All author's publications are listed below.
This commentary seeks to spark further discussion on the continuing professional development in science communication, presenting comments from practitioners who were asked to reflect on the competences and skills their profession requires, and to envisage what kind of training might provide them. This introduction presents some common issues that emerge within the comments: the necessity to face rapidly evolving professional landscapes, to answer to new missions and roles, to consider the growing impact and potential of new technologies. Alternative training methods are also discussed.
The design, delivery and evaluation of JCOM Masterclasses has given us the opportunity to reflect on the audiences, training needs and training schemes available to people working at different levels and in different contexts to communicate STEM subjects to a diverse variety of people. Although not always widely available, short courses in the communication of science have been offered in a number of countries around the world over the past few years. We felt it is now time to open a discussion on the rationale, the methods and the objectives of such training programmes.
This issue sees the implementation of new designs for the JCOM website and articles and there are plans for further updates over the next year. In a recent survey, we have explored readers opinions of the journal with a view to introducing improvements. Your interests are diverse, which is not surprising for a field which ranges from books and print media, to museums and interactive technologies. We are also reviewing our peer review process to ensure that it meets the needs of our authors.
In the last two years SISSA Medialab designed, tested and evaluated two projects aiming at empowering children (in one case) and teenagers (in the other) to act as science journalists in order to promote a personal, critical attitude towards science and technology. The two groups produced a paper magazine and a blog, respectively, in a participatory process, in which adults acted as facilitators and experts on demand, but the youths were the leaders and owners of the products. Special care was taken to ensure inclusiveness, by involving in the project children and teenagers from any social class including those not especially interested in science and technology before participating in the project.
Many science communication activities identify children as their main target. There are several reasons for this, even if, quite often, they are not expressed explicitly, as if children were a somehow “natural” public for science. On the contrary, we can observe a high level of complexity in the children agenda to engage with science, and in the science institution agendas for targeting children. But this does not seem to be followed but the same level of complexity in devising science engagement activities for children. The profound transformation of the scope and understanding of science communication that we have observed in recent years, in which keywords as dialogue, participation and empowerment have become essential, has only partially touched the younger public, which remains in most cases considered as a spectator for science.
Around the world there are widespread efforts to ensure that policy decisions are based upon a sound evidence base, and in particular to facilitate closer integration between the research and policy communities. This commentary provides an overview of the current situation in different parts of the world relating to the opportunities that exist for policy makers to assimilate scientific findings, as well as the existing barriers perceived by both the policy and research communities. Mutual trust and respect between the relevant parties emerge as crucial factors in successful collaboration. Skilled mediators are also considered essential to ensuring effective communication; this may be via third parties such as NGOs, or news services and online portals to convey, ‘translate’ and place in a policy context the scientific findings. Mechanisms for improving researchers’ communication skills as well as increasing their awareness of the need to communicate proactively with the policy community are also considered in order to inform future practice in this area.
The SCOOP project aimed to maximise the potential for the transfer of research findings into policy using European-funded socio-economic sciences and humanities research. The project incorporated a News Alert Service to communicate policy-relevant elements of research findings to interested stakeholders. It also sought to further develop the skills of researchers to effectively communicate research outcomes to policy makers through a programme of Masterclasses. A series of evaluation surveys were held to both tailor the project outputs to the target audiences, and to measure the impact of project actions on the interactions between SSH researchers and policy makers. Both SCOOP elements were well received, with evidence of improved communication, utilisation of SSH research by policy makers, and greater awareness and proactivity on the part of the researchers. More generally, interviews and questionnaire findings demonstrated that mediators play a crucial role: various intermediaries and interpreters work between policy makers and researchers to put in context the research outcomes and convey information through dedicated channels and formalised processes as well as informal, fluid processes.
Luckily enough, more democracy is always called for. Even in countries that can truly be described as democratic. And democracy (which is a constant reference in these pages) is increasingly related to knowledge, be it about whether growing GMOs, starting nuclear energy production or allowing the choice of a child’s gender through IVF techniques. The need to make democratic decisions on controversial issues, which increasingly imply scientific and technological knowledge, comes from the bottom, as citizens voice – sometimes even vehemently – the desire to express themselves.
In January this year, the US saw the publication of the preview of an impressive review work on the practices and the studies concerning learning science outside schools and universities, i.e. what is referred to as informal education. The document, promoted by the National Science Council of scientific academies (National Academy of Science, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine), is the result of the work by a committee comprising 14 specialists who collected, discussed and then organized hundreds of documents on pedagogical premises, places, practices and pursuits concerning scientific informal education. Nobody doubts that museums, magazines, after-school activities, science festivals and any other science communication offers have a positive impact on the people’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviours. But what do we really know about what actually happens in these experiences? What sense should be given to the word “learning” in these cases? Do the different communication tools or environments have also a different impact? What factors make them more or less effective? These are the main questions the document wants to answer, carefully evaluating the present state of the art.
The initiatives focusing the professional development of explainers are multiplying around the world, building an informal network of researchers, museums managers and directors, explainers, and regional/continental networks, as THE group, the Thematic Human Interface and Explainers group of Ecsite.The Workshop Sul-Americano de Mediação em Museus e Centros de Ciência e Escola de Mediação em Museus e Centros de Ciência, which took place in Rio de Janeiro in September 2008, was a further important step along this path. We believe it is worthwhile to offer to Jcom readers some of the workshop contributions concerning the training of explainers, to which we added an overview of the general problem presented by Lynn Uyen Tran (Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley).