality of information that entered the public sphere, cannot keep up checking the current flow of information that is placed on digital platforms. Instead, new roles and repertoires that facilitate open and reflective conversations about science should be explored. Moreover, the complexity of the pandemic, uncertainty, and overload of information presented online has placed a spotlight on the ways in which individuals make sense of science. How can science communication practitioners adapt to the reality of citizens’ sensemaking practices, in order to support a constructive dialogue on science?
Our aim: Facilitating constructive science-society interactions
The RETHINK project aspires to rethink science communication, both its theory and practice, to accommodate for the major challenges to individual and collective sensemaking processes of citizens on science. We do this by:
- MAPPING – Drawing the current science communication ecosystem, in terms of old and new actors, their deployed and desired roles and repertoires, with a focus on hard-to-reach audiences;
- SENSEMAKING – Exploring the individual and collective sensemaking practices of citizens across Europe on the COVID-19 pandemic;
- TRAINING – Developing training resources and education materials that enable science communication practitioners to navigate through this changed and digitised science communication ecosystem.
With this, the overarching goal of RETHINK is to contribute to making the European science communication ecosystem more open, inclusive, reflexive and adaptive – and therewith establish constructive interactions between science and society.
Our approach: Rethinkerspaces
The RETHINK project has established so-called ‘Rethinkerspaces’ in 7 countries across Europe. These are local communities of practice, integrating scholarly and practical expertise, and involves experimentation with good practices and newly developed approaches in communicating science. The Rethinkerspaces bring organisations together, ranging from academia to science centres, from media to technology assessment and a European Sounding Board that league very different backgrounds and areas of expertise. With this, the RETHINK project not only aims to research but also transform the current science communication ecosystem.
Lessons and outcomes
We have mapped current science communication activities across Europe, and gained insights into challenges practitioners encounter and the perspective they have on their changed role. Next, we have conducted a study into sensemaking practices with citizens during the first wave of the pandemic. This study showed that the ways in which citizens make sense of science is highly personal and contextualised, and only little refers to actual science communication output. We believe that our insights into sensemaking practices of citizens help in enabling a reflexive practice for science communicators and other part-takers in public discussions on science. We synthesise our findings into training resources for professional science communicators, education materials, and policy recommendations.
More details about the project outcomes can be found in our deliverables.