Inclusion, reflection and co-creation: responsible science communication across the globe

Science communication is at the heart of many of the challenges our societies face today. At the same time, on-going changes in the relationship between science and society and the digitalisation of society can make science communication itself into a complex challenge.

How can science communication adapt to an ever-changing landscape and take on new roles? In this issue we explore the potential of ‘responsible science communication’ to support and develop meaningful, open and trustworthy relationships between science and society. We present a selection of papers that review three crucial dimensions of ‘responsible science communication: reflexivity, inclusivity and co-creation’. Integrating theory and practice, this issue advocates that researchers and practitioners should be mindful of these dimensions to create meaningful conversations about science and our future.

The special issue tackles the concept of ‘responsible science communication’ in light of the complex challenges of the current science communication landscape. From an RRI perspective, these challenges require an active participation of research and innovation actors in communication processes around research and innovation, now and in the future.

Furthermore, it requires these processes to be reflexive, in terms of the critical reflection of individuals and institutions, ‘holding a mirror up to one’s own activities, commitments and assumptions’ [Stilgoe, Owen and Macnaghten, 2013], and inclusive, in terms of the early and active engagement of a wide range of actors and stakeholders to take their needs and concerns into account from start to finish.

Increasingly, co-creation is recognized as a suitable approach to operationalize these dimensions of RRI. Five contributions to this special issue highlight these three aspects of ‘responsible science communication’: inclusivity, reflexivity and co-creation. We have invited the authors to explore these notions particularly by reflecting on science communication practices. For the commentary section of this special issue, we have invited authors to reflect on the notion of ‘responsible science communication’ from the perspective of different regions of the world.

You can find all the papers of the Special Issue HERE.

RETHINK-TRESCA Final Event: Connections, Conversations and Science Communication

The future of public trust in times of uncertainty

Monday 21st and Tuesday 22nd March 2022 | Online

Register now – participation is free of charge.

While science communication may be more important than ever, it is also more challenging. We live in a time of uncertainty that challenges established relationships between science, media, publics and politics. Science is openly contested in the public arena by actors that at best raise doubt and at worst respond antagonistically to scientific practice. Efforts to shift towards a new science communication ecosystem, one that is more adaptive and at the same time reliable and trustworthy, have been at the heart of both the RETHINK and TRESCA project.

This final conference culminates the efforts of these projects to highlight ongoing conversations between scientists, policy makers, media and science communication practitioners and a variety of publics. The conference focuses on how we can strengthen the connections between various stakeholders and publics in order to more effectively respond to current and future uncertainties. We look towards a future in which science becomes more a point of connection than one of polarisation. In a series of keynotes, panels, and engaging conversations, we will discuss and co-create how science communication as a practice can build towards public trust – by making new connections and shaping the conversations that matter.

Participation is free of charge. Register now to join us.

Day 1, 21st March 2022, 13:30 – 17:00 CET | Online

  • Chair: Jason Pridmore, Erasmus University Rotterdam, NL
  • Keynote speaker: Deborah Blum, Director, Knight Science Journalism Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “Journalism in the Age of Mistrust: Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic”
  • Panel 1: Forging connections with new audiences in times of polarisation and misinformation
    • Moderator: Emma Weitkamp, University of the West of England, UK
    • Andy Ridgway, University of the West of England, UK
    • Vanessa Mignan Jenkins, Independent consultant and trainer, FR
    • Sara Degli Esposti, Spanish National Research Council, ES
    • Annette Leßmöllmann, Karlsruhe Institute for Technology, DE
  • Panel 2: #LegitScience: challenges and opportunities in doing effective science communication on social media
    • Moderator, Diane Jeanblanc, Science|Business, BE
    • Jing Zeng, University of Zurich, CH
    • Lizzy Steib, Kurzgesagt, DE
  • Fireside chat: Michael Arentoft, DG Research, European Commission

Day 2, 22nd March 2022, 9:30 – 13:30 CET | Online

  • Chair: Frank Kupper, VU Amsterdam, NL
  • Keynote speaker: Dr. Elizabeth Rasekoala, President, African Gong – The Pan African Network for the Popularization of Science & Technology and Science Communication: “Rethinking public trust in science communication: paradigm shifts in transformation, reflection and practice”
  • Panel 3: Transformation and reflection: how can reflective practice help us adapt to current complexities?
    • Moderator: Frank Kupper, VU Amsterdam, NL
    • Tessa Roedema, VU Amsterdam, NL
    • Elisabetta Tola, Formicablu, IT
    • Joseph Roche, Trinity College Dublin, IE
  • Panel 4: The future of public trust: what role for policy?
    • Moderator: Pamela Bartar, Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI), AT
    • Peter Hylgard, Danish Board of Technology, DK
    • Birte Fähnrich, German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, DE
    • Gabor Szüdi, Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI), AT

RETHINK science communication and journalism Winter School 2022

Are you interested to learn more about communicating science in relation to complex social issues? Do you want to challenge your assumptions, make new connections and contribute to open and trustworthy public conversations about science? Are you looking to increase your reach and impact? Then this science communication and journalism online Winter School is a great opportunity for you.

