How to bridge the gap between science and society? Around the world, science engagement practitioners find unique and inspiring answers to that question. Science engagers reach out to target groups all too often ignored in scientific debate. They do this using different formats, like poetry, storytelling, dance, virtual reality and podcasts.
The science community gains more trust by allowing non-experts to make valuable contributions to scientific questions. As non-scientists take more ownership in the process and create a sense of belonging, the scientific sphere gets richer with a more diverse range of voices and perspectives.
Falling Walls Engage is launching a series of Falling Walls Engage Hubs around the world. The hubs aim to facilitate the international exchange between science engagers operating on their local level. They will serve as a platform for science engagers to learn from each other, address mutual challenges together, and scale the best-practice examples abroad.
Our first spotlight is on Kenya and its lively hands-on and bottom-up science engagement scene. We travelled to Nairobi for a 4-day exchange with a group of science engagers from Portugal, Greece, Argentina, Ghana and the US. Here, we met with the most successful science engagement practitioners and organisations in Kenya.
Throughout the exchange, the participants discussed the state of public engagement in science, what science engagement could look like 10 years from now, and how to collaborate and engage across languages, cultures, and borders.
COMMITMENT TO ACTION
by Bernard Appiah, Texas A&M University School of Public Health, US/Ghana
On the first day, we discussed science engagement more broadly and identified challenges and their solutions. We identified the following as the key topics and discussed these in groups.
ENGAGEMENT OF THE NON-SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY
We identified groups in the non-scientific community, including school children and parents. We agreed that approaches that non-scientific communities are more familiar with – such as sports, drama and mass media – could be used more creatively to engage with these communities. Case studies for engaging the non-scientific community were suggested as a strategy to guide science engagers in their efforts to reach such audiences.
EVALUATING THE IMPACT OF SCIENCE ENGAGEMENT
We highlighted the need for science engagers to adapt evaluation frameworks to suit the needs of science engagement. Moreover, there was a consensus that social scientists need to be involved in helping evaluate engagement initiatives. There were suggestions for using case studies as an approach for showcasing exemplary science engagement evaluation approaches.
We identified specific incentives for different institutions such as universities, enterprise-related institutions and other associations. For universities, it was agreed that there is the need for universities to reward scientists for their engagement efforts. This reward could be in the form of credits toward promotion.
There were some discussions about the need for scientific and educational institutions including universities to make science engagement compulsory. Science engagers also need to engage universities from the bottom-up approach by involving local champions.
FUNDING FOR SCIENCE ENGAGEMENT
Inadequate funding for science engagement was identified as a major challenge. We agreed that science engagers should target the private sector in getting funding to promote science engagement. However, we were of the opinion that science engagers need to have skills in grant writing to aid this effort. Thus, training in grant writing was suggested. Freely available online resources in grant writing may also help science engagers to get such skills.
There is the need for science engagers to engage the public to help influence policymakers to fund their efforts. Compiling a list of funding opportunities and their deadlines for engagers may also be helpful.
NAIROBI IDEAS EXCHANGE: THE CASE FOR SCIENCE ENGAGEMENT
by Ana Faustino, Open Science Hub, Portugal
On the morning of the second day of the Falling Walls Engage Hub Kenya 2020, we attended the workshop ‘Nairobi Ideas Exchange: The Case for Science Engagement’ co-hosted by the Mawazo Institute. The workshop aimed to generate a discussion about science engagement and focused on our shared vision in 10 years from now. The workshop examined science engagement best practices, specifically on how to engage specific audiences, and sustainability models for science engagement projects.
WHAT WILL SCIENCE ENGAGEMENT LOOK LIKE IN 10 YEARS?
During the workshop we outlined our shared dream for the field of science engagement in 10 years from now. This vision sees science engagement integrated in the school curricula and in research programmes of scientific institutions. It is also institutionalized in universities, so that researchers can be rewarded with incentives for their science engagement work (e.g. funding for attending conferences, credits leading to career promotion, increased salary).
As a consequence, our vision would increase science literacy and enable society to make decisions (e.g. political, economical, health-related) based on scientific evidence. The challenges the planet is facing at the moment would also be tackled. Big dreams can come true!
To make this dream a reality, we discussed best practices for science engagement. This included strategies on how to engage different audiences (e.g. youth, low socio-economic backgrounds and rural or indigenous communities). We agreed that best practices in science engagement are built upon existing successful practices and have a contextual relevance. It was also mentioned that successful science engagement practices often gain momentum and more visibility through a competitive factor.
SUSTAINABILITY OF SCIENCE ENGAGEMENT PROJECTS
Finally, we discussed the sustainability of science engagement projects after funding is finished. Different strategies were proposed, based on individual experiences:
- Include science engagement in funding applications: by making science engagement a mandatory deliverable, professionals have to comply with the deliverables initially promised
- Be profitable to be sustainable: find alternative funding schemes through corporate social responsibility (CSR) or other corporate strategies
- Institutionalise science engagement: create training programmes for scientists on how to involve citizens in their research, besides the incentives mentioned above