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This article describes an example of science engagement striving for social justice by invigorating neglected spaces. The pop-up science centre “Knowledge◦Room“ in Vienna encourages learning, participation and engagement and provides accessibility to different groups regardless of their background. Based on a case-study of a bottom-up event at the Knowledge◦Room, we show how science communication can create a trust-based connection with disadvantaged groups in society and inspire their curiosity in science. We argue that science communication can be used as a tool for advancing social justice in the wider sense and facilitate encounters between diverse groups within society.
Socially inclusive science communication has to take place where people spend most of their time — within their communities. The concept of knowledge◦rooms uses empty shops in socially disadvantaged urban areas for offering low-threshold, interactive science center activities. The commentary carves out essential features that contributed to the success of the pilot project. Most importantly, the knowledge◦rooms had to be welcoming and comfortable for visitors of various backgrounds. The spaces were easy to access, the initiators were seen as trustworthy actors by temporarily becoming part of the community and the offer was respectful of the time and knowledge of its users.
Barbara Streicher is the executive manager of the Austrian Science Center Netzwerk, a network grouping over ninety Austrian institutions committed to science communication activities. Barbara used discussion games on many different occasions, all of which were outside a museum, and took place in places such as cafés, libraries, schools, but also shelters for homeless people and prisons. The communication exchange among participants always proved to be very open and respectful at the same time, even when the topics dealt with were especially sensitive and in social distress conditions. The game experiences were generally positive, whatever the places they were set in. The negative aspects are totally irrelevant and basically concern the time limitation and, in some cases, language difficulties. However, in her experience, there is still not an involvement of decision makers, and therefore it can be said that participation games are a way to help people form an opinion on controversial issues rather than an instrument with an impact on democratic governance.