Views

#InclusiveSciComm: Launching a new national conversation about inclusive public engagement with science

  • By Sunshine Menezes, Executive Director of the Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting at the University of Rhode Island

It’s no secret that practitioners and scholars often view their disciplines differently. Scholars worry that their research is not being applied by practitioners, while those in the field may struggle to apply research findings within the specific logistical constraints of their programs. Such is the case in the burgeoning fields of science communication (SciComm) and public engagement with science (PES). Science is communicated to non-experts every day—in classrooms, museums, in the news, and through public policy. However, many science communicators and scholars use a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t account for the diverse experiences and values of our multicultural society.

The practice and study of SciComm and PES have substantive overlap with the practice and study of informal science education (ISE), though the approaches and audiences may differ. Two important areas of overlap relate to the growing emphasis on acknowledging and respecting the perspectives and contributions of diverse public audiences through knowledge co-production and asset-based approaches.

I come from the practitioner side of the equation as executive director of the Metcalf Institute at the University of Rhode Island. The Metcalf Institute has fostered informed public conversations about environmental challenges and solutions for twenty years through science training for professional journalists and communication training for early- to mid-career scientists. Since 1998, we’ve trained 2,100 people to communicate science, especially environmental science, with greater clarity and context. This type of training has a massive multiplier effect, providing millions of news consumers around the globe, every day, with scientific information to help them make informed choices.

At the Metcalf Institute, we constantly strive to improve our training based on interdisciplinary research and our program evaluations. But, like many small programs, we struggle to capture all the relevant research and translate it into our training. Similarly, we strive to craft training opportunities that stress the value of inclusive, audience-centric approaches to science communication. But, like big and small programs, we sometimes duplicate effort because we’re unaware of similar, successful work around the country.

All of these thoughts coalesced for me over the past year, in part, because of my involvement in the CAISE Broadening Participation Task Force. This gathering of talented ISE and SciComm professionals was designed to “map possibilities” for engaging wider audiences in STEM by producing practical tools that will help practitioners support diversity, equity, and access. Through this process, I’ve been exposed to countless new concepts and practices that have informed and improved the Metcalf Institute’s work. 

As I reflected on the challenges and opportunities related to achieving systemic change that would foster inclusive public engagement with science, I kept coming back to the same idea: we need a national convening of science communication, PES, and ISE scholars and practitioners to discuss our knowledge and gaps about how to prioritize inclusion, intersectionality, and asset-based methods in our work. We need a gathering that would highlight the successes and challenges of knowledge co-production. We need an opportunity to learn from one another and build new collaborations across disciplines, from neuroscience to climate change adaptation.

That’s how #InclusiveSciComm was born. 

The Metcalf Institute, with lead support from the Rhode Island Consortium for Coastal Ecology, Assessment, Innovation & Modeling and the intellectual contributions of a national planning committee, developed a Symposium on Advancing Inclusive Public Engagement with Science to be held September 28-29, 2018, at the University of Rhode Island.

This symposium will address four themes central to advancing the national conversation on inclusive public engagement: frameworks, challenges, media, and strategies. The program will feature speakers who are effecting change and fostering inclusion in a wide range of settings across America and a keynote lecture by Dr. Raychelle Burks, another member of the CAISE Broadening Participation Task Force. We expect the symposium attendees will represent an equally diverse suite of backgrounds, which is why we’ve built in plenty of opportunities for networking and discussion. The symposium will conclude with a final workshop to consider next steps for building a national network to continue these conversations. 

For more information about the #InclusiveSciComm Symposium and to register, visit http://inclusivescicomm.org.

Further reading