From 23 to 25 February 2022, the RETHINK project will organise a winter school for early career researchers, journalists, policy-makers, community leaders and all other agents of change who want to learn about communicating science in relation to complex social issues.

Over the span of three days, you will take different perspectives on these issues and the role of science communication and journalism. You will reflect on your own practice and discover the power of openness and reflexivity in public dialogue. Together with your fellow participants you will apply your insights into a high-quality product to open up your own communicative practice.

Note: Because of the measures around COVID-19, the Winter School will take place completely online.

Deadline for registration: 31 January 2022

Further information on the programme and registration are available on our partner’s website ECSITE.

Three insights for science writers from the Covid-19 pandemic

Reflections from Andy Ridgway, Senior Lecturer in Science Communication, University of the West of England and RETHINK principal investigator

We’ve all been presented with difficult conundrums at some stage during the pandemic. Should I go to that Christmas party? Should I go to the pub when I know it might be packed? I really need a holiday, but do I run the risk of getting stuck abroad with a positive Covid test?

Within the RETHINK science communication research project we’ve been trying to unpick how people make decisions when they are faced with these continuing questions and uncertainties during the pandemic. What do they think about, what do they read and who do they listen to? This research into people’s ‘sense-making practices’ as they are described has provided some useful insights for science writers – but it’s also thrown up a thorny question.

Read the full article on the Association of British Science Writers’ website.

#2 Jcom Special Issue on Responsible Science Communication across the globe: work in progress

Science communication continues to develop and change, as a discipline,  practice and professional career path, with significant growth in both professional practice and academic study.   Changes in the relationships between science and society and its increasing inclusion in official discourses have opened new  opportunities for dialogue and collaboration. At the same time, this may have produced challenges for the authority of science, which can be openly contested, negotiated and transformed in public arenas.

This transformation of the relationships between science and society has been fundamentally intensified by the digitalization of the media landscape. New media have increased the diversity of actors using, sharing and generating science content, their communication practices and the strategies they use.   Even though we witness a significant rise in the quantity of science communication circulating in all kinds of media – traditional/ new, mediated/ unmediated, we also acknowledge the major challenges the above mentioned developments pose for science communication.   Within this background, RETHINK’s overall objective is to contribute to making the European science communication ecosystem more open, inclusive, reflexive and adaptive.   

RETHINK Second Special Issue will therefore provide a significant contribution to the project’s overall aim, as it centers on ‘”responsible science communication – challenges for practice”. What does it mean to be a ‘responsible science’ communicator? Are there general criteria used to assess responsible science communication across the globe? What are the commonalities and the differences emerging when defining the characteristics of responsible science communication around the world? What is the contribution of inclusion, reflexivity and co-creation to responsible science communication practices? Can these concepts be considered the pillars of responsible science communication worldwide?

The second Jcom Special Issue entitled Responsible Science Communication across the globe will consist of papers and commentaries tackling three identified subthemes related to the responsible science communication main theme:

Responsible science communication = inclusion

Responsible science communication = reflexivity

Responsible science communication = co creation

Commentary section: responsible science communication around the globe. Contributions from authors across different geographical regions on what responsible science communication looks like in their context.

The RETHINK project has commissioned all papers and commentaries and expects to publish the Special Issue between April and May 2022.

RETHINK at Science & You Conference 2021 together with other three Swafs projects

Digitalisation and technological developments have contributed to various changes in the science communication landscape. Science communication practitioners are benefitting from new opportunities offered by digital media, but they are also facing new threats, like misinformation and declining trust in science. In addition, an increasing number of new actors are contributing to a diversity of science communication approaches. Traditional actors are giving way to new actors, and a critical public increasingly contributes to knowledge production and sharing. What does this changing science communication landscape entail, and how do different science communication practitioners navigate through novel opportunities and challenges?

