Presentation of the results of the citizen consultation held in Valencia in 2019

The four Spanish partners of the international CONCISE team (ScienceFlows-UVEG, the Spanish Association for Scientific Communication, UPF Studies Centre on Science, Communication and Society and FyG Consultores) presented the main conclusions of the project in an online activity on January 14. The event, attended by 126 people, took place virtually and was aimed at science communicators, healthcare workers, research personnel, as well as members of public institutions. Several researchers from the CONCISE project presented the main recommendations that have been drawn from the results of citizen consultations, as well as the conclusions of the study carried out in parallel on the impediments and incentives for the professional practice of scientific communication in Europe.

The data from the consultations have allowed the team to draft a series of recommendations for proposing actions to improve science communication. These recommendations are aimed at communicators, scientists, and healthcare workers, as well as staff from public and private institutions. As Edurne Gastón, responsible of social media at CONCISE and representative of the AECC, stated: “The public was very grateful for making them feel that what they say is important, and it is indeed important to understand the public in order to improve science communication”.

The challenge of bringing 100 people together to debate

One of the first challenges the team faced was gathering a sample of participants that reflected social diversity. As Edurne Gastón explained, the four fundamental criteria established were gender, age, educational level, and origin (rural or urban environment). Likewise, it sought to involve people with disabilities and people from ethnic minorities.

The people selected were integrated into discussion tables in which there were between 8 and 10 participants. In each of the tables four topics that generate certain social controversy were debated: climate change, vaccines, genetically modified organisms, and complementary and alternative medicine.

The results of the CONCISE consultation in Spain

The ScienceFlows researchers from the University of Valencia, who also coordinates this international project, presented the conclusions of the three objectives of the citizen consultation: to know how citizens are informed about science, which are the channels or sources citizens trust and how would they like to access the information.

As Carolina Moreno explained during the presentation, the public perceives that they have a lot of information available. However, and in the specific case of environmental information, they acknowledge that they have difficulties in differentiating between information and opinion, between scientific and pseudoscientific information. For this reason, the recommendation of the CONCISE team advocates the implementation of a comprehensive global policy on climate change. In this sense, they also found that there is a citizen demand for clear laws and guidelines that can be followed to contribute individually to environmental protection.

In addition, the data show that, although citizens recognise that they receive information through a multitude of platforms and channels, in the specific case of vaccines, the key informant continues to be health personnel. In this sense, as stated by Isabel Mendoza, the results regarding the two health topics discussed (vaccines and CAM) show that the information search scheme that citizens usually follow starts from an Internet search. After that, people from the immediate environment are consulted and, finally, they ask their health professionals. However, she stressed, the latter are the ones that enjoy the greatest credibility. “The most reliable sources are health workers – Isabel Mendoza explained – but the information or advice they offer is complemented by sources available on the Internet.”

Regarding the reliability of the webpages, the ones seen as the most trustful are the institutional ones, but those with the best positioning are also valued. Therefore, one of the team’s recommendations is thar public research and health institutions invest in SEO and SEM positioning. Otherwise, citizens looking for information end up consulting pages in Spanish of health agencies in the United States.

On Complementary and Alternative Medicines, Empar Vengut explained, citizens require neutral and independent information to clarify whether these therapies are effective and, above all, why they are so or why they are not. For this reason, a clear and rigorous legislative framework and greater state control of professional practice are essential. In this sense, Empar Vengut stressed, it is necessary to approach the task of disseminating this subject with scientific rigor, moving away from a priori positions that are favourable or contrary to the MCA. In this way, citizens are prevented from questioning whether they receive information or publicity.

In relation to Genetically Modified Organisms – the subject on which the public acknowledged having less information – international supervision is called for clarification of some aspects that generate the most doubts: bioethical issues. Therefore, dissemination in a plain language is necessary. In this regard, citizens also demand a more active role of universities since ideological and economic independence are presupposed, which contributes to the confidence of citizens.

Incentives and barriers to science communication

Carolina Llorente closed the session with the conclusions of the study carried out by the Studies Center on Science, Communication and Society (CCS-UPF), whose objective was to identify barriers and incentives for communication from the perspective of researchers. To this end, in addition to conducting a literature review, 26 semi-structured interviews were conducted with researchers in scientific communication from 15 different countries and an online workshop with 18 professionals in scientific communication also from 15 different countries.

Regarding incentives for scientists engaged in communication and dissemination activities, social commitment, the identification of science communication as a strategy to obtain personal or professional benefits, and the idea that dissemination is part of research work were identified as the main reasons. Regarding barriers, the main ones are the lack of recognition (formal and informal), lack of time, and specialised training. On the other hand, the participants also admitted the fear of being misunderstood or discredited.

The presentations of the event are available here.

The recordings of the presentations are available here.