Fighting the Opioid Crisis by Reducing Stigma in the Media and Using Media to Reduce Stigma
Organized by: Sarah Everts, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University
Speakers: Gord Garner, Executive Director, Community Addictions Peer Support Association; Kim Kellemans, Senior Instructor & Chair of the Department of Neuroscience, Carleton University; Garth Mullins, Drug user activist and award-winning radio documentarian; Carly Weeks, Health Reporter, Globe and Mail
Moderator: Sarah Everts, TV Chair in Digital Science Journalism, Carleton University School of Journalism and Communication
Stigma is the main barrier to seeking treatment for opioid addiction and substance abuse disorders (SUDs).
We need support from politicians in fighting the stigma of addiction.
Media has played a role in propagating the stigma of addiction, but it can also play a role in fighting it.
Much of the news focuses on the catastrophic fallout of opioid use in the headlines without presenting background context and what issues need to be addressed.
Stories about the opioid crisis require extensive time, work and exploration. There is a dearth of health reporters in Canada right now, and few with experience covering the issue.
Stigma is propagated in large part by the Canadian legal system. The police spend time and money locking up drug users while the Criminal Code tells everyone who’s good or bad.
Government isn’t doing enough to address the overdose crisis so activists are creating their own media and campaigns with research to back them up.
Practicing compassion is the most effective way to run a campaign to create compassion. We won’t get a handle on the opioid crisis until people start caring about the fact that people across Canada are dying.
The media must reframe its reporting on addiction; news organizations should create guidelines for language use and recognize what constitutes inflammatory and stigmatizing language.
We need the support of politicians to get stigma under control.
The media needs to give context to stories, focus on the background and write about solutions and options instead of only delivering catastrophic headlines.
There is an opportunity to mobilize students as advocates and knowledge brokers by giving them the facts and showing them how stigma arises in the classroom.
Eating Right, Living Better: Building Healthier Food Systems Worldwide
Organizer: Christel Binnie, International Development Research Centre,
Speakers: Marcela Reyes, Assistant professor at the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology, University of Chile; Mary L’Abbé, Professor, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto; Alafia Samuels, Director of the Chronic Disease Research Centre of the Caribbean Institute for Health Research (CAIHR); Deputy Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of the West Indies, Barbados; Jean-Claude Moubarac, Assistant Professor at the Department of Nutrition, Université de Montréal
Moderator: Greg Hallen, Program Leader, Food, Environment and Health, International Development Research Centre
Chilean, Caribbean island, and West African societies known for strong, domestic culinary traditions now see a growing number of citizens cooking less from scratch and instead consuming increasing amounts of ultra-processed foods.
In these same regions, geographic and demographic factors are contributing to a loss of food sovereignty. In the Caribbean, limited amounts of agricultural land make it more cost effective to import many commodities, while in Africa the limitations of a traditional fishery are now pricing seafood out of the reach of many consumers.
These trends have made some of the healthiest nutritional options less accessible for many people. As a result, more people are making dietary choices associated with negative health effects such as obesity, similar to trends observed in other parts of the world. This impact can add to an already considerable burden of noncommunicable disease.
Canada is facing a similar shift in its nutritional trends, which has generated a strong public policy emphasis on healthy eating in the form of a high-profile food guide and detailed labelling requirements.
The “Port of Spain Declaration”, a policy commitment made at the 2007 Caribbean Community Heads of Government Summit, represents an outstanding example of global health diplomacy to address challenges around non-communicable disease. It brings together the ministries of health and trade to address challenges like the cost-advantage and convenience of ultra-processed foods.
Policy responses in other jurisdictions, such as aggressive labelling initiatives by Chile, provide useful examples that Canada can draw on to frame its own approach to building a healthier food culture.
Public subsidies would minimize the price gap that makes healthier food less attractive, while mandatory warning labels and other nutritional information could educate consumers about the nature of their food choices.
Information should be shared among countries as they develop, adopt, and revise their respective policies on labelling, marketing, and pricing of various foods, so that opportunities for mutual learning are optimized.
Leaders in this field should generate clear economic rationales for how they administer food systems, taking into account the implications for health, trade, finance, and agriculture.
Canadian researchers should look to best practices abroad as they analyze the impact of sodium reduction and other dietary strategies.
Scientists in the Public Space: When Discussion Turns into a Media Storm
Organized by: Fonds de recherche du Québec
Speakers: Eve Beaudin, Journalist at Détecteur de rumeurs, Agence Science-Presse; Olivier Bernard, Health Columnist, The Pharmafist; Katie Gibbs, Co-founder and Executive Director, Evidence for Democracy; Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Quebec
Moderator: Mehrdad Hariri, President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Science Policy Centre
The number of incidents of scientists and/or science communicators getting harassed or cyber bullied for articulating their findings is increasing.
Scientists and science communicators who engage in conversations on controversial topics are often not supported by others in the scientific community.
Disinformation that appeals to emotions can travel faster and have a stronger effect on the public than fact-based reporting.
People can change their minds and will listen to evidence-based arguments if you engage them in honest and transparent dialogue that includes clearly articulating what is known and what is not known (i.e., as opposed to just telling people that they are wrong, or that they are stupid).
Scientists have to recognize that politicians answer to the public and not just to scientific evidence and that they should be engaging with politicians from the start of their careers. They can’t wait until a crisis happens and get upset that the politicians aren’t listening to them.
Educate young people on techniques to help them discern what is fake or opinion-based news verses evidence-informed news.
Scientists need to learn how to do science communication as part of their education, and should also be taught the importance of regularly disseminating information and speaking up/supporting fellow scientists on controversial topics.
Scientific institutions have weight in scientific dialogues and they should be involved in taking a stand on controversial topics.
The government (or other reputable organizations) should develop training modules for scientists and science communicators on how to approach volatile or controversial topics.
Academic institutions and the government need to develop a way to celebrate and reward scientists for speaking out (e.g., Fonds de recherche du Québec’sDialogue program).
Opening Plenary: Leveraging Data for Science Advice and Rapid Response to Health Emergencies
Organized by: Office of the Chief Science Advisor of Canada
Speakers: Rolf Heuer, Chair of the European Commission’s Group of Scientific Advisors; Kamran Khan, Founder and CEO, BlueDot; Professor at the University of Toronto; Yasmin Khan, Consultant Physician, Public Health Ontario; Emergency Physician, University Health Network; Assistant Professor, University of Toronto; Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Science Adviser to the Government of UK
Moderator: Mona Nemer, Chief Science Advisor of Canada
Responding to an emergency requires a systems-level effort that is coordinated and integrated.
Trusted sources of information (e.g., advisory committees) need to be established well in advance of an emergency to build effective working relationships within the system and to ensure advice can be provided quickly.
Develop a communications strategy with a designated spokesperson to avoid different people giving conflicting messages. Communicate data and analysis in a way that is relevant and accessible to different audiences (e.g., scientists, government, healthcare workers, citizens).
Community engagement is essential to building trust and to understand local context (i.e., different communities may have different perceptions of risk).
Be transparent around uncertainty. It is important to present synthesized evidence in a way that is useful to the recipients.
Accessing timely data can be a challenge in emergency situations. Researchers may have that data but be reluctant to share until it’s published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Once an emergency preparedness plan has been developed test it with regular training exercises.
Following an emergency evaluate the process so that experience can feed back into evidence-based practice.
Don’t be complacent between emergencies. Focus on preparing for the next emergency.
No one discipline or organization can tackle complex emergencies. An interdisciplinary approach involving public and community agencies, academia and industry is needed.
When integrating data, consider the relevance of non-traditional sources (e.g., citizen science).
Experts share what works and what doesn’t in responding to health emergencies
When a health emergency happens, everyone from government officials and healthcare workers to first responders and citizens need fast access to reliable information that can save lives. And as the frequency of events like wildfires, spring floods and the spread of infectious disease increase, governments at all levels are looking for ways to leverage big data and scientific advice for better decision making.
Canada’s Chief Science Advisor Mona Nemer noted that many of today’s emergencies are making it more challenging to provide scientific advice when it’s needed.
“Complex emergencies require a lot of data and analysis of complex data. Where do we get data from, how do we ensure the integrity of the data and its relevance?” Nemer asked a panel of experts from Canada, Europe and the U.K.
How the UK accesses science advice
Knowing where to turn for relevant and credible scientific advice is one of the biggest challenges during an emergency. Panelists stressed the importance of establishing clear communications channels well before an emergency happens.
SAGE provides integrated, concise and unbiased scientific advice directly to COBRA. The committee’s membership changes depending on the nature of the emergency, but typically includes multidisciplinary experts from government, academia and industry. SAGE has been called upon for several emergencies, including the potential Whaley Bridge dam collapse in 2019, the 2016 Zika outbreak and the 2010 volcano eruption in Iceland that blew a massive ash plume across Europe.
“Our job is to get advice assimilated as thoroughly and as quickly as we can and turn into that into the practical science advice that needs to be fed into COBRA for people to be able to make decisions,” said Patrick Vallance, the U.K.’s Chief Science Adviser.
Prior to SAGE, Cabinet would often receive different or even conflicting scientific opinions from several sources. “The net effect of three or four pieces of advice occurring during an emergency during a ministerial meeting is that everyone ignores the science,” added Vallance.
SAGE members also help Cabinet prepare for future emergencies with “Golden Hour” documents that provide advice on how to prepare and respond to different potential emergencies. The committee holds simulation exercises to ensure the system can kick into action quickly and effectively.
Other groups feed into SAGE. For example, following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the UK established the Joint Agency Modelling (JAM) working group which advises SAGE on the potential scale and impact scenarios of accidental radioactive releases. JAM is a standing group comprised of several government agencies, including environment, public health, meteorology and food standards. It can provide critical modeling data in a simple visual form within a few hours of an event happening.
“The really important lesson to learn is, don’t try to pull together a group like that during an emergency,” said Vallance. “They need to know each other and how to work together.”
The European model
The challenge is even greater for the European Union (EU) which must coordinate scientific advice across 28 countries.
Referencing the 2018 report, Science Advice During Crisis, Rolf Heuer, chair the EU’s Group of Scientific Advisors, said the EU “ticks most boxes when it comes to setting up science advice systems during a crisis”:
clear communications across national borders
trust and understanding between providers and users of scientific advice
preparation (drills, mutual learning)
communicating science to the public as part of an overall communications strategy
One of the EU’s oldest science advice systems is the Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Created in 1998, this web-based platform links the Commission, public health authorities in member states, and the EDCD to provide rapid and coordinated responses to emergencies related to communicable diseases.
The EWRS “supports the operation, cooperation and emergency response in almost every sector of EU policymaking,” said Rolf Heuer, who chairs the EU’s Group of Scientific Advisors, a key source of independent scientific advice to the European Commission.
The EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre mobilizes assistance and expertise to ensure the rapid response to countries inside or outside the EU affected by a major disaster. It monitors events in real time using earth observation data delivered by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre. The research centre’s Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Centre also provides a networked approach to science policy that: translates complex science into useable information; provides science-based advice and timely and reliable scientific analysis; and links existing initiatives that contribute to the management of disaster risks.
Practical solutions for Canada
What are the practical, real-world actions that can make public health agencies more resilient and prepared when responding to an emergency?
“There were system-level challenges that emerged around public health emergencies,” said Yasmin Khan, a Consultant Physician with Public Health Ontario. “The Naylor report (A report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health) identified some of these system level challenges such as a lack of research capacity in the clinical and public health systems, difficulty with timely access to lab results, and weak links between public health and the personal health services system.”
Khan set out to identify approaches to support evidence-informed practice that can make public health agencies and communities more prepared and resilient, but soon discovered a lack of Canadian research on the issue.
“There’s limited literature on this topic and most is U.S.-based,” said Khan, who was an emergency physician in Toronto during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
Based on focus groups with 130 public health professionals, Khan developed a Canadian framework for public health emergency preparedness that includes several indicators for measuring preparedness. Among them: governance and leadership to ensure integrated and coordinated system; collaboration within and outside the health system; knowledgeable and skilled staff; community engagement; clear and consistent messaging; and surveillance and monitoring.
The role of big data and AI
The private sector and technology are playing a growing role in monitoring infectious diseases that, with airplane travel, can spread across continents within hours. For example, Toronto firm BlueDot uses big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing to predict the worldwide spread of disease and track recent outbreaks.
The inspiration for BueDot came from its founder, Kamran Khan, who was a physician at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital during the 2003 SARS outbreak. “We were all caught completely reactive, off guard and by surprise. The public health system was overwhelmed,” he told CSPC delegates. “If we want to stay in front of these threats we have to move faster.”
Technology offers a solution. BlueDot developed a global early warning system that tracks information in 60 languages in near real-time online. “That’s over 100,000 articles a day, every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day,” said Khan. “It’s automatically extracting the location, the pathogen, the place, the time and contextual factors that are relevant.”
BlueDot then works with academic partners to cross-reference that information with genomics, demographics, meteorology and other evidence, as well as industry data on air passenger travel, to predict how a disease will move around the globe. The analyzed data are then translated into infectious disease alerts customized for each user’s needs.
Khan’s final message to delegates was to maintain a focus on the future emergency that will inevitably happen. “These are existential threats that can devastate populations, disrupt economies and cause social chaos. So, if I was to say what to focus on, it would be how to get prepared. Maintain that focus.”
The Public Record: Enabling Scientists to be Honest Brokers of Evidence & Information in an Age of Popular Misinformation
Organized by: Office of the Chief Scientist, Alberta Environment & Parks
Speakers: Remi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Quebec; Nancy Hamwazi, Assistant Deputy Minister, Science & Technology, Environment and Climate Change Canada; Aynslie Ogden, Senior Science Advisor, Executive Council Office, Government of Canada; Frederick Wrona, Chief Scientist, Alberta Environment and Parks
Moderator: Katie Gibbs, Co-founder and Executive Director, Evidence for Democracy
The formal experience and training needed to effectively communicate science to the public is lacking. Too much time is spent translating science and then correcting errors in interpretation.
Various levels of government are turning to science advisors to help elevate the role of science.
Popular and topical science issues require building capacity to respond to requests for interviews and dialogues.
Scientific results need to be grounded or framed in terms of local impact to make a difference to the public.
Respecting and reflecting indigenous knowledge, values and perspectives requires government-to-government relationships, compliance with indigenous protocols, public understanding and equity with the role and value of science.
Internal communication is the starting point for explaining science to decision makers in a way that is easily understood.
Chief Scientists play an important role in building bridges between elected officials and scientists.
There are various roadblocks on the path to accuracy in open science/data, including fake scholarly journals. Measures are needed to make open access science/data more accountable.
Bring in science communication experts and better train scientists to be more effective communicators.
Information should be transparent and not too technical. Using a personal, storytelling lens will help re-establish and build trust with the public. Discussing science with kids and participating in pub nights are some examples of how we can practice conversations about science in an open and engaging way.
Interdisciplinary collaboration between scientists, policymakers and communicators is necessary and needs to start early when it comes to releasing information and reports.
We can facilitate greater accountability of open access data by including open access papers in publication lists, co-presenting results with partners, and including citizens on the research team or review panel.
