Health is about much more than avoiding disease and living long lives – it’s about feeling well in mind and body, feeling safe, being part of a community and having things to look forward to.
Chair of the NERC Impact Awards 2018 shortlisting and judging panels Dr Peter Costigan feeds back on this year’s applications with insights from the panels on how to best represent your impact in case studies.
It’s been a pleasure to chair the NERC Impact Awards shortlisting and judging panels over the past few months. I know that the panel members have been inspired by the varied and impressive ways that environmental science contributes to our quality of life and economy.
An interesting article in Nature last year, by scientist and journalist Anita Makri, described how science communicated in the popular media sometimes leaves the public confused, and that in the ‘post-truth’ world, scientists are increasingly being ignored. Makri criticised what’s known as the ‘deficit model’ of the public understanding of science concluding that it’s partly scientists’ fault that they are being ignored. The message is clear. Scientists need to be less technical and perhaps even a bit more humble when putting over their messages. Over the last year at the British Geological Survey (BGS), we’ve been putting this theory into practice communicating our major UK Geoenergy Observatories investment to the public.
All over the UK, there are communities and individuals who need access to reliable information relating to science. Those with medical complaints or working in healthcare roles benefit from access to the latest research, those in policy-making roles can only develop evidence-based policies with access to the best information, and all of us can struggle to work out whether a ‘fact’ presented in the media is reliable or not. A vast body of peer-reviewed scientific information is freely available, but few know how to find and use it. Improving access to this information is a move towards knowledge-equality.
AccessLab is a new public engagement format that aims to improve access to and the judgement of information, through direct citizen-scientist pairings. Why now?
A day doesn’t go by without the terms ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’ being bandied about, both of which have highlighted the difficulties people face when trying to find trustworthy sources of information. The ability to judge the reliability of different sources of information, whether it’s political, social or scientific, is a skill that can be learned.
The deadline for the NERC 2018 Impact Awards is fast approaching (noon on 21 May 2018) so we spoke to NERC’s Head of Evidence Fiona Goff to find out what makes a great application.
What are the impact awards?
The impact awards are about celebrating NERC-funded researchers and their colleagues in research user organisations whose work has had substantial impact on the economy and society either in the UK or abroad.
There are many reasons why academics, funders and universities want to find better ways to involve the public in research. Underpinning most are common concepts; social equity, inclusivity and responsible use of tax payer’s money. ‘Science for all’ has been a policy driver for decades, and yet students from poorer families are still less likely to study science post 16, and less likely to do well when they do. As such, many of us working on public engagement with research do so with an eye to targeting ‘hard to reach’ audiences. These are generally those publics from cultural and socio economic demographics with traditionally low level of participation in science and, more broadly, in higher education. Despite inclusivity-facing public engagement, however, hard to reach audiences remain just that. Many of us will have participated in science festivals, workshops and outreach events where it is all too clear we are ‘preaching to the converted’; targeting the same already-engaged audiences again and again.
It is far too tempting to be dismissive of emerging buzzwords or sparkly new concepts as merely the re-emergence of established wisdom dressed in the latest fashionable ‘new-speak’. Occasionally however, a term will come along that helps us re-evaluate the place science has in society. The term ‘science capital’, a measure of an individual’s relationship with science, is just such a word, and to pluck another buzzy phrase out of the zeitgeist, it offers a chance to ‘check your privilege’ (perhaps a topic for another post!).
Over the last decade, the level of interest in climate change communication has grown rapidly – there’s now a huge number of people, organisations and institutions involved in the theory and practice of public engagement.
In part, the enthusiasm for public engagement has come from the realisation that without significant and sustained public support, technological and political progress on decarbonisation and wider sustainability goals is fragile. The reversal of domestic progress in the US following the election of Donald Trump (not to mention the withdrawal from the UN Paris accord) shows what can happen if there is not a robust, and bi-partisan platform of public support behind climate and energy policies.