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Periodic Reporting for period 2 - RETHINK (RETHINK)

Reporting period: 2020-04-01 to 2022-03-31

Open and productive interactions between science and society are vital for a healthy democracy. The relationship between science and the rest of society is a crucial aspect of how our society develops and addresses societal challenges. Fruitful interactions between science and society are however not straightforward. We need an approach to science communication that is able to nurture science-society interactions in an open and reflexive way. However, the science communication landscape itself is undergoing deep and fundamental changes due to two interrelated issues. First, the boundaries between science and society have become blurred. Interactions and interfaces have become more numerous and diverse. Second, digitalization has fundamentally changed how scientists, diverse stakeholders and a variety of publics interact and communicate. These interrelated issues pose challenges for the way citizens make sense of science, scientist and science communicators engage with a variety of publics. It requires us to RETHINK the theory and practice of science communication. How can we transform the science communication ecosystem to navigate current challenges, whilst maintaining the quality of interactions amongst the actors involved? The mission of RETHINK is to improve the quality of interactions between science and society, by providing concrete recommendations and training resources for nurturing open and reflexive science-society interfaces. A central element in our project is constituted by the Rethinkerspaces: local communities that collectively engage in a transformative process of inquiry and learning. In line with the diversity of the newly emerging landscape, we bring together a heterogeneous group of people, including scientists, policy-makers, journalists, public engagement professionals and other practitioners. The Rethinkerspaces have been set up in Serbia, Italy, Portugal, UK, Sweden, the Netherlands and Poland. Rethinkerspaces reflect on preliminary research results and actively co-create new frameworks, strategies and actions – and therewith strengthen relationships between the different actors and their communities. The Rethinkerspaces form a node in wider networks of science communication and contribute to open and reflexive science communication practices. Our research and transformative learning activities go through three consecutive phases: 1) understand the issues of the new science communication landscape; 2) develop strategies to deal with its complexities; 3) synthesise findings into guidelines and frameworks to support the transition towards more inclusive and co-productive relationships between science and society.
We started the “Understanding” phase with an exploration of the emerging science communication landscape, including the actors, roles and repertoires of those communicating about science. We mapped actors engaged in online science communication and conducted a survey to investigate their working practices. We investigated the public engagement practices of scientists by means of a qualitative interview study. Next, we turned to the reverse end of the science-public relationship, as we initiated an interview study to examine the sensemaking practices of citizens in the context of the current Covid-19 outbreak. We assessed existing science communication teaching programs and initiated a Delphi study amongst experts. Both worked towards co-creating a new framework for the quality of digital science communication. In order to integrate these efforts, we have set up Rethinkerspaces in each of the seven RETHINK countries. Each local community of inquiry and practice consists of at least 15 participants representing diverse angles on science communication and the science-society relationship. Four Rethinkerspace workshops have been designed and carried out in which members participated in the research and transformative learning process, in order to bridge the gap between science communication theory and practice. In the subsequent “test and experiment” phase, Rethinkerspace members experimented in their daily practice with new reflective practices to comply to the different ways in which citizens make sense of science. Moreover, we developed a training navigator and competency framework, and showcased examples of best-practices that facilitate open and reflexive science-society interactions. In the last “synthesise” phase, culminated our findings into policy briefs and recommendations. We hosted several events, such as the RETHINK work room and the RETHINK Winterschool, wherein practitioners and scientists came together to discuss challenges and ways forward for the field of science communication. In the meantime, we hosted an additional 5th Rethinkerspace workshop about sustainability of this transformative learning network. Also, we developed a communication and dissemination strategy and where suitable, disseminated project outcomes through several channels, such as the project website, social media accounts, webinar series, at conferences, and in local dissemination activities.
RETHINK’s envisioned impact is to contribute to transformative learning in the science communication ecosystem, and to support open and reflexive science communication theory and practice. The RETHINK story has been shared across a variety of audiences, both science communication scholars and practitioners, as well as members of society. This was done in numerous interactive sessions and dissemination activities, in produced outputs of the RETHINK project, training and education events, webinars, on social media, and in presentations at conferences and other fora. The Rethinkerspaces have organized five workshops, gathering actors from theory and practice and from different disciplines and backgrounds. Furthermore, a focus was put on sustainability of the Rethinkerspace transformative learning network, and the organization of activities beyond the RETHINK project with members of Rethinkerspaces was an important aim that was facilitated. Additionally, more research outcomes were discussed within the wider JCOM community in two special issues, providing a platform for further engagement with stakeholders and citizens. Lastly, events such as the RETHINK winter school and the Workroom for Ecsite public engagement experts were organized, wherein science communication scholars and practitioners were brought together – with the wider goal to facilitate connections between science communication theory and practice, by bringing the RETHINK story and insights to these fields. With this, we have performed research activities within each interactive session we organised, representing a unique opportunity for a variety of actors active in science communication to meet and interact locally – and who have brought RETHINK’s insights further into their own local networks as well. Additionally, our research, outreach and impact activities have been a mean for us to better understand local practices, challenges and barriers to science communication in each community. With this, we have contributed to open, reflective and transformative learning, inquiry and science communication practice.