As QUEST reaches its midpoint, it is a perfect opportunity to review our activities and achievements during the first year of the project, as well as detailing what our plans are for the remaining 12 months.
The Horizon 2020 project QUEST – QUality and Effectiveness in Science and Technology communication kicked off one year ago and will end in February 2021. In other words, we are now halfway through the two-year initiative.
A wide variety of activities took place during the first 12 months of the project, ranging from desk-based research to data collection and analysis, and from conference participations to the organisation of numerous “mutual-learning” workshops.
The various tasks and project actions have ensured that the first year of QUEST was a fruitful one, and we are confident that its results will act as a strong foundation for our work as we start the second year.
European science communication today
A major focus during first year was analysing the state of European science communication, particularly with regard to journalism, social media and museums, the three strands of the QUEST project. Through interviews, literature reviews, quantitative social media analysis, and ethnography, the QUEST partner Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) led a comprehensive study into contemporary science communication in Europe.
The results show that science communication in Europe is in transition. The landscape is shifting due to wider developments in the legacy media industry, largely caused by the rise of digital and social media.
As a field of practice, science communication is frequently framed as a means to bridge a cap between science and the society as a whole. However, as a research field, there is little evidence that science communication is a coherent subject of research: the scholarship is constantly shifting as different centres and individuals rise to the fore, with national contexts and disciplinary affiliations also playing a key role.
Regarding the three focus areas of the QUEST project, our research shows that there is a need for journalists to go beyond “translation” or “cheerleading” of science, and focus more on investigating science policy and funding, as well as challenging “bad science” when necessary. In the context of a changing media landscape, funding is a central concern for news professionals.
Meanwhile, our analysis on social media determined that Twitter shows a greater variety of science content than Facebook and YouTube, while YouTube has considerably less variety than the other platforms. For science communication professionals, social media offers undeniable opportunities: experts with a social media presence tend to have a higher level of engagement with their audience.
When it comes to museums, we see an urgent need to make science museums more socially inclusive, and for them to engage a wider range of audiences. The results of QUEST research stress the importance of scientific accuracy as a baseline for quality. Moreover, creating opportunities for exchange between researchers and the public can help inspire and empower museum visitors.
Measuring quality and effectiveness
Another central goal for the QUEST project is the investigation of the methods that are used to measure and assess standards of science communication. Our analysis of the tools that are currently used for this purpose will help us develop our own set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for measuring quality and effectiveness in science communication.
The various co-creation workshops organised during the first year have played a major role in this work. The workshops brought together representatives from different science communication professions and allowed them to collaboratively work towards a common understanding of the main elements of quality. (Read more about the QUEST methodology based on co-design and stakeholder engagement here).
Carried out by different QUEST partners, six co-creation workshops were held in five different countries – Italy (July 2019), Norway (October 2019), Estonia (October 2019, January 2020), UK (November 2019) and Ireland (December 2019).
This work, coupled with literature review and led by the partner Tallinn University, has allowed us to create a preliminary list of 12 quality indicators for science communication. These indicators will act as the basis for the development of our final list of KPIs.
Co-creation workshops have been an important component of the QUEST methodology during the first year.
Science communication innovations
Supporting our aim to develop and experiment with science communication innovations, INQUEST, a digital support tool for science journalists, is currently being developed by the QUEST partner City, University of London. The INQUEST tool will help science journalists explore scientific content, generate creative ideas to inspire their reporting, and support different types of scientific journalism tasks.
Combining desk-based research and co-design workshops with targeted end users, INQUEST builds on the INJECT prototype by adding features such as the creative discovery of science news stories and describing effective audience personas for science communication based on published research. In June this year, INQUEST will be presented to editors and journalists at the World News Media Congress 2020, organised by the QUEST partner WAN-IFRA.
As for social media, we are now starting the work on creating a science communication strategy for social media experts. This process will include an analysis of over 700 relevant social media accounts, with more to be added as the research progresses.
Before the end of the project, the QUEST partner Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin will lead the work to create a handbook for science communication in museums, the development of which will start later this year.
Creating capacity and incentives
In addition to supporting science communication professionals directly, the QUEST project also aims to build broader capacities and incentives for science communication. To support this goal, the QUEST partner Ca’ Foscari University of Venice has mapped the landscape of education and training opportunities for science communication in Europe, and we have also made the database available as an interactive map.
These findings will allow the Venice International University, the QUEST project coordinator, to lead the development of a series of toolkits for science communicators such as scientists, communicators, journalists, social media content managers and museum explainers. A list of recommendations for policy makers will also be created during the project’s second year, led by the project partner Agency for the Promotion of European Research (APRE).
Interviews and various events have already allowed us to start collecting information about best practices at the EU level, as well as the different needs and barriers. For instance, a policy workshop organised in Venice in September 2019 provided us with crucial input from representatives of academia, science institutions, journalists, international scholars and practitioners.
The next 12 months
Building on the work accomplished during the first year of the project, the focus during the next year will shift slightly from research to reaching out to relevant stakeholders and the wider public.
In terms of our stakeholders, we will make additional efforts to engage with scientists and museum facilitators, as well as aiming to involve the business sector more closely as part of our aim to liaise with the wider science communication community.
Once more project outputs are ready to be published, we will also be focusing more on media relations in order to help us communicate our findings as broadly as possible. This will specifically support our goal of engaging with the wider public, a crucial stakeholder group for the dissemination of our findings and outputs.