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.

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. 

Sensemaking practices around Coronavirus: a RETHINK led webinar

Wednesday 1 July at 10:00 – 11:30 CEST

As part of our mission to provide a 360° view of the current science communication landscape, our research team is investigating citizen sensemaking practices around science.

Although specific piece of research was initially expected to revolve around climate change, the current pandemic offered a unique opportunity that could not be missed. The COVID-19 outbreak put the spotlight on two interrelated trends that are profoundly changing the science-society relationship and complicating the public communication about science: 1) The boundaries between science and society are blurring leading to more collaboration, but also more controversy. 2) The digitalisation of the media landscape has created many diverse online arenas where science is openly contested, negotiated and transformed, by scientists and politicians, many other actors involved.

Under these circumstances, the way individuals and communities make sense of the COVID-19 outbreak is crucial. We all make sense of this complex reality from our own, limited and incomplete, perspective. What are the best strategies to build open and trustworthy relationships between science, media, politics and citizens? And what are the required roles and responsibilities of scientists and science communicators?

Details of the webinars and link to connect here.