Harnessing the Power of the Crowd: Innovative Solutions to Engaging Communities in Research
Organized by: The Fathom Fund
Speakers: Bayleigh Murray, Student, Molecular & Cellular Biology and Earth & Planetary Sciences, John Hopkins University, and Blog Editor of Protozoan,; Henry Sauermann, Professor, European School of Management and Technology Berlin; Andrew Pelling, Professor, University of Ottawa
Moderator: Stefan Leslie, Chief Executive Officer, Research Nova Scotia
“The crowd” in the research process is mostly involved in collecting, processing or analyzing data, (not developing research questions, writing and publishing, securing funding, etc.). Scientists who subscribe to the Productivity View of citizen science engage to produce more data and more papers.
The Democratization View can shift the direction of research, including allowing for citizen leaders. With this view, junior scientists and women have a higher likelihood of success: there is no relationship between crowdfunding success and prior publications.
Downsides include that the crowd often doesn’t know what work has been done, lacks the knowledge to judge a study’s feasibility, and may be biased against “basic” research or less “interesting” topics.
The Fathom Fund is seeking outlandish and extraordinary contributions to research (provides 75% of funding; community/citizens contribute 25%). It gaps into resources that wouldn’t naturally be assumed to make a contribution.
Fathom Fund researchers work with their community to shape the project idea, not to evaluate whether they are asking the right question.
pHacktory supports weird and whimsical projects that are primarily led by members of the public, finish within 100 days, and result in open source knowledge.
The Experiment crowdfunding site supports democratic and community-driven science where the results are shared openly. Backers only contribute the amount they agreed to give if the researcher raises the full amount.
Many applicants are high school students and graduate students. High school students work with teachers to design their own research questions, often to run surveys or do engineering-related projects where major infrastructure is not needed. Graduate students often apply to supplement a grant outside the standard research process, and have the required infrastructure already in place.
Creating SciComm: An interactive session connecting scientists, policy makers and the public
Organized by: Julia Krolik, Pixels and Plans | Art the Science
Moderators: Julia Krolik, Founder, Pixels and Plans | Art the Science; Alice Fleerackers, Doctoral Student, Scholarly Communications Lab; Cat Lau, Program Evaluation Officer (ATS) / Knowledge Translation Coordinator, CHILD-BRIGHT Network; Dorina Simeonov, Policy and Knowledge Mobilization Manager, AGE-WELL
During the panel, each participant became a skilled visual science communicator: working alone or in pairs, they tried their hand at distilling scientific information into a compelling infographic.
In less than an hour, participants learned to hone in on key messages, consider their audience, and develop simple, effective visual strategies for sharing science with diverse publics.
This hands-on activity sparked new conversations between participants, offering a wealth of different perspectives on the challenges and opportunities of engaging in effective visual science communication.
There are growing divides in public and scientific opinion on controversial science policy issues like artificial intelligence, vaccinations, and climate change.
Science communication is not just about the evidence, even if scientists would like it to be; the public reacts to emotion and to the way in which the “story” of the information is presented.
By making science more understandable, accessible, and engaging, creative visual communication methods—like infographics—can help tell that story, bridging gaps between science and society that words alone often cannot.
Everyone is capable of powerful visual science communication; you don’t need professional design software or a background in visual art to make a real impact.
Communicating complex scientific concepts can be a collaborative effort where people with complementary skills come together to create meaningful visual messages.
Speakers: Julie Angus, CEO and Co-Founder, Open Ocean Robotics; Roman Szumski, Vice-President, Life Sciences, National Research Council; Shahab Shahnazari, Director, Innovation Challenges, MaRS Partnerships
Moderator: Julie Greene, Lead, Partnerships, Impact and Innovation Unit, Privy Council Office
Increasingly, the government is using challenge prize mechanisms to address some of Canada’s toughest problems, including Indigenous housing, food waste, the opioid crisis, and the use of methods and technologies for natural resource processing that rely on non- renewable resources and dated approaches.
Participating in challenge prizes can foster innovative solutions by increasing access to a variety of innovators across different sectors and disciplines, accelerating research and development, leveraging horizontal resources in government science and policy, as well as creating paths to commercialization and new markets for solutions.
