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: https://jcom.sissa.it/archive/20/03

Rethinking science communication: opening up research to peers

Online workshop series

This online workshop series is aimed at engaging the community of science communication professionals and scholars in order to reflect on the latest research outcomes together. This is a great opportunity to hear more about the latest research findings in the field and to meet and reflect together on the most useful tools for the community. There will be lots of interaction, digital post-its and an ambition for shared outcomes. Join us to become our critical friend

#3 Connecting with Underserved Audiences: Creating Conversations and Trust

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. But how can we challenge that in our practices and as a sector? Join two members of the RETHINK team, Andy Ridgway and Clare Wilkinson, to explore the approaches and roles being adopted by some of today’s science communicators that may help to foster connections with new or underserved audiences. And in collaboration with Vanessa Mignan, take the opportunity to explore your own practices and intentions when seeking to engage inclusively and innovatively.

Led by Andy Ridgway, Dr Clare Wilkinson – University of the West of England

29 September 2021, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. CET

Please register HERE

#2 Good quality science communication in a digital world

The so called infodemic around Covid 19 and the rise of misinformation has raised once more the need for quality science communication. However, the demands for “quality science communication“ leave the question of what this actually means unanswered.

Questions arise, such as: what is good science communication online? Are there criteria to assess science communication quality? And how do they differ when we compare, for instance, science media reporting, science podcasts or scicomm stories on Instagram, to name but few examples?

The workshop aims to address these questions in a discursive way. To this end, we will present results from a Delphi study that explored issues around quality in science communication in digital contexts. In the course of the study approx. 30 science communication scholars from around the globe shared their perspectives on how to assess and how to promote science communication quality online.

This workshop will provide an opportunity to hear about the research findings and discuss their implications. We anticipate focusing particularly on how quality criteria could be applied by actors ranging from university press officers to bloggers. All of whom are increasingly prevalent in the digital sphere.

Led by Dr Emma Weitkamp – University of the West of England, Dr Birte Fähnrich – Zeppelin University 

10 May 2021, 14:00 – 16:00 CET

Video recording available below

#1 Making sense of (mis)information in a digital world

The first workshop will look at the research results related to how insights into sensemaking could help us deal with the abundance of fragmented, incomplete and sometimes misleading information. We will present the results of 7 European workshops with science communicators that explored the issue of making sense of the COVID-19 pandemic. How science communicators can adapt to the reality of sensemaking practices to support dialogue about the pandemic? And how can we support each other to move forward? All of these and other questions will be explored in an interactive workshop aimed at sharing best practices and inspiring future research activities.

Led by Dr Frank Kupper, Virgil Rerimassie, Tessa Roedema – Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

15 February 2021, 14:30 CET

Video recording available below

How open are we as science communicators?

Photo credit: Marten Newhall, Unsplash

Words: Andy Ridgway, originally published on UWE Science Communication Unit blog

When I started teaching science writing after spending years as a journalist, I wanted to share my experience, my way of doing things, in the classroom. But I quickly struck upon a problem. What did I actually do? How did I find and research stories? How did I choose interviewees? I had been doing all of these things for so long (and often at speed) that the process I followed had become automatic – not the stuff of conscious thought. It took a fair bit of reflection to unravel the processes that had become so hardwired so I could try to explain them in the classroom. When we are conducting research as science communicators, a lot of our decisions come down to who and what we trust. What sources can we rely on for fact and who can we rely on for opinion? In reality, faced with the pressures of time, as communicators we typically rely on a limited range of sources – the likes of peer reviewed papers, the scientists directly involved with the research (or at least someone in their field) and possibly the odd press release. But how many of us give conscious thought in our working day to what we trust and why? How often are we open to ideas, perspectives and knowledge that come from outside our usual circle
of trust?


It’s questions such as these that are at the heart of our the latest report .This report synthesised research we had already done to consider the ‘openness’ and ‘reflexivity’ of science communicators and also of citizens; those who read, watch or listen to what we create. How open are we to a wide range of information, ideas and perspectives? And how reflexive are we, consciously thinking about where we search for information, how that influences the information we find and then how choices we make influence what we write or create?


A guiding principle of RETHINK is that openness and reflexivity on the part of communicators, citizens, scientists and everyone else for that matter are a good thing – helping to create a more effective exchange of ideas and knowledge. On their own, all of these principles sound straightforward. Source information you can trust. Be open. Be reflexive. It’s just that when you put all those ideas together, things start to get complicated.


A survey of the working practices of science communicators we conducted earlier in RETHINK shows that academic journals, university press releases and personal contacts are consulted widely during research. After all, these are sources we can trust for the most part. But if this is what we always do as communicators, often without conscious thought (or reflexivity) it limits the opportunities for readers, viewers and listeners to be exposed to different information and perspectives. So it is in the implementation of these principles that things get challenging. How prepared are we as communicators to step outside our research comfort zone and take information from sources, from people, we wouldn’t usually consult? When would we want to do this? Are there circumstances when it’s more appropriate than others? After all, openness on the part of science communicators doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll simply report information and opinions from anyone. There’s a widely
circulated quote (that’s been attributed to several people) that may apply here: “Let us keep our minds open…but don’t keep your minds so open that your brains fall out!”


