Netherlands Rethinkerspace or the tsunami of ideas

Stickers flying around, post-its RETHOUGHT, crumbled and re-written. We are well underway in discussing RETHINKing science communication: blurring of boundaries and influences of the internet. A group of science journalists, press officers, policy experts, advisors and scientists all together in one room. We are hosing our first two Rethinkerspace workshops.

WORKSHOP #1 Right away it became clear that this group of people is eager to talk about the current science communication landscape. Worksheets are enthusiastically filled in and people lively start to discuss how they see the current digitalised science communication landscape. “What do you think the main aim of science communication should be? How do you reach your audience? What is the influence on digitalisation on the way you practice science communication? What are the main challenges you encounter nowadays? What can we do together, to overcome those?”.

At times, we needed to run between the many tables, hoping to catch all interesting conversations. In a tsunami of ideas and thoughts, we captured the following table conversations: “people feel like: ‘science doesn’t relate to me?’; we should make good use of digital methods to counter disinterestedness; but sometimes it feels like we haven’t found the right way?”. In between tables, we listened to a fragmented part of a conversation on “…a fragmented media landscape”. And together, we wondered about “how do we balance between facts and emotions?”.

All in all, the day was very exciting to us. After such a long time of visualizing how this event would be, we can now bow over actual visualizations of your ideas on the science communication landscape, in the form of problem trees and overcoming barriers. With this group of people, we very much look forward to take the visualizations from the worksheets into real-life.

WORKSHOP #2 (held in two sessions). On 21 October and 9 November the VU hosted two virtual Rethinkerspace workshops. During the first meeting, we explored how Dutch citizens make sense of the unfolding Corona crisis and what we can learn from this to improve (science) communication. The second workshop addressed quality of (digital) science communication. Both workshops were lively and generated valuable input for RETHINK.

During the workshop on sensemaking the participants discussed the role of emotions and personal experiences in public debates on scientific topics. Against this backdrop, they considered the idea of ‘scientific storytelling’ as a potentially valuable skill for scientists, as well as the importance of scientists being present on and approachable via social media. One of the things that stood out from the second workshop was that ‘fostering quality in science communication can only be effective if policy and funding organisations champion the cause of quality’, a theme that resonates strongly with current discussions in the Netherlands, and accordingly also in the Dutch Rethinkerspace.

WORKSHOP #3. (June 1st, 2021). Most of the participants indicated to highly value openness and reflexivity and that they would like to learn more about it. We try/tried to capitalise on these enthusiastic responses, by finding shared interests or activities to conduct, and set-up collaborations with these individuals surrounding the topic openness & reflexivity.

However, the workshop also showed that many questions still arise, as one of the participants mentioned in her closing remarks: “It’s clear that we can make a positive improvement with openness & reflexivity. But I can’t fully grasp that one yet. How does this improve the science-society interface? What should we strive for? Do we need to convince citizens of something? Or should we strive for peaceful coexistence? Is a better atmosphere – brought about by the therapeutic value of science communication – a goal in itself? Or a means to a greater end? If so, what is this goal?”