By Michael Creek
The field of science communication is going through some deep reflection on what it means to practitioners to embed a global perspective in their work. The GlobalSCAPE Final Event brought together professionals from across research and practice to explore how the project’s approach is helping us to challenge our assumptions in connecting the global with the local.
Science communicators face massive challenges in Europe and across the world. These challenges are clear in the content of our work: key international issues around science and research such as the climate emergency and energy crisis. But the global nature of these challenges also raises questions about how we engage our audiences from a global perspective. This was the starting point of the GlobalSCAPE project and at its recent Final Event we had a chance to explore them in more depth with a range of international speakers both online and in person in a series of participatory panels. Policymakers, researchers and science communicators from across the world came together to discuss the impact of GlobalSCAPE for the transformation that is needed in our field.
Stronger dialogues and partnerships
Opening words came from Dr. Joseph Roche of Trinity College Dublin, the project coordinator of GlobalSCAPE, who set the scene by highlighting the opportunity for inclusion that the project was able to seize in terms of exploring science communication from a global perspective. “For GlobalSCAPE we thought, if we are looking at science communication, which is a global practice, we have to try to hear from the so-called lesser-heard voices.” Catherine Franche, Executive Director of Ecsite, the European Network of Science Centres and Museums, followed up by discussing the work of science centres and museums who regularly come together at international level to reflect on their field as practitioners of science communication. Ecsite was a GlobalSCAPE partner as well as hosting the final event. Catherine Franche emphasised the importance of international cooperation for European institutions like Ecsite members: “Global is a strong word. It points to our responsibility as science communicators to address global issues. We need stronger dialogues and partnerships but also new competencies and a much deeper connection between academics and practitioners.”
A need for systemic change
Our first three speakers were all members of the GlobalSCAPE Advisory board. They set out by exploring in depth some of the issues the GlobalSCAPE project tackled, from their perspective as members of the project’s expert advisory panel. First, Dr. Marina Joubert joined us from Stellenbosch University in South Africa to make the case for why systemic changes and new approaches are needed in our science communication work. She described the challenges we face in terms of politicisation of science, evolving communication ecosystems, misinformation and the need for equity and inclusion. These challenges call for science to be more open and embedded in societal needs and values. Academia has long acknowledged the democratic need to engage the public: “People have the democratic right to know and participate in science. There are moral obligations.” But she also highlighted “real-world” motivations for engagement: the need to help people prepare for the future and cope with a changing world in a way, and the importance of making science more diverse and inclusive.
Dialogue not deficit
Recognising these motivations for science engagement was just the first of several necessary key systemic changes that Marina Joubert described in her talk. She discussed the importance of dialogue: “The problem with the deficit model of science communication is not that we give people information. The problem is that we assume that they will simply accept it and any opposition they might have towards science will just disappear.” Emotional connections are key to engaging the public: “Connecting with your audience on an emotional level has really been proven to be a key part of science communication. What we need for people to trust science and engage with us is warmth.” Projects like GlobalSCAPE that link research and practice are essential in helping these changes take hold across our field.
”Connecting with your audience on an emotional level has really been proven to be a key part of science communication. What we need for people to trust science and engage with us is warmth.Dr. Marina JoubertStellenbosch University
”In my outreach work, if I use material that is not local, it doesn’t make sense to them. It might be a nice show but they don’t stay connected.Samir DhurdeInter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics
Keeping outreach low-cost and local
Our next speaker came with insight on how approaches from outside Europe can inform our practices as a global science communication community. Samir Dhurde of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune, India runs a public outreach programme with an incredible impact despite limited resources. “Outreach is not something that we do only to inform and explain our work, but also to inspire and elevate the next generation’s achievements.” While India has more than a thousand science centres, many people live out of reach of conventional science communication activities. “The generation we are talking about lives in very remote places and can be economically challenged.” Low-cost solutions are crucial, using material that can be found locally. “In my outreach work, if I use material that is not local, it doesn’t make sense to them. It might be a nice show but they don’t stay connected.” He used the example of Zero Shadow Day where a simple tube could demonstrate a complex astronomical principle using low-cost material that could easily be found locally. One key point Samir Dhurde mentioned was the importance of local expertise in developing science communication activities. By listening to and working closely with an individual that is part of a local community, we can adapt our work to people’s needs and values and have a more sustainable impact.