Our new RETHINK report also explores how open and reflexive citizens are when they are interpreting information about science. Specifically, it looked at their ‘sensemaking practices’ in relation to coronavirus – sensemaking being the process by which we develop an understanding of something complex. It showed that there is some evidence of openness, with people consulting a range of newspapers and websites to help them triangulate information and understand what’s happening. But in many instances, citizens’ sensemaking practices are understandably heavily influenced by their context – they speak with friends, family, find information from online social media groups they’re part of and have a limited range of online sources they trust. They are also unlikely to shift from pre-existing beliefs during this sensemaking process. In other words, some sensemaking is not particularly open, or particularly reflexive for that matter.


So what we can do about all this? How can we as science communicators become open and reflexive in what we do in a way that’s compatible with the need to source trustworthy information? And is there anything we can do to encourage others, those who watch, listen or read what we create, to be open and reflexive too? Let’s have
an (open and reflexive) conversation about this – tweet us at @RETHINKscicomm @SciCommsUWE with your thoughts and ideas.

JCOM: submit papers on re-examining science communication

Update: deadline extended to 16 November 2020

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 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.

Aiming to understand the implications of the above mentioned changes at different levels of the science communication ecosystem, and how to address the challenges that arise to improve science communication quality, the Journal of Science Communication invites researchers around the globe to submit papers for a Special Issue on Re-examining Science Communication: models, perspectives, institutions

We welcome manuscripts with different backgrounds and methodological approaches that explore the state-of-the-art of science communication, its challenges and opportunities, and that propose 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 are 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

This Special Issue of JCOM builds on recent European Commission attention to science communication within the “Science with and for Society” (SwafS) Work Programme. The special issue is an initiative of three EU-funded projects CONCISE, QUEST and RETHINK.

Deadline for submissions: 16 November 2020 (publication is expected in February 2021)

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.

What motivates science communicators, how do they work and who are their audiences?

In the last months we have been working hard on some of the project’s research questions. Four reports were produced investigating how science communicators work, what motivates them, what incentivises them, how they interact with their audiences and even looking at the available training programmes on science communication.

Two reports were led by UWE Bristol and they looked on the one hand-side at the motivations for science communicators and on the other hand at the audiences for science communication. Why do those who blog, tweet, run events at festivals, give talks and engage in all the myriad of other forms of science communication do what they do? Who do those who communicate science aim to reach when they produce their content and what barriers stand in the way of reaching these audiences? We try to answer these questions in the Report on the Working Practices, Motivations and Challenges of those Engaged in Science Communication and the one on the Links between science communication actors and between actors and their audiences. Another important aspect of the science communication landscape is the training on offer, we analysed the status quo and demands for science communication training, this work was lead by Zeppelin University.

VU looked into the motivations of scientists to engage with the public, online or offline. Why do they decide to engage with the public and what holds them back? The full report on Incentive and disincentive structures for R&I stakeholders to engage in science communication can be found here.

First RETHINK research outcome published

UWE Bristol Science Communication unit have led the substantial work on mapping the vast science communication terrain in 7 European countries (Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and Serbia as well as the UK.). The focus was on online content from tweeting to vlogging and

given the terrain’s scale, we decided to set some boundaries to our exploration. Firstly, we decided to concentrate on three topic areas – climate change, artificial intelligence and healthy diets. These topics were selected because they are important to all our lives. But they also represent very different online habitats; with different individuals and organisations doing the communicating and very diverse subject matter.

So what did we find? Well, across the seven countries, 697 different individuals and organisations that communicate climate change, artificial intelligence and healthy diets were identified. Digging into the data in a little more detail provides some interesting insights, including:

  • Climate change has the widest range of individuals and organisations communicating about it online of the three topics. In other words, it has a particularly rich communication environment.
  • The online science communication landscape is complex – there are large differences in the types of communicators, the platforms used and content shared between science-related subjects.
  • With all three topics, many of the sources of information are not traditional experts, such as scientists or health practitioners. Nor are they traditional mediators of information, such as journalists. There are lots of alternative sources of information, such as non-professional communicators and support communities.

Want to find out more? The full report can be found here.

First Rethinkerspace in Bristol

In terms of interesting discussions from the first meeting, one of the themes that came up was how online science communication has transformed science communication from the from the cathedral, with few people communicating to large audiences, to the bazaar – many-to-many dynamic communication.

While this has been a force for good, allowing more diversity of voices in science communication, the transformation from the cathedral to the bazaar has also presented problems. For example there’s the problem of ‘fake goods’ – how do people know who to trust with accurate information? There’s also the cacophony of noises – an overload of information and sources of information online.