Our interview with Franck Wastin, Head of “Knowledge for Nuclear Safety, Security and Safeguards” unit at the Joint Research Centre (JRC), provides insights into how complex scientific topics can be communicated effectively within the academic community and to the public at large.
By Chiara Buongiovanni, APRE – Agenzia per la Promozione della Ricerca Europea
Project coordinators as well as team workers within Horizon 2020 projects are by now familiar with “communication” and “dissemination” as measures to maximize the impact of their research as well as relevant items for the evaluation process at the proposal stage.
Yet, far beyond Horizon 2020 and its successor Horizon Europe, access to scientific knowledge represents a crucial point for the entire European Union. Scientific knowledge management, indeed, affects deeply European Union policies and ultimately its citizens’ life.
In the occasion of the last NUCL-EU 2020 – National Contact Points for EURATOM programme H2020 to the Joint Research Center – JRC in Karlsruhe (Germania), I had the chance to discuss about it with Franck Wastin, Head of “Knowledge for Nuclear Safety, Security and Safeguards” unit, starting from a definitely “hot” area as the nuclear one.
Interesting insights to be shared came out from this interview. Let’s go through them, thanks to Franck Wastin reactions to a few questions on the topic.
Within the broader JRC mission, what is the specific mission of your Unit “Knowledge for Nuclear Safety, Security and Safeguards”?
According to the Euratom Treaty founded in 1957, the European Commission (EC) is responsible for promoting and facilitating nuclear research in the EU member states, and carrying out a Community research and training programme. The European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) was originally established to carry out the nuclear research programmes of the European Commission. Later, the JRC has grown to become the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, supporting EU policies with independent scientific evidence throughout the whole policy cycle.
In this context, and following the JRC restructuration occurred in July 2016, the mission of the JRC.G10 unit has been set as: “to manage and disseminate knowledge generated by the scientific units of Directorate Nuclear Safety and Security (Dir. G) by mapping, collating, analysing, quality checking and communicating in a systematic and digestible way all the relevant scientific data, methods, tools and to monitor knowledge available worldwide. Attention to be given to anticipating knowledge needs, mapping knowledge gaps and suggesting research topics to be carried out in the JRC. To facilitate open access to JRC nuclear facilities including training and education”.
How central is the dissemination activity in your work and why?
Organizational learning is the synthesis of two processes: learning and dissemination. The former refers to the creation of knowledge, the latter to the distribution of knowledge throughout the organization. This knowledge distribution should also include knowledge originating from outside the organization. In this context, dissemination itself is less central than the process of mapping and organizing knowledge to make it accessible to the right person at the right time. Organizational learning is distinct from individual learning that is more of the relevance of the Human Resources Departments.
What would you mention as prominent concerns and ambitions for your dissemination strategy?
Knowledge management is essentially about getting the right knowledge to the right person at the right time. This in itself may not seem so complex, but it implies a strong tie to corporate strategy, understanding of where and in what forms knowledge exists, creating processes that span organizational functions, and ensuring that initiatives are accepted and supported by organizational members and set up. Our main ambition is then to correctly map the knowledge available and anticipate the needs and to not solely focus on knowledge sharing, storage, and refinement. Our prominent concern is to find the most effective and efficient way not only making it accessible but that it timely reaches its target.
To which extent are you communicating to the larger public, beside the scientific community?
Public at large is not yet a dissemination target in our strategy. Today we essentially focus on the European Commission internal dissemination to support EU policies with independent scientific evidence throughout the whole policy cycle. This includes the scientific communities that are central to the learning-dissemination process and feed the process with the valuable content. What we target to the public at large is to make the information accessible. I will illustrate this with our Radioactivity Environmental Monitoring (REM) activities that provides qualified information about the level of environmental radioactivity to the public, Member States, European Commission and European Parliament. Environmental radioactivity information are provided as a real-time monitoring data and estimated natural radioactivity levels through https://remon.jrc.ec.europa.eu/About. The channels used are organisation of or presence at information events, websites and, to a less extent for nuclear matters, social media channels.
Would you say you are satisfied with the results and outcomes achieved so far?
Such a targeted approach and mission is relatively new in the culture of our organization and we are still in a learning process. It is also a huge challenge both from a cultural approach, targeting different communities, which do not always listen each other, and from the thematic domain in which we are exercising i.e. Nuclear Safety, Security and Safeguards. The latter is often embedded into political and polemical sensitive contexts that make knowledge dissemination challenging or misunderstood. The major constraints are arising from being the interface between science, society and policy.
Would you have any specific lessons learnt to share with the broader science communication community?
Maybe one of the most obvious but not truly specific is that scientist might not be the best to communicate about science (with some exceptions). The communication reference channels have changed in our society today, and, from a personal point of view, I find them evolving faster than the speed “structured” organisations are able to cope with. We have to clearly distinguish the dissemination strategy to technical experts in a domain from the one to non-expert public. For the latter, one efficient way we found out is to let “others” speaking about the messages to be delivered or to use other channels, like art and science.
Would you share with us with any new, upcoming dissemination or outreach initiative you are working on for the 2020?
Of direct relevance to the Euratom Horizon 2020 community, I would refer to the action being developed in 2020 and tasking the JRC to develop a Pilot action on knowledge management in nuclear safety. The scope will be to establish a KM process and to develop a platform enabling access to the results of both indirect and direct actions from Euratom FP7 and H2020 work programmes (2007-2020). It will focus on developing a knowledge management tool and its implementation for materials ageing, and propose a structure and taxonomy for knowledge management in other main areas in safety of operating NPPs (e.g. TH, fuel, reactor physics and dynamics, SA, instrumentation & control, PSA, human & organisational factors…).