Embedding inclusive practices
Diversity and inclusion strategist Lenna Cumberbatch focused on what we mean when we talk about diversity, equality, equity and inclusion, and the wide range of movements and concepts that our understanding draws on. She looked at the motivations behind inclusion, going beyond the business and moral cases to a focus on integrity, embedding equity as part of our values. We need to acknowledge where we are in the process: are we truly innovative, or are we just ticking boxes? “Being innovative or cutting edge means regularly revisiting and implementing new, ambitious initiatives. But that requires investment and capacity.” She explained how SMART objectives for dialogue can help us embed inclusive practices in our science communication work: “An objective that you want to achieve needs times, dates and specific measurements to make it happen.” Participants at the event shared what they are doing to work towards equity in their practices, including how they shape their work around local cultural contexts, take creative approaches and adapt messages by listening to participants.
”Being innovative or cutting edge means regularly revisiting and implementing new, ambitious initiatives. But that requires investment and capacity.Lenna CumberbatchDirector, Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Change
Knowledge sharing is key
An interactive co-creation session followed where Dr. Joseph Roche and Aoife Taylor of Trinity College Dublin led us through some of the GlobalSCAPE outcomes in terms of policy recommendations and to help build on them, drew on the wisdom of crowds: in this case, the participants at the final event themselves. At the heart of the recommendations were four key topics: equity, openness, sustainability and innovation. The outcomes of the GlobalSCAPE project clearly underline a need to amplify lesser-heard voices through inclusive practices as the morning’s sessions demonstrated. Knowledge sharing is key to capitalise on these practices, working to spread them throughout the field. A European Competence Centre for Science Communication must be built, and advocacy for political support at all levels will be sought.
Building a European SciComm Centre
Feedback from participants on these recommendations was loud and clear. The need for knowledge sharing was ranked highest priority according to the audience at the final event, with participants seeking to define “excellence” in a way that does not perpetuate inequalities. A need was expressed for more international dialogue in our field, particularly in terms of listening to practitioners in the Global South. Our participants would like to see a European Science Communication Centre as a hub for the many existing projects and initiatives that establishes a solid and sustainable network.
A global first for our field
A rapid-fire session took us through the many outcomes of the GlobalSCAPE project itself. GlobalSCAPE centred around a one-year diary study which captured the needs and challenges of science communication practitioners across the world, reflecting critically on the work we are doing. It went beyond the usual suspects, engaging lesser-heard voices not just as a one-off interview but reflecting over time – the first time such a broad study had been conducted in this way for our field. Over 900 people participated in the year and the retention rate was over 80%, with early results showing that the method has real potential to be carried out even further. Harry Shirley of Springer Nature described the workshops that were held online and on all continents for science communication professionals throughout the project, training them to bring the global perspective into their own local contexts. These workshops are complemented with open access training materials described by Jon Chase of Leiden University, Netherlands, who is developing material around the topics of “glocalisation” and the importance of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) in science communication. Luisa Massarani of SciDev.net took us through how GlobalSCAPE worked with the Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) Teaching Forum to map teaching programmes across the globe. A GlobalSCAPE mobility scheme for practitioners was also a great way to help build capacity, as Clara Boissenin and Marie Couëdic of Ecsite explained while sharing some tips about organising financial support programmes.
Discussion turned to life after GlobalSCAPE: what comes next for the movement towards a global perspective? For Harry Shirley, GlobalSCAPE demonstrated researchers’ appetite to integrate a global perspective: “the desire to learn more about how to be good science communicators in the modern world.” Samir Dhurde was emphatic about the need to work to involve people from local communities in science communication dialogue more broadly: “There is a lot of potential to encourage and support a lot more people. There are many unsung heroes doing this work. The presence of a local person can really change the perspective of participants.” Summarising his thoughts, Jon Chase painted a clear picture of the value of networks for knowledge sharing: “I think being able to learn from things that are being done in India, Japan, Estonia, to learn about the real struggles people are having at a global level, is the really important thing.”
The road ahead
On behalf of GlobalSCAPE coordinators Trinity College Dublin, Aoife Taylor thanked all participants both in the final event and across the project. She underlined the key opportunities for the project’s legacy to be continued, not least in the forthcoming Horizon Europe project COALESCE which will build a European competence centre for science communication. While GlobalSCAPE is coming to an end, our international community of science communicators’ work to rethink their practices through a global lens has only just begun.