Sweden Rethinkerspace or the saga of science communication

WORKSHOP #1 It’s an early December morning, the snow is falling lightly over Gamla Stan, the old medieval city centre of Stockholm. In a room at the bottom floor of the Flemingska Palace, a grand old building from the 17th century, people are starting to arrive. As I step through the door, the smell of coffee and expectations hit me. I look around and see eleven other people in the room. 

The clock is getting close to 9 a.m. and we are invited to sit down around a large table. I learn that the reason we are gathered here today is that we are all, in one way or another, engaged engaging the public with science. We introduce ourselves and I realise that we are many people across a wide range of sectors that want to make science more accessible to all. Sometimes it feels like I am alone in my mission, but in this room, I am not. There are the communication managers and the community engagement officers from universities, journalists, scientists, the comedian, the podcasters, the writers, the PR people, the museum programme coordinator, the digital media expert. I haven’t met any of them before but as we begin to talk, I realise we share the same goals, missions, and challenges. 

We start talking about our audiences, how we try to reach them, and what barriers we face while doing so. As the day goes by, we move into discussing what problems we see in the science communication sphere and what solutions we wish to see. All agree that lack of time and resources is a significant barrier to science communication. Other barriers we meet in our daily lives are the fear of a backlash when communicating science, lack of incentives for researchers to engage in science communication, the fast-paced digital landscape, fake prophets spreading disinformation, and marginalised communities being hard to reach and include in science. We wish to see the communication of science having a higher status in society, and to see more support for researchers who want to engage in science communication. We also wish to see new, creative ways to disseminate scientific knowledge so that it reaches all communities. 

“This is amazing,” I think to myself. “We all accomplish so much on our own, just imagine what we can do when we get to learn from each other”. As we reach the end of this first meeting, I find myself longing for the next. With all these people together in the same room, we will surely find new ideas and ways to communicate science in the 21st century.

WORKSHOP #2 (held in two sessions). When discussing online this time the implications of people’s sensemaking mechanisms for science communication, the Swedish Rethinkerspace pointed out that as people mainly trust their peers when making sense of the surrounding world, there is a need for scicomm to be short, accessible, and friendly. Collaboration with actors that have good contacts within society was also mentioned as an important factor for success.

When quality in digital science communication was in focus, the Swedish Rethinkerspace participants reflected upon the scholars’ answers and added their own perspectives based upon their experience of working hands-on with scicomm. The participants stressed the need for systematic changes promoting science communication in all parts of the research process. To foster a culture where we can discuss openly and constructively was also seen as an important factor in quality promotion.