All author's publications are listed below.
Science communication research and education programmes worldwide exhibit notable differences as well as similarities. In this essay the authors claim that this diversity is not a problem. They argue that universities can contribute well to the science communication field, theoretically and in practice, if they invest in building collaborations and make use of the ‘networked pattern’ connecting various actors, contexts and contents. As critical nodes in the networks, universities can enable practitioners to deliver real-life cases, students to participate to find solutions and researchers to investigate and explain. Universities can also prepare their students and (future) practitioners for lifelong learning in the dynamic context of science communication, helping them to become adaptive experts. These two aspects will be illustrated in the case study of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.
Differences in viewpoints between science and society, like in for example the HPV-vaccination debate, should be considered from a socio-technical system perspective, and not solely from a boundary perspective between the lay public, medical doctors and scientists. Recent developments in the HPV-vaccination case show how the debate concerning uncertainty amongst scientists and the lay audience is mostly focussed on the improvement of understanding of lay people about why vaccination is important. This boundary thinking leads to the idea that once the boundary is crossed, the problem is solved. However, such ‘bug-fixing’ and technocentric boundary thinking is not leading to sustainable resolutions. We view science communication as a key aspect of the socio-technical system of scientific, technological and innovation development, in which the vaccine and its corresponding immunisation program are socially constructed. A process of construction that takes place all the way from the fuzzy front-end of their scientific conception until the marketing back-end. The authority, legitimacy and therefore the license to operate of scientists, engineers and policy makers are discussed, primarily at this boundary, but develops during the whole process of innovation. During upstream processes, professional roles and according behaviour are also defined.
In this commentary we state that the development of science communication strategies should also start upstream, and that the ‘bug-fixes’ of improved listening to (and not by) the lay audience, could be become a more sustainable solution to the HPV-debate if this process of listening by experts considers the socio-technical system of vaccination as a whole. One of the outcomes might be that the dialogue between scientists, policy makers and the lay audience is about the various possible scenarios that deal with inherent scientific and societal uncertainty in which the inevitable uncertainty of science becomes more explicit. It is not known according whether this will lead to more profound interactions, however we would like to explore this possibility a bit more from an uncertain innovation process point of view. This could clear the way for a process of co-inquiry into ideas concerning shared responsibility and accountability. The latter means that the focus in the debate is more balanced and concerns the social network, and is not purely focussed on the betterment ofunderstanding by the lay audience. Moreover, in this way we consider communication and interaction between actors not as a means of crossing any boundaries (since that may be impossible), but as a means to perturb a status quo or equilibrium within a network of actors. This makes apparent boundaries more explicit and discussable. Methods of interaction, e.g. based on concepts like midstream modulation, may lead to another discourse and give way to new dynamics in this social system.
Much of science communication is peer-to-peer communication in collaborative networks for innovation from the fuzzy front-end of innovation until the marketing back-end. Scientists and engineers at meetings tables talking about new developments. Or scientists and engineers in collaboration with industry and policy makers, discussing various scenarios for implementation of e.g. health care services. However, this focus on science communication 'within the action' of uncertain development of science and technology and its attached academic domains such as innovation studies, high-tech marketing and branding, is not often discussed in the science communication literature. Lacking these considerations at this micro-level communication, means we have an incomplete picture of the ways that discourses develop and are shaped by actors, particularly during the upstream phases of innovation.
In considering the ethos of science, Robert Merton  posited that openness and secrecy reflect opposing values in the accomplishment of science. According to Merton, scientific inquiry required that all interested parties have access to and freely share scientific information. In our current epoch, this importance of openness in science seems even more widely accepted. It is a given nowadays that scientists are expected to work as part of a team, not only within their own department, but also with other departments different disciplines. To work interdisciplinary scientists must become more communicative and critically talk about difference, which asks maximum transparency and open communication of the participants. However, against the adage that openness and participation in science is an inherent good, one easily forgets that the actual practice of collaborating may also require things are not said. Navigating everyday interactional challenges may depend on postponing issues to keep the process going, for instance because scientists still have to figure out what they find important in the collaboration with others. But also issues like, withholding sensitive problems or not critiquing each other's options viewpoints, leaving points shrewdly of the agenda, and excluding relevant actors from the meeting table. Despite the idea of open innovation, shared visions, beliefs and knowledge we must focus on silence for the good and the bad as well.
After the first paradigm shift from the deficit model to two-way communication, the field of science communication is in need of a second paradigm shift. This second shift sees communication as an inherently distributed element in the socio-technical system of science and technology development. Science communication is understood both from a systems perspective and its consecutive parts, in order to get a grip on the complex and dynamic reality of science, technology development and innovation in which scientists, industrial and governmental partners and the lay public collaborate. This essay reflects on the under-development of system thinking in science communication and the need to fix this. Legitimation for the second paradigm shift is found in the ‘crisis in social sciences’ that has led to a revival of system theory to balance the deterministic thinking in our grounding discipline. This essay concludes with the idea of a ‘Communication for Innovation-Lab’ as an experimental setting in which whole/part thinking in science communication can be shaped according to this second paradigm shift, forming seed crystals for future developments.
Science communication processes are complex and uncertain. Designing and managing these processes using a step-by-step approach, allows those with science communication responsibility to manoeuvre between moral or normative issues, practical experiences, empirical data and theoretical foundations. The tool described in this study is an evidence-based questionnaire, tested in practice for feasibility. The key element of this decision aid is a challenge to the science communication practitioners to reflect on their attitudes, knowledge, reasoning and decision-making in a step-by-step manner to question the aim, function and impact of each issue and attendant communication process or strategy. This approach eventually leads to more professional science communication processes by systematic design. The Design-Based Research (DBR) derived from science education and applied in this study, may form a new methodology for further exploration of the gap between theory and practice in science communication and. Practitioners, scholars, and researchers all participate actively in DBR.