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Panel 222 - Great Research Ecosystems Support Public Outreach

Conference Day: 
Day 3 - November 9th 2018
Takeaways and recommendations: 

Who Speaks for Science? Great Research Ecosystems Support Public Outreach

Organized by: RCIScience and Science Everywhere

Speakers: Carrie Boyce, Program Manager, RCIScience; Dr. Marianne Mader, Executive Director, Canadian Association of Science Centres; Cara Marshall, Director of Communications, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor; Anthony Morgan, Broadcaster and CEO of Science Everywhere

Moderator: Reinhart Reithmeier, Professor, Biochemistry, University of Toronto

Takeaways and recommendations

Make community outreach fun

  • Connect more adults with science through community outreach programs, the arts and comedy; make them a natural and fun part of the culture. Among the ideas: improv comedy, a paint night, a staged event, a Freestyle Social at a pub.

  • Have scientists connect with people in non-scientific settings where people gather (e.g., airport lounges, waiting rooms, music/art festivals).

  • Effective programs can encourage debate in environments where people feel safe accepting new ideas and changing their minds (the “Freestyle Social” method employed by Science Everywhere).

Leveraging what science centres already do

  • Science centres already engage diverse, inter-generational audiences with informal science learning (i.e., outside of school and formal education).

  • Science centres are creating more adult-focused programming, particularly interactive opportunities, that can support adults’ relationship to science in their daily lives

  • Science centres are evolving to becoming community hubs and a place to facilitate discussion of challenging topics (e.g., opiate crisis)

  • Increasingly, when designing programs, initiatives and funding, science centres are thinking from from a connective point of view, and how they can support one another and partner with other organizations.

The role of scientists in sharing their research

  • Scientists have a responsibility to share publicly funded research work with the public. They may need support in doing this.

  • Scientists have to nail down their objectives and decide what they are trying to measure or do before they proceed with audience engagement.

  • Look for opportunities to use storytelling to talk about your science. For example, the “Story Collider” podcast features scientists telling personal stories about themselves that are related to science.

  • There’s no such thing as a “general public.” Rather, there are multiple, dynamic publics across the country. Scientists should target their messaging in a way that resonates with the particular audience they are addressing.

  • Apply an equity, diversity and inclusivity lens to identify who is being left out of the conversation and would benefit from greater engagement in STEM.

  • Scientists shouldn’t feel they need to control the narrative. Instead, look for opportunities to co-create the narrative through dialogue.

  • Scientists should try to be forthright with the idea that science is a process, not an end point, in communicating about their research. In particular, failure is part of research and scientists should not be afraid to talk about it as people understand failure on a human level.

  • Mentorship programs can empower and give young scientists the skills to speak publicly about their research.

Supporting outreach activities

  • Funding agencies tend to fund research, not outreach. If researchers can provide hard data from community engagement activities, they could make a stronger case for demonstrating the impact of outreach, and the need to fund it.

  • There’s a wealth of funding and resources available for getting people engaged with science, but most of it geared towards youth. The opportunities to fund adult engagement in fun ways are limited to virtually non-existent.

  • More work is needed to measure, and thus demonstrate the value and connectivity of informal learning outside of academia.

The Impact of Face to Face Outreach

  • Despite the growth of different platforms for science communication, face-to-face engagement remains an exceptionally impactful way to connect people with human stories. It’s a great way to build trust, which is one of the biggest challenges scientists encounter with audiences.

  • Face-to-face outreach takes a lot of time, resources and energy and needs to be carefully thought through in advance.

  • One-way lectures and broadcasting don’t allow for two-way conversation, which would enable audiences to explore the nuances of particular topics and become more comfortable engaging with STEM issues.

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