The “Train the Scientist!” event in Venice allowed us to explore how appropriate policies, incentives and training can be used to improve science communication.
“Science communication is settling in the society”, stated Brian Trench in his brilliant keynote at the “Train the Scientist!” seminar*. During the two-day event, QUEST investigated how policy, incentives and training can contribute to this process and help science communication grow both in terms of quantity and quality. The discussions involved a selected group of outstanding scholars, communicators, scientists, journalists and other stakeholders, the objective being the collection of their experiences and perspectives as a first step of the QUEST co-design process on these topics.
The workshop on “Policy and Incentives for Science Communication”, held on the first day, revealed that although there are many differences between disciplines and countries, as a general rule a stronger relationship between scientists and communicators is needed as a first step to incentivise the communication of research. Institutional support is necessary, from the involvement of mentors and senior professors to the level of governance, as well as including communication towards the general public among the institutions’ performance indicators. In this regard, training can play a central role. Many of the institutions represented at the event already have a number of training opportunities, however the landscape is quite fragmented.
Training was a specific focus of the second day, opening with Brian Trench’s historical and critical analysis of science communication education, followed by a panel with Ana Godinho (CERN), Rebecca Asher (Sense about Science), Chiara Saviane (SISSA), Gian-Andri Casutt (ETH Rat), Francesco Fiondella (IRI Columbia), and Brian Trench (PCST). As the moderator, I found the panellists remarkably effective in uncovering their experiences. The discussion ranged from sharing strategies and methodologies the panellists have adopted to support and train scientists to communicate on a variety of media in order to engage with the public, to promoting mediated and unmediated communication for scientists, highlighting the institutional framework and the benefits that science communication can have at individual, institutional and social levels.
The following sessions focused respectively on mapping the science communication training opportunities in Europe and on analysing the challenges related to the use of social media in communication practices. Roberta Villa (Ca’ Foscari University) presented the preliminary results of QUEST’s work on analysing the current teaching of science communication in Europe, showing its diversity and precariousness. The subject was further explored in a discussion with Ludo Koks, Utrecht University, and Alexandra Correa, Université Nice Sophia Antipolis. Afterwards, Fabiana Zollo, researcher at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, discussed the pressing topic of polarisation on social media and suggested how to improve the communication of controversial issues.
Inspired by these stimulating discussions, the audience participated in a co-design workshop led by Margot Bezzi and Marco Valente from APRE, aiming to identify crucial features for science communication education. The audience mainly composed of communication officers from universities of seven European countries, thanks to the collaboration of EUPRIO and AICUN, the European and Italian Associations of HE communication professionals. Special attention was given to understanding what aspects the communication officers from universities considered fundamental for quality and effective science communication, and what therefore should be considered when designing educational materials for science communication. One of the key takeaways from this discussion was how important it is to always keep in mind the audience when designing communication practices and contents, as well as the acknowledgment that science communication has to be a two-way interaction with the public.
As a take-home message, I can say that training needs to be designed not just to build skills but as a way of building culture, an attitude from which both the scientist and the public will benefit. As several of the participants underlined, communicating about science also changes the way in which scientists see and, consequently, do their own research.
* The events were organized by Venice International University, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and APRE- Agency for the Promotion of European Research, respectively Coordinator and partners of QUEST. The initiative was endorsed by Pro-ESOF as part of the events organized towards the Euro-Science Open Forum (ESOF) planned in Trieste in July 2020. The occasion was offered by Ca’ Foscari University Research Communication Week, a 5-day series of workshops and seminars devoted to promote awareness-raising on the importance of communication of research. For further info on “Train the Scientist!”, click here.