CORDIS - EU research results

Cities and science communication: innovative approaches to engaging the public

Final Report Summary - CASC (Cities and science communication: innovative approaches to engaging the public)

Executive Summary:

The CASC Project funded under the European Commission's Framework 7 Coordination and Support Actions (Science in Society) focused on science communication in cities since it is in cities that all the key actors in 'science' and the widest range of 'publics' are to be found. It set out to explore existing methods and approaches to building a scientific culture, including their impact on specific target groups and the potential for transferability between countries and cultures. The project involved 17 partners from Europe and 1 from China who are already active in this field but working in different social, economic, cultural and political contexts.

The partners came from a range of organisations (including science centres, higher education, business and education outreach organisations, and local and regional administrations). This enabled the project team to understand science in society issues from different perspectives. For example, some partners already had extensive experience and expertise in science communication whilst others were at a much earlier stage.

Over a period of 22 months from May 2009 to February 2011, a range of methodologies were assessed and a number of pilot actions tested. Drawing on the findings from these activities, the partners concluded that there were three high level priorities which needed to be addressed if public engagement in science was to be strengthened. They felt that it was vital to:
* Celebrate science and scientists,
* Strengthen science citizenship
* Promote 'good' science

CASC's policy recommendations are designed to support these priorities.

Project Context and Objectives:
The Cities and Science Communication project is based on the premise that greater public engagement in science is vital for the development of the knowledge society and the knowledge economy and that this could be helped by improving the communication of science to citizens at city, regional, national and European levels.

The project has sought to respond to the European Commission's continuing commitment to foster 'stronger and more harmonious relations between science and society' by contributing to the delivery of its Science in Society Action Plan. It has focused on building a network based on cities, since cities are crucial to Europe's future competitiveness and are where all the key actors in science in society and the widest range of 'publics' are most likely to be found.

The first decade of the 21st Century saw the development of the concept of 'science cities' whose main aim appears to be that of boosting the knowledge economy/knowledge society in support of the goals of the Lisbon strategy. They have recognised the importance of promoting knowledge and innovation through the closer working of the 'triple helix' of universities, business and the public sector. They are now also acknowledging the need to engage with the public beyond the 'triple helix' in order to embed a scientific culture within the wider community.

This approach has been driven largely by the need to confront the fact that economic growth is being held back in many cases by a serious skills shortage in science and engineering. Not enough young people are studying science in school or going on to pursue science and technology related careers. Thus, cities (and particularly science cities) are now actively engaged in initiatives to attract people, particularly young people into these subject areas.

But the CASC project wanted to go beyond a focus on young people. It recognised the importance of targeting them, but there are many other 'publics' amongst the European population that could and should be brought into science in society projects, for example the elderly (Europe is having to deal with an ageing population); those in custody; or simply those who would not think to engage in science through more formal infrastructure (e.g. through science centres or museums).

In spite of the progress made in science communication over the last decade, there remains a marked democratic deficit in science governance, policy and practice. Many citizens have experienced limited or poor quality science education and as a consequence have little or no awareness or interest in the role of science and technology in their daily lives. Many are also marginalised by lack of knowledge and access to 'trustworthy' information. They are thus excluded from participation in debate or from making informed choices on major science and technology issues which could have an impact on their daily life and work.

CASC partners have drawn on their individual and shared experiences and know how to identify barriers to engaging multiple 'publics', to exchange good practice in science communication and to develop and test a range of public initiatives across the network. Their findings have shaped a series of recommendations for improving science communication and promoting scientific dialogue with different publics. But this is only the start, it is hoped that the work of CASC will help shape future science in society policy, contribute to the thinking around cities of 'scientific culture' and enable scientists and their work to come closer to the citizen.

Project objectives

Amongst the high level objectives which the Project hoped to achieve were the following:

* To develop a policy approach (and make policy recommendations) that effectively accommodates a representative input from science institutions, the public sector, the private sector and 'the public'.
* To share best practice in science and society initiatives with colleagues in partner cities across Europe through the building of a network and to promote learning through exchange of ideas and personnel. To discuss potential new initiatives for the future in order to improve Science in Society working.
* To assist in the delivery of the Commission's Science and Society Action Plan, as well as to move towards meeting the goals laid out in the Lisbon and Gothenburg strategies.
Project Results:
CASC partners' experiences have highlighted the importance of bringing scientists and their work directly into contact with 'the public'; of acknowledging national, cultural and socio-economic differences when designing science communication programmes; of recognising that content must be directly relevant to the context in which projects are implemented; of facilitating transnational peer to peer learning; and of encouraging a multi-partner approach to building science citizenship and a scientific culture.
The active participation of scientists in science communication is not new but CASC partners' initiatives underlined the value of the target public having direct access to scientists e.g. the Earth Science Day in Prague and the need to ensure that scientists are 'good communicators'. They must be able not only to impart knowledge in a way that is appropriate to their audience but to convey their passion and commitment to their subject. This does not always come naturally and some form of training in science communication should be available to researchers.

Some of the greatest obstacles identified by the CASC partners during the course of the project were, perhaps unsurprisingly, linked to different cultural understandings and acceptability of differentiating the public. Some had no difficulty in singling out particular groups as being 'hard-to-reach', whereas others found this either culturally and/or politically unacceptable. Whilst much of the academic literature suggests that we should talk about 'multiple publics', this is, in many ways, an over-simplification of the challenges faced in reality. It is important to acknowledge diversity and to recognise the inappropriateness of a 'one size fits all' approach to science in society within cities. Thus, partners found that they had to be flexible with methodologies and accepting of the fact that they were not going to find a universal approach to tackling the issue of targeting hard-to-reach groups in public engagement activities.

Nevertheless, there were some areas of public engagement that unified everyone, where it was possible to test the same approach in different locations. One of these key areas involved the media and providing people with a greater understanding of how science is mediated. This is going to be critical into the future with increasing exposure to science through TV, newspapers, magazines, social media and ever-increasing numbers of websites. People need to be given the capability to assess the good and the bad, as well as what they can trust and what they should treat sceptically. The CASC project has given a small insight into this process through working with groups of young people in Europe.

Another issue which confronted the partners was that however many barriers are removed to participation in science (e.g. reducing the cost of visiting science centres/ holding themed activities, undertaking outreach activity) there will always be a core group of people that make a conscious decision not to engage in science. This area of science in society was beyond the scope of this project but it is important that we acknowledge the issue exists.

In addition to exploring barriers to engagement in science, CASC partners set themselves an ambitious objective of developing fresh insights into how science communication might encourage citizens to change their behaviour. It is not always easy to convince people that individual actions can make a difference as often the problem seems so big that they feel powerless to do anything about it. Taking climate change and sustainability as an example, partners tested a number of different approaches to encouraging people to be open to change. They found that the most successful were those which broke a complex problem into small, manageable actions where individuals and companies could clearly see the relevance to their daily lives or business.

Drawing on this experience in particular, it is clear that innovative approaches towards public engagement do not have to be complex. Sometimes it is the most simple ideas that have the greatest effect, particularly around instilling a positive approach towards complicated issues, such as climate change; less can sometimes be more.

Throughout the course of the CASC project, it has become increasingly evident that the range of issues and challenges involved in science in society projects requires a multi-partner approach. Cooperation between science centres, schools, local authorities, higher education institutions and the private sector is essential. This allows for a more democratic and inclusive approach to strategy and policy around science in society/ public engagement so that projects and programmes can be working towards medium and longer-term goals and objectives. The development of local networks around science in society is equally important in shaping policy and programmes and building a local scientific culture.

In a small way all of the CASC projects have had success and have brought science to new publics. They have made a difference to people's perception of, and engagement in, science in each of the partner cities and networking opportunities have given science communicators on the project new perspectives on how they might work in the future and also how they might continue to learn from each other. The CASC network has steadily gathered momentum and will continue following the end of the project, with partners committed to continuing to share ideas and best practice; this is perhaps one of its most important legacies.

These are based on partners' experiences, various 'expert' group discussions conducted during the course of the CASC project and from the contributions of delegates to the Final Conference which took place in Birmingham between 26 and 28 January 2011. Partners consider that many of their recommendations are in themselves multi-level, since they could be implemented at any one or at all levels from local to European. They have not, therefore, for the most part, assigned them a hierarchy of governance level or of timescale. They are intended to support three overarching priorities to strengthen public engagement in science.

* Celebrate science and scientists;
* Strengthen science citizenship;
* Promote 'good' science.

Celebrate Science and Scientists
Partners shared the view that science and scientists should be promoted outside the immediate scientific community in ways that celebrate scientific research and discovery, stimulate curiosity and encourage interest amongst the wider public. There are examples of excellent science communication practice across Europe but these need to be shared more widely and opportunities provided for the exchange of new ideas and innovative techniques for raising public awareness and increasing the understanding of science and the work of scientists.
1) Give support to a transnational network of science communication practitioners who engage directly with the public to facilitate peer-to-peer learning and the continuing exchange of experience and new ideas, particularly between practitioners in established science centres and those working in, or involved in the creation of, new centres.
2) Encourage greater mobility of science communicators through the development of a dedicated funding stream to facilitate short term exchange and study visits across the EU and further afield.
3) Support closer working between the science community and the cultural and creative sectors to find new ways of engaging people in science, for example through the arts (theatre, story-telling etc) and new media.
4) Support science communicators in the innovative and imaginative use of public spaces in which to engage 'uninvited publics' with science, e.g. shopping malls.
5) Give formal recognition to science communication activity undertaken by scientists and researchers comparable to the professional accreditation earned through publication in peer reviewed journals.
6) Provide professional development opportunities in science communication for researchers, teachers and science centre staff.
7) Embed ongoing mainstream science communication activity into universities' core business as opposed to focusing only on project level activity e.g. through funding for universities to adopt schools, working more closely with science centres.
8) Support closer partnership working and dialogue between the science community and journalists at local and national level to encourage more informed reporting.

Strengthen science citizenship
Scientific citizenship implies a level of awareness and understanding amongst 'the public' of scientific issues which enables them to engage in debate and make informed choices. Participants in the CASC project shared a concern that there is, however, a growing democratic deficit in science governance, policy and practice. They feel that this has contributed to an increasing confusion amongst 'the public' over which scientists or scientific data to trust and to a reluctance to engage with science or science policy-makers. They also highlighted a number of ways in which different 'publics' might be marginalized or excluded from scientific dialogue and debate and piloted a number of activities designed to tackle such problems. They agreed that the EU's emphasis on young people was important but that much more needed to be done to empower 'adult publics' to participate more actively and knowledgeably in scientific debate. All partners, whatever their background, felt strongly that science centres and their staff have a crucial role to play in strengthening science citizenship.

1) Support existing Science Centres in engaging multiple 'publics' in science both through on-site and outreach activities through the provision of additional resources to existing centres for the continuing evaluation and renewal of existing activities in order to respond to advances in research.
2) Where dedicated science centres do not already exist, national, regional and local authorities work jointly to develop new centres and in the interim to encourage and support ongoing science communication outreach initiatives.
3) Give science communications practitioners in-service professional development to enable them to keep up to date with the latest societal issues relating to the impact of scientific advances.
4) Any policy seeking to address the democratic deficit re: science in society must take into account differing national, cultural and socio-economic characteristics of each member state and the communities within them, since it is clear that 'one size does not fit all'.
5) Science communicators and policy-makers must ensure that the content and ways of communicating are directly relevant and meaningful to the target audience(s).when transferring methodologies for engagement from one country or one type of 'public' to another. For some communities across Europe this will require a more specialist, bottom-up approach to communication.
6) Give support to the development and support of science learning and mentoring opportunities between schools in different socio-economic and geographical locations in order to encourage greater inclusivity,.
7) Although engaging with young people is vital, give direct support towards initiatives that acknowledge and engage with Europe's many different adult publics, e.g. older people and minorities.
8) Give targeted support to science initiatives that develop closer working partnerships between the science communities and the private sector especially small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), since it is clear that they remain largely outside the dialogue between the 'triple helix' partners of universities, business and public sector.
9) Use existing business events and trade fairs more strategically to initiate a dialogue between the private sector and science professionals. Further, science communication to business needs to take into account that economic drivers are a key motivation for business.
10) Develop a common European evaluation framework for science communication initiatives with 'the public' in order that any organisation or individual engaged in such activity can compare their outcomes with those of their peers and thus improve the overall standards of practice across the EU.

Promote 'good' science
In comparing tools for building a scientific culture and in exploring the issues around changing the behaviour of different publics, CASC partners found that members of the public were deterred from engaging with an issue, or were confused, by the wide range of sources and quantity of information available, particularly with the proliferation of self-moderated websites and social media networks. Some were also clearly unsure of who or what to believe e.g. on climate change or GM foods. Partners felt that it was vitally important promote 'good' science in ways that are accessible to the many different publics and to encourage the development of greater critical thinking skills.

1) Develop a European portal for websites that promote and use 'good' science/ evidence-based research.
2) The EU should develop a set of standards stating the minimum requirements to be met by scientific research In order to improve public trust in science and promote greater transparency
3) Consider giving seed funding to partnerships between programme makers and the science community to produce 'good science' audio-visual materials for European-wide distribution. NB This could involve collaboration between different Directorates General.
4) Encourage greater collaboration between DG Education and Culture and DG Research on the development of lifelong learning initiatives on science in society to improve greater understanding of 'good science' amongst adults.
5) National and local authorities should actively promote enquiry-based learning and the development of critical thinking in schools e.g. through targeted initiatives involving collaboration between schools and science centres.

Potential Impact:
Potential impacts
Both during the course of the project and in its immediate aftermath, the CASC project has had a range of impacts on the policy and practice of the partners. These include:
1) The creation of a new network of Science Communication practitioners, enabling peer to peer learning to take place across Europe through the sharing of strategic policy-making, communication methodologies and practice;
2) Changes in Science Communication practice through the review of strategic approaches to communication with multiple publics;
3) The transfer of knowledge and expertise re: policy and practice from well-established Science Communications centres to more recently created ones;
4) Devising of new tools for building a scientific culture e.g. a 'web crawler' to capture the presence of scientific concepts in headlines of any news source and development of applications for interactive exhibits;
5) Influencing the design and selection of topics and materials for display and the shaping of the programming for new science centres being planned e.g. in Debrecen and Lyon;
6) Fostering greater interdisciplinary working between the public, private and academic sectors to improve the public engagement in science;
7) Developing greater insights amongst practitioners regarding 'audience segmentation' through shared thinking and learning around the differentiation of 'the public' and particularly the concept of 'hard to reach' groups and around 'changing/influencing behaviour' of specific publics;
8) The exploration of the relationship between creative and cultural practice and science communication has led to the development of EXPECCTS, a new project proposal under the FP7 Call: Cities of Scientific Culture for Innovation.

CASC has already had several significant short term impacts on 'the publics' themselves through the different pilot actions which have been developed and tested in a number of the partner cities e.g. encouraging a greater critical awareness of the role of the media in shaping perceptions of science in society or facilitating access to information about science for 'hard to reach' groups.

For the longer-term, policy-makers at local, regional, national and European levels have become more aware of the importance of differentiating 'the public' when seeking to improve public engagement with science and to acknowledge that 'one size does not fit all'. This is indicated by the fact that several specialist science and urban policy advisers present at the CASC Final Conference agreed that better targeting of initiatives was needed for more effective public engagement in science.

The CASC Policy Recommendations contain a detailed series of recommendations for improving the policy and practice of science communication across Europe and beyond at all levels. These recommendations will provide the basis for ongoing dialogue between practitioners and policy-makers, particularly at the city and city-region levels e.g. to explore how scientists can be given greater encouragement and support to be come directly involved in the public engagement in science and how the democratic deficit in science communication can be reduced.

Main dissemination activities
The Final Report and Executive Summary together with details of pilot actions, comments, images etc may be found on the CASC project website which will continue in being for at least the next 5 years. Partners continue to update weblinks to and from the site and to hold information about CASC on their own websites. The 'posterous' social media tool has been particularly useful as a communication tool.

The Policy Recommendations will also be shared with, and disseminated through, national and international networks such as ECSITE and the network of paprtners in the FP 7 PLACES project as well as relevant departments of regional and national governments. In addition, the Executive Summary Report is being distributed to key influencers in each of the partner's cities, regions and countries as well as appropriate scientific publications and websites.

Partners at Birmingham City University are working on articles for submission to peer reviewed journals following the completion of the project. Press releases on the successful completion of the CASC project will be distributed over the next month, using examples of the pilot actions to illustrate the findings. The evidence used will be determined by the target audience for each release.

The detailed breakdown of dissemination activities to date is to be found in Section 4.2 A. These include the CASC Final Conference itself in Jan 2011, presentations at international and national conferences by CASC partners over the life of the project, dedicated CASC Science Days and Exhibitions, a CASC presence at Science Festivals e.g. British Science Festival Sept 2010, workshops and a video competition.

List of Websites:

Dr Jacqueline Homan,
Birmingham Science City Manager,
Birmingham City Council,
Council House (Room 239),
B1 1BB

Tel: +44 (0)121 303 4320
Mob: +44 ()7833 059273
Fax: +44 (0)121 464 9791