In this symposium held on November 17th during the Science & You 2021, representatives of four European projects (RETHINK, ParCos, GlobalSCAPE and TRESCA) reflected on the evolving science communication landscape and the changing roles of various science communication actors. The symposium, moderated by Jason Pridmore, saw the participation of Tessa Roedema, who on behalf of RETHINK talked about the project’s sensemaking research and what these insights mean for the practice of science communication. 

Navigating the changing science communication landscape

The RETHINK project aims to provide a new view of the science communication landscape to reveal the barriers that stand in the way of open and reflexive connections between science and society. Two different but interrelated trends lay to the basis of the RETHINK project: blurring boundaries between science and society, and digitalization. The implications of these trends for the fast-changing science communication ecosystem can be seen in the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has been difficult to manage and endure, as it is continuously surrounded by complexity and uncertainty. It needs insights from various scientific disciplines and it involves cultural, political, societal, economic and ethical dimensions. Second, digitalization has fundamentally changed how scientists, other R&I stakeholders and a variety of publics interact and communicate. New actors have entered the public discussion on science. Online, everyone seems to be an expert on the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also a place where widely diverse viewpoints, emotions and values are highlighted. The revolutionized, highly networked and digitalized science communication ecosystem presents science communicators with numerous opportunities, but also reveals lingering challenges. It has also placed a spotlight on individual sensemaking practices and raises difficult questions for citizens: Which information is true, flawed or even false? Which actors can I trust to determine what is true? How should I implement the sometimes uncertain or even contractionary information in my daily life?

The RETHINK project has established ‘Rethinkerspaces’ in 7 countries across Europe – local communities of practice that enabled a shared inquiry and transformative learning process. Together with our Rethinkerspaces we explore questions like: How can science communication practitioners adapt to the reality of citizens’ sensemaking practices, in order to support a constructive dialogue on science? We have mapped current science communication activities across Europe, and gained insights into challenges practitioners encounter and perspective they have on their (changed) role. Recently, we have conducted a study into sensemaking practices with citizens during the first wave of the pandemic. 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, and to deal with the abundance of fragmented, incomplete and sometimes misleading information presented online. 

RETHINK research on underserved audiences presented at Inclusive SciComm Symposium – October 16th

Breaking the fear, breaking the barriers: The approaches and roles of science communicators when working with underserved audiences.

Inclusive science communication, or inclusive scicomm, is a global movement to shift the traditional paradigm of science communication toward an approach that centers inclusion, equity, and intersectionality. The biennial symposium is an international convening of practitioners, trainers, researchers, educators, funders, and others who work across diverse disciplines and settings to prioritize inclusion, equity, and intersectionality in all forms of science communication. View the ISCS21 Agenda at a Glance.

A survey of science communicators across Europe conducted within RETHINK showed that relatively few of those who communicate science (29%, n=465) seek to reach audiences who would be considered ‘underserved’ with their activities (Milani et al. 2020a). This presentation explored the result of interviews conducted with 32 science communicators in Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Sweden and the UK who had indicated that they sought to reach underserved audiences. They work as press officers, writers and journalists, researchers who communicate about their work, as well as public engagement officers. Interviewees described a wide range of audiences they considered or found harder to engage, such as those from certain socioeconomic backgrounds, older people, younger people, local communities, as well as those disinterested in science.

This presentation highlighted the approaches science communicators designed and undertook to change the dynamic between scientists and citizens, as well as roles being adopted by some of today’s science communicators that may help to foster connections with new audiences. It is now well-documented that when science is communicated, audiences are most typically white, affluent, with relatively high levels of formal education and a pre-existing interest in science (Dawson, 2019; Kennedy, Jensen and Verbeke, 2017; Humm, Schrögel and Leßmöllmann, 2020). The presentation focused on some of the practical steps being taken by science communicators to create closer connections between science and all members of society, so that the future trajectory of science may be informed by citizens as well as the scientific community.

IDEA-THON: sensemaking applied to science engagement practice

Join a mini idea-thon facilitated by our project partner Ecsite and work in a group with five professional peers over four, weekly sessions on practical science engagement case studies and creative challenges to try out new conceptual tool design by the RETHINK project.

Register here until 26 October 2021

The central concept of the Workroom will be following the sensemaking theory – which explores how people make sense of science and the world by bridging the gaps in their knowledge with previous experiences, expectations, emotions, values and interests.

As part of the RETHINK project, researchers have been exploring how sensemaking can be applied to science engagement – and they believe that it opens new ways of interacting with audiences, whether new or old. They have also identified a series of roles and repertoires used in science communication, a useful way to reflect on your own practice and expand your palette.

Join us to explore new ways of interacting with your audiences and harvest ideas for engagement with new and underserved audiences. After getting familiar with the theory, you’ll work as part of a small team of practitioners and explore what sensemaking, roles and repertoires could bring to a specific science engagement challenge. You’ll be able to “pitch” your own case study for group work or learn a lot by putting your creativity at the service of someone else.

Invited experts, as champions and disruptors will be helping teams throughout their four-week creative process, and there will also be time for reflective moments on your own practice and discussion on how we can begin bringing ideas back to our daily professional lives. The Workroom will culminate in a final (and joyful!) pitch session where promising ideas will be harvested and shared with the wider science engagement community.

The Workroom will be held online on 9, 16, 23 and 30 November. Creative sessions will take place between 13:30 and 16:30 CET. Some individual work between sessions will be required, which should take up to 60 minutes each week. All science engagement professionals that want to commit to experimenting together are eligible to participate.

The Workroom is free of charge and places are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

Register here until 26 October 2021 – or until all places have been filled.

RETHINK at Future of SciComm Conference – June 25th

RETHINK took part in the Future of Scicomm conference with the Workshop “Rethinking Science Communication – how to integrate research and practice for effective and responsible science communication”, led by Dr. Frank Kupper (Athena Institute for Research on Innovation and Communication in Health and Life Sciences, VU Amsterdam), Aleksandra Kowalska (Ecsite) and Dr. Birte Fähnrich (Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities/Zeppelin University).

The Future of Science Communication Conference brings together European actors from research and practice of science communication. It is co-organised by Wissenschaft im Dialog, the organization for science communication in Germany, and ALLEA, the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities. In 2021 the conference took place online on 24-25 June.

The workshop dealt with questions of open science and participation by focussing on the field of science communication itself. In recent years, science communcation research and practice have developed significantly. However, platforms for mutual exchange and reflection of both fields have been rare. As a consequence, practice often does not reflect research based evidence and research overlooks concerns and challenges of the practice. We argue that science communication research and practice should jointly develop new forms of exchange, mutual reflection and participation as to enhance effective and responsible science communication. 

To this end, the workshop presented a participatory format of research-practice interaction that has been developed and applied in seven European countries in the context of the Horizon 2020-funded project RETHINK. The format called RETHINKER spaces brings researchers and practitioners from different fields of science communication together to adress mutual expectations and needs. RETHINKER spaces are a valuable platform to gather data and to discuss research findings, also with regard to their applicablility to the day-to-day routines of science communicators.

During the workshop, we 1) shared insights and learnings, 2) asked participants to contribute their experiences and 3) used this as a starting point for a world cafe setting to develop new ideas on how to open up science communication research and practice in the future.

#1 JCOM Special Issue published

We are pleased to announce the publication of the first JCOM Special Issue on “Re-examining Science Communication: models, perspectives, institutions.”

While science communication may be more important than ever, it is also more challenging. The boundaries between science and society are blurring and digitalization transforms the public sphere. Changes in the relationship between science and society and its increasing inclusion in official discourses have opened new opportunities for dialogue and collaboration. At the same time, this may have produced challenges for the authority of science, which can be openly contested, negotiated, and transformed in public arenas. This transformation of the relationships between science and society has been fundamentally intensified by the digitalization of the media landscape. New media have increased the diversity of actors using, sharing and generating science content, their communication practices and the strategies they use.

This JCOM special issue aims to rethink science communication considering its ever-changing landscape, building on the European Commission’s focus on science communication within the “Science with and for Society” (SwafS) Work Programme. It is a joint initiative of three EU-funded projects: RETHINK, CONCISE and QUEST.

We welcomed manuscripts with different backgrounds and methodological approaches that explored the state-of-the-art of science communication, its challenges and opportunities, and that proposed tools, strategies and methodologies to open up the field wider to society and to research as well as non-research institutions.

Research papers, essays and review papers considering issues under the following themes were particularly welcome:

  • The emerging science communication landscape and the roles and relationships of institutions, scientists and science communicators (online and offline)
  • Trends and variations in science communication models and practices across contexts
  • How do publics navigate and engage in the science communication landscape?
  • Motivations and challenges in engagement practices of scientists and science communicators (online and offline)
  • Science communication policies: incentive structures for scientists, journalists, museums
  • Quantity vs. quality, digitalization of the media and the spread of misinformation 
  • The role of science communication to promote engaged research and participatory science

The call opened on July 30th and the deadline for submissions was 16 November 2020, with the Special Issue being published in May 2021. We have received a total of 45 papers from 23 countries.

Open access to the accepted papers here: