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Pilot study on innovative approaches to public communication of life sciences and biotechnology by students and young researchers

Final Report Summary - BIOPOP (Pilot study on innovative approaches to public communication of life sciences and biotechnology by students and young researchers)

What would happen if scientists ceased to meet the public with the intent of educating them, with the current view that only an in-depth knowledge could change their behaviour and attitude towards life sciences? And what if students and young scientists, instead, gathered with the public, challenging themselves and their choices, letting themselves available to listen to lay people and to their interests? These questions were the starting point of the BIOPOP project, aimed at developing and testing a new model of science communication in which young scientists are the main actors and where an effective two-way interaction and dialogue can be realised.

The main aim was to overcome the traditional schemes in which communication is the equivalent of education and narration of consolidated results. BIOPOP turned communication into participation in the development of science, by increasing the transparency of its processes, and by involving directly the next generation of scientists in the interaction with society.

The entire effort in developing an innovative model of communication was coupled to the effort in developing a powerful scheme of evaluation, capable to measure appropriately the effective impact these new tools may have and how / if the planned goals were reached.

As far as the general goal of improving communication between science and society is concerned, the BIOPOP events seemed to be successful in promoting a new channel of dialogue between scientists and the general public. Both visitors' high level of satisfaction and desire to go deeper into the issues presented during the event, as shown by a great percentage of participants at the end of the visit, are significant indicators of the abilities of young life science students and researchers to promote attention and participation at the event.

The analysis shows that the structure and the design of the events go well beyond cultural, education, age and gender levels in stimulating curiosity and increasing interest in scientific issues. As confirmed by the whole complex of data collected, the kind of relationship existing between the public and researchers during the visit is a core dimension in shaping the perceptions of the event; visitors who got the chance to exchange point of views, ideas and thoughts with the BIOPOP researchers showed to be more satisfied and interested than expected. Therefore, the overall impression given by BIOPOP pilot events is that this communication activity could launch an innovative way of communicating about science and technology issues.

A double result has been achieved: a specific training programme was developed, tailored on a new communication model and completely set up by young people, and a team of scientists and students was formed, well trained in communicating with the public and the media while spending their regular time in the lab. The training was focused on the interpersonal approach, more than on the scientific knowledge. The main goal was to get trainees used to relate to the 'public' as people with particular experiences, therefore in a way that would break down the traditional image of 'the scientist'. Moreover, it was also important to break down the image of 'the public' and all the stereotypes that most of the scientists have about it. All these concepts and their applications have been something new; so it was really important to check their impact also on the young scientists taking part in the project.

It is therefore possible to conclude that BIOPOP was a successful experience as far as the effectiveness of the new tools is concerned, both among the public and the young researchers. On one hand, the public 'discovered' that scientists know how to deploy open and disinterested communicative relations. On the other hand, the scientists were able to appreciate the public's interest and openness towards them.