Barriers and incentives to engage in science communication

Exploring the hurdles and incentives of science communication is one of the key objectives of the CONCISE Project. To that aim,  the team of the Science, Communication, and Society Studies Centre of the Pompeu Fabra University (CCS-UPF) interviewed 26 science communication researchers (from 15 countries) and conducted one contrast online workshop with 18 science communication practitioners (journalists, communication officers, science museum directors, etc.) from 16 countries.

The main results of this analysis are:

  1. About the scientists’ engagement in science communication:

Incentives:

  • A vision of science communication as a science social commitment. As a return to society:
    • for funding science,
    • to improve democracy,
    • to protect responsible science,
    • to raise awareness,
    • to increase scientific culture,
    • or to promote scientific callings.
  • A vision of science communication as a strategy to get a personal or professional benefit.
    • To attract either funding or scientific collaborations,
    • persuade strategic stakeholders,
    • or just “enjoy” themselves.
  • A vision of science communication as part of a scientists’ job. Because it is included in their contracts or their original proposal, promoted by their institution or is a funding body criterion.

Barriers:

  • Lack of recognition (formal and informal).
  • Lack of time due to the excessive bureaucratic burden to get funds and projects and the competitiveness of science itself.
  • Lack of specialised training in science communication.
  • Fear of discredit from peers or of being misunderstood by the public or by journalists.

 

  1. Concerning professional engagement in science communication:

Incentives:

  • New specialised job positions have emerged as a reaction to the journalism crisis and changes in the communication world.
  • An alternative career path for scientists.
  • Fulfilment of personal interest or curiosity.
  • Answer to social responsibility. To defend science against misconceptions, increase public knowledge, help people make informed decisions, or ease scientists and non-scientists dialogues.

Barriers:

  • Lack of resources (mainly economic)
  • Lack of specialised knowledge. Scientific knowledge on the social relevance of science or/and on how to develop and evaluate science communication activities efficiently.
  • Lack of institutional support from research institutions, mass media organisations, and governments.

 

Final thoughts

To promote scientists’ engagement in science communication, two important barriers need to be solved. First, to structurally change the evaluation system to include “rewards” for researchers participating in science communication activities. And secondly, to offer proper science communication training to scientists to evaluate, consider, or promote science communication as part of their activities. For example, specific workshops for PhD students, postdocs, or senior researchers or even include science communication subjects in scientific undergrad degrees as part of their necessary skill set.

The crisis of traditional journalism and changes in the communication world leads us to believe that the traditional model of (science) journalists working in one single medium is disappearing. That is a new scenario for science. As we have seen, new job positions for science communicators demand specific knowledge and skills.

And, at the same time, these new positions are not yet consolidated. In numerous institutions, they are temporary, depend on specific projects, or do not fit with the global strategy. However, if national and international governments and institutions commit, specialised training in scientific communication will help stabilise these positions.

Author: Carolina Llorente (CCS-UPF)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *