Science and Society

News and views around the Science for All Group

Background

“This initiative gives us a unique opportunity, as a community of people and organisations concerned with public engagement with science, to help build the vision of a more mature relationship between science, policy and society. We will welcome ideas from all quarters, in addition to those offered during the consultation process, to aid us in developing plans that are widely supported.”

Sir Roland Jackson, Chief Executive, British Science Association

The Science for All Expert Group was charged with developing an Action Plan, in discussion with Government and other stakeholders in response to the Science and Society consultation to:

  • deliver a shift in cultural awareness, recognition and support for science by building on the Science:[So what? So everything] campaign
  • develop a co-ordinated public engagement framework which is sufficiently flexible to recognise a range of engagement activity (professional & volunteer, national & local) and creates the conditions for increased participation and debate
  • achieve greater acknowledgement of the importance of public engagement activity supported by increased training and recognition in all sectors
  • ensure public perspectives are sought, recognised and responded to by the scientific and policy communities

The report and action plan was published in February 2010 and a Follow-up group established which is now working to deliver the action plan.

Cultural Awareness

One of the biggest challenges to be addressed by this theme is making science more recognised and valued by society. Research (see Public Attitudes to Science 2008) suggests that society does not see scientific research as relevant to everyday life, nor does it feel that science can be easily understood. Being poor at science or maths appears culturally acceptable. The challenge is to change this cultural attitude to science in the UK so that science and its application are seen as relevant and valued by all of society, creating a sense of public ownership and pride in its achievements.

The launch in January 2009 of the Science: [So what? So everything] campaign was an important first step to create a UK science brand that chimes with society, shows how science underpins all our lives, and is promoted by inspirational role models that appeal to a wide range of audiences. The Science for All Expert Group was asked to consider the campaign’s role in achieving the shift in cultural attitudes and complement other activities.

Effective outreach and public engagement

Communicating effectively is a vital skill for modern scientists and policy makers. For society to feel connected to science and scientific discovery, it needs access to relevant up to date information in a form which is suitable and accessible to diverse sectors of society. The Science for All Expert Group was asked to work with science communication experts, media and professional bodies to provide scientists with the appropriate communication skills and tools to increase their confidence when communicating to society the value and relevance of their work. The Group was also tasked with considering the need for increased contact between policy makers and scientists to build understanding of how science can contribute to policy making.

Recognition of public engagement

Much time has been spent debating whether public engagement should be professionalised. The question was raised during the consultation. However, the majority of responses focused on the need for recognition and reward to those who undertake effective public engagement.

The launch of the Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre in 2008 was an important step forward in establishing the principles of public dialogue within Government. Similar principles are reflected in the activities of Research Councils, learned societies and many universities and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF). The Science for All Expert Group was sked to build on these examples of corporate recognition to promote best practice across the wider science community. The Group was also tasked with exploring the barriers to recognition of effective public engagement within academia and industry. It will also look to bring coherence to the current range of awards and celebrations of success in public engagement to ensure the practice is developed consistently.

The Expert Group was asked to look at the current landscape of training for scientists and policy makers to participate in science outreach activities and engage with society more broadly. It was asked to work with social scientists to develop mechanisms to understand the motivations for society to engage with science in order to establish the most appropriate mix of activities.

Access to opportunities

Public engagement is not just something for the science and policy communities to undertake – there is also a responsibility placed on society to seek out information and participate in debate. The Science for All Expert Group was asked to review the landscape of national and regional science communication and engagement activities and promote strategically important initiatives that give the widest opportunity for access. The Expert Group was also asked to consider cross-cutting issues emerging from the consultation, such as public input to policy.