Challenge prizes work best when there is an unknown solution to a known problem, if the problem to be addressed is well researched and defined, and if there is a clear Challenge statement and assessment criteria developed in consultation with stakeholders.
Solutions can come from any sector; as such eligibility is usually broad, with a lower bar for entry.
Challenge prizes allow start-ups innovators to gather data and find solutions at a much faster rate than usual. Challenge prize mechanisms are often successful in making progress happen faster or better.
The best way to ensure solutions get to the people who need them is by involving potential innovators and end-users and co-creating with them from the beginning.
Once the challenge prize is finished, ensure prizes winners continue to receive support as they move into the commercialization and growth stages.
Users need to be engaged and consulted through the entire process. Their perspectives inform the objectives of the challenge and the nature of the outcomes.
In Canada, challenge prizes can be used as an enabler to bring together innovators with end users of their solutions, or to co-design the scope, outcomes and structure of a challenge with the target community for innovative solutions. There are innovative programs and initiatives allowing companies to pilot with an end-user. Developing stage-gated challenges allows innovators the time, support and incentives they need to move their idea from concept to prototype, to testing with real-world end users. This enables companies to move beyond research and development prototyping to a viable product they can put in the hands of the customer they’re getting feedback from.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) – How interdisciplinary AI contributes to resilient and just societies
Organized by: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and UK Research and Innovation – Economic and Social Research Council
Speakers: Rebecca Finlay, Vice-President, Engagement & Public Policy, CIFAR; Christine Foster, Managing Director for Innovation, The Alan Turing Institute; Jason Millar, Canadian Research Chair in Ethical Engineering of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, Faculty of Engineering’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of Ottawa
Moderator: Paul Nightingale, Director of Strategy and Operations, Economic and Social Research Council, UK Research and Innovation
Biases in AI and Machine Learning (ML) emerge through how data are collected, who has access to that data, and how the data are used.
Data are often not representative and can reflect social biases in multiple ways (i.e., who is included/not included in the data).
The people building and using AI and ML may not have the capacity to understand how this bias is influencing the technology outcomes, especially as the technology becomes easier to access and more people are using it. Social scientists have this capacity and training.
Although massive amounts of data are being generated daily, very little are accessible or usable by researchers. As such, the same datasets get used over and over again in ways not originally intended, and without critical analysis of inherent biases. This process can magnify the ultimate effect of those biases.
To design just societies, we need engineers/technologists/computer scientists etc. to think about and engage with ethical and social issues at the design stage.
Adopt a social systems approach that involves parties from multiple science and social science backgrounds as we consider all the possible effects of new AI applications.
Organizations that work with AI and ML should hire an ethics team to be a part of their design process. Ensure design teams reflect diverse experiences and incorporate inclusive design principles.
More work is needed for all players (e.g., policy makers, social scientists, ethicists, engineers, technologists, etc.) to connect and understand one another’s languages and realities. Ways to support this connection include:
Post-secondary institutions should keep, emphasize and possibly expand their breadth requirements;
Organizations and governments working with or in AI and ML should engage someone with the experience and language to educate the involved parties and help translate principles into practice; and
Build conceptual tools that connect philosophy to reality, are widely applicable and can be deployed in the design room.
The government should do a full review of all policies affecting AI and its applications to ensure they are useful and relevant, and that the ethical questions reflect the realities of the AI design room.
Moving From Place to Purpose: Science Centres, Social Impact, and UN SDGs
Organized by: Marianne Mader, Canadian Association of Science Centres
Speakers: Eleanor Haine-Bennett, Program Officer for Natural Sciences, Canadian Commission for UNESCO; Tanya Woods, CEO & Chief Impact Officer, Kind Village Inc.; Tracy Calogheros, CEO, Exploration Place Museum + Science Centre
Moderator: Marianne Mader, Canadian Association of Science Centres
Distrust of government, media and industry is an impediment to the good public conversation that is necessary for decent public governance.
