Bringing researchers and practitioners of science communication in Europe together

Fünf Personen diskutieren bei einer Paneldiskussion.
© Horst Wagner
22. Juni 2022

The Future of SciComm Conference 2.0 took place in Brussels on 26 April 2022 dealing with impulses and solutions for a strategic and institutional (re-)orientation of science communication in Europe. We talked to Michael Wingens, our project lead of the conference, about the project and his key findings.

Why was the conference called Future of SciComm Conference “2.0”?

The “2.0” highlights the fact that it is the second conference with this title – following our first Future of SciComm Conference back in June 2021. Originally, we planned this one as a live conference in Berlin expecting an estimated 200 participants. However, the ongoing pandemic forced us to go online. As it turns out we made a virtue out of necessity: With our focus on the transfer between research and practice of science communication and debating issues such as fake news, disinformation or the role of scientific policy advice we hit a nerve. More than 1.000 participants from more than 72 countries across the world attended our digital conference. It was a huge, huge success for us! These participants contributed their respective regional perspectives and experiences towards science communication and its challenges, which made for a prolific network bringing together all these voices. To continue the discussion, WiD and our project partner ALLEA organized a follow-up event in Brussels on the 26th of April this year: The Future of SciComm Conference 2.0.

You mentioned the participants joining from basically anywhere. How come you hosted the Future of SciComm Conference 2.0 in Brussels then?

For the second conference – after having this very global reach and outlook in the first one – we wanted to focus on the European science communication community. We wanted to actively involve researchers as well as policy makers and other relevant European stakeholders from civil society. This is why we basically chose the heart of European politics for this event – which of course is Brussels.

Which issues did Future of SciComm Conference 2.0 address?

We wanted to build upon the results of the first conference and work on the identified issues. Essentially, we looked forward to developing impulses and solutions for a strategic and institutional reorganization of science communication in Europe. With that very European focus in mind we wanted to put an emphasis on two key findings: On one hand on current and future networks and institutional structures of European scicomm, on the other hand also on topics that were already important in the first conference – such as the fight against misinformation and fake news and the impact of science communication. So, these topics became more and more prominent during the pandemic and in both conferences, we saw that there was very much to learn from each other.

Which system or network-structures are required to improve science communication cooperation on a European level?

In the last years, especially during the pandemic, we have seen a lot of promising developments in science communication all over Europe. This is of course partly due to the increased pressure on the system. Now, indeed, is a very good time to learn from these lessons provided by the rapid effort in the face of the pandemic and to use all that shared knowledge available to shape the future of science communication together. The knowledge alone however cannot account for high quality scicomm by itself: To combine your findings and transfer them into practice you definitely need proper funding. In many countries, and especially on the European level itself, funding for scicomm activities, projects and organizations is still very difficult to get. There are some existing European organizations and networks like EUSEA or Ecsite, which give a lot of support and provide their platforms for exchange. But there needs to be better financial support – both on a national and European level. From our perspective those institutions I just mentioned are not included enough in the development of funding opportunities. So, we argue that there lies a lot of unused potential – why not join forces? People who really want to communicate their research and who want to reach their national or all-European public through innovative scicomm formats then get the chance to get the latest scicomm insights and the resources required to put them in practice.

The conference discussed political, practical, and scientific perspectives on science communication. That makes several different “languages” so to speak. Where do these work hand in hand and how can you address conflicts of interest?

This is a very important question because in the last… well let’s say last decade or two these groups did important work – but from my perspective kind of worked rather separately from each other. So, both of our conferences showed that there is a high demand for exchange each way: For more insights from researching on science communication for active science communicators to improve their practice but also insights from the practice of scicomm that can feed back into and benefit scicomm-research. We need both sides to communicate better with each other and learn more from each other.

That said, there is this omnipresent need for better transfer. Of course, challenges such as the pandemic and fight against misinformation show a common interest of all these different players and perspectives on scicomm. Regarding the political perspective, the second conference also focused on the important topic of scientific policy advice. And more specifically on the role that scientists themselves can play in the progress without losing – and this is another important topic – the trust from society. Therefore, among other experts we invited Prof. Erika Vlieghe from the University of Antwerp, who is an infectious diseases specialist who was very present in the Belgian discourse on the pandemic and how to fight it. Defining the role of scientists in communication as well as supporting them in their activities will be one of the most crucial topics going forward and it will be our task to implement science communication into scientific progress more and more.

After addressing the European perspective and diverse stakeholders, let me ask you: What is your personal takeaway from FSCC2.0?

My very personal takeaway after the last two years is first of all one of gratitude and relief: To have been able to organize this international conference in person again. It was really great to again meet our colleagues from different European countries in Brussels. We had plenty of discussions not only in workshops, which of course you can also do via zoom, but also during lunch, dinner or just with a coffee in between. So, for me talking about the future of science communication at a national level, at a European level and of course at a global level with both practitioners and scientists, policy makers and other stakeholders is not over after these two successful conferences – it has just begun.