The European Commission’s Science with and for Society (SwafS), funded under Horizon 2020, encourages citizen participation in science. In doing so, it aims to build trust in science and empower citizens to critically assess accuracy of information and ultimately ensure effective science communication.
Digitalisation has opened new and wider pathways for people to participate more easily in research projects. Nonetheless, while technology facilitates citizens’ involvement, a gap remains between science and society that communication can help bridge. The COVID-19 crisis has clearly illustrated the vital role of science communication in the public health response.
Recognising its importance, several projects endeavour to tackle this challenge and, on a broader level, improve the communication of science projects to reach a wider range of citizens and galvanize public responses.
Since 2018, eight science communication research projects have been funded by the European Commission, receiving almost €10 million in research funding.
Read more about these projects, managed by the European Research Executive Agency (REA), which are tackling this knowledge gap and striving to improve the way science is communicated across the European Union.
QUEST seeks to better define, measure and support effective scientific communication. The recently completed project supported the creation of a community of science communication stakeholders, and improved the quality of communication with innovative tools and guidelines in three focus areas: climate change, vaccines and artificial intelligence. QUEST designed a range of resources to help science communicators improve how they convey their messages. They developed four main toolkits, for science communicators, journalists, museums and social media. They created a podcast, highlighting topics such as vaccines, climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic. QUEST also produced a handbook to enhance academic writing for museum communicators.
RETHINK wants to evaluate the ways in which we assess quality of science communication online and to reconsider what counts as “good” science communication. It considered different approaches, including web communication and social media to increase comprehension of science related topics. RETHINK concluded that science communication fails to connect with many and tends to reach those with relatively high levels of formal education and an inherent interest in science. RETHINK is therefore looking for ways of bringing science information to a much wider range of people, who can have their say on setting research agendas.
TRESCA aims to understand how science communication can help rebuild trust in science and scientific experts. Last year it carried out a survey on whether Europeans think social media is harmful – noting throughout the process the importance of presenting hard facts for social media users. TRESCA is also developing an app to help people check scientific claims they read online. Most recently, one of the projects partners, the well-known German animation studio Kurzgesagt produced a video on science communication.
NEWSERA aims to open up science and innovation to society by integrating citizen science into science communication. It seeks to include and empower citizens in shaping the process of scientific research, transforming it into a collaborative effort between scientists and their community. NEWSERA’s work plan includes evaluating the current effectiveness of science communication and subsequently creating Science Communication Labs from 38 highly diverse citizen science initiatives such as studies about mosquitos, invasive fish species and even sharks! Other lab initiatives include workshops with journalists to hone their science communication skills, and collaborations with academic scientists to strengthen cooperation and build trust between scientists and citizens.
PARCOS wants to change the way science stories are communicated, by asking its audience to participate and interpret data for themselves. The interactive project also investigates ways to ensure diversity and inclusion in science participation and communication. It creates stories that engage the public in science activities and the interpretation of the outcomes. People can tell their own stories using the ParCos guidebook on the use of arts-based methods by sharing their stories alongside evidence.
CONCISE focused on organising European-wide debates on science communication with a wide range of stakeholders, carrying out five public consultations between September 2019 and January 2021. Almost 500 European citizens had the opportunity to share their opinion on four topics: vaccines, complementary and alternative medicine use, genetically modified organisms and climate change. The project delivered significant publications including six policy briefs. Partners presented the results in a number of conferences and events including at the European Parliament, and some of the most prominent science communication platforms at European and international level such as the EuroScience Open Forum in 2020.
ENJOI and GlobalSCAPE are the most recent science communication projects funded by SwafS. While ENJOI focuses on fighting fake news and raising digital awareness, GlobalSCAPE addresses science communication on a global level with a particular focus on non-Western regions where taking stock of science communication is particularly challenging.
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