With high levels of attendance and representation in communities across Canada, museum and science centres are well poised to share their knowledge with the Canadian public.
Science centres and museums are constantly cited as the top trusted institutions for Canadians and Americans.
The Canadian Association of Science Centres (CASC) is the fastest way to roll out programs to reach Canadians.
Partnerships are crucial to attaining the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030. Organizations can’t do it alone.
Young people today will be tasked with achieving sustainable development in the long term and they need to be equipped with the appropriate skills to do that.
There are many forms of capital – not just monetary – that organizations can use to leave a SDG legacy.
Properly resource Canada’s science centres and museums and recognize the high levels of trust Canadians hold in them. The CASC should be relied upon by government, media and industry to quickly and effectively disseminate research and policies being developed for Canadians.
Organizations looking to initiate public engagement on the SDGs should evaluate their activities to determine where gaps and opportunities exist. They should make it a point to keep stakeholders updated as to how they are progressing.
Because it takes time to develop relationships, organizations should collaborate with partners they know and trust when working toward engaging the public on SDGs.
When choosing an area to bring to public attention, it is important to focus on what you care a lot about, to think carefully about who will be on your team, and what you need to do to scale it over time.
Organizations must be resourceful and not accept the status quo.
Making Science Communication Happen — Moving from Good Intentions to Getting the Job Done
Organizer: Sean Young-Steinberg, NIVA Inc.
Speakers: Anton Holland, President and CEO, NIVA Inc.; Thomas Davis, Manager within the Science Policy Branch (Strategic Policy), Science and Research Sector, Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada
Science communication is much more complex than simply translating the jargon of science into language the public understands. Its complexity stems from the diversity of its many elements, and the way those elements are interconnected, including:
the goals for communicating,
the content being conveyed,
the format in which it is presented, and
the individuals and organizations involved.
People approach science communication from their own starting points—a combination of expectations, knowledge, skills, beliefs, perceptions, and values that are in turn shaped by broader social, political, and economic influences. Organizations and institutions involved in science communication add their own influences.
An audience may react negatively if a communicator uses messages that overlook, discount, or dismiss their principles, values, socio-cultural expectations, knowledge systems, and learned experiences that form their world view.
Effective science communication is often limited by an audience’s lack of capacity for numerical reasoning (innumeracy), assumptions made about their prior knowledge, skewed risk perceptions, and a natural discomfort with scientific uncertainties and ambiguities. Science communicators risk inflicting cognitive overload on their audiences that could overwhelm the reception of their messages.
Communications and knowledge mobilization are key elements of scientific research, and it’s important for researchers to have those skill sets. Yet, dedicated funds are rarely allocated for these purposes.
Science communication is becoming even more challenging as populist movements erode public trust in established institutions and facilitate the spread of misinformation.
There could be significant benefits (e.g., sharing lessons learned and best practices) to establishing a national community of practice (CoP) for science communication. The Canadian Science Policy Centre could be the ideal venue to incubate and house this initiative.
Get to know your audience or you will have no audience. There is not really any such thing as a “general” audience. An empathy map can give you a way of taking the things you might know about your target audiences to develop an understanding of what a typical member of that audience needs know and hear.
Get to the point as soon as possible. Give only the minimum detail required to make your point. Relate these messages to your audience’s world view and make them relevant at a personal or local level.
Don’t avoid talking about risk or scientific uncertainties. Find strategies that will proactively reassure audiences when new information arises that require changes to outlooks, forecasts, timelines, etc. (e.g., climate change).
Tell a captivating story. Narratives that can evoke an emotional response from audiences are often a science communicator’s best friend.
Keep in mind distinctions between the national, regional, or local aspects of any given topic.
Researchers should not regard communications skills as a ‘nice-to-have’ with little practical value. Demonstrating the value of your work and remaining relevant to funders and the public is essential, now more than ever.