Engaging the public is an essential task for scientists, the study says
Scientific research bodies in the developing world are less likely to encourage public participation with science than their developed world counterparts, a report has found.
Sarah Palmer and Renato Schibeci, writing in Public Understanding of Science on 24 August, examined the requirements of science research funding bodies from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania, over the period 2004–2011.
They found that the majority of countries were focused on educating the public rather than engaging with them. In particular, funding organisations in developing nations were less likely to encourage community participation.
The researchers identified a spectrum of types of science communication, ranging from the 'deficit model' — the primary form of science communication, since 1985, where scientists educate the public about their findings — to a more 'deliberative' approach, where the public set the research agenda and are involved throughout.
They then analysed funding organisations' public engagement policies by looking at their guidelines and websites, and gleaned additional information on the public engagement status and activities of national organisations from external websites.
The deficit model is still the most common form of communication, the authors found.
But in developed countries, there has been a gradual realisation that the public also has valuable knowledge to share, and that the focus should be more on participation.
Organisations doing this particularly well include the Wellcome Trust, in the United Kingdom, the European Commission's FP7 (Seventh Framework Programme), and Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council.
"Developing countries seem to follow the deficit model more than the developed world," Schibeci, associate professor of science education at Murdoch University, Australia, told SciDev.Net.
"In China and Latin America, there seems to be a mantra of 'educating the public', which often means transmitting knowledge. But it's the public who have to live with the consequences of scientific decisions."
Schibeci said that scientists are often reluctant to engage with the public because of a lack of time, skills and rewards — such as recognition from their peers and ease of obtaining funding for further projects. However, he said, they must realise that communicating their work "is not the icing on the cake, but part of the cake".
International funding bodies are bringing about big changes, however. One example is the International Foundation for Science (IFS), which requests that grant applicants must explain how the research will fit in with "the environmental and socio-economic conditions in the region" and how they will "make their results available to local stakeholders, such as farmers and local industry".
Graham Haylor, director of the IFS, said that public engagement in developing countries will "not only build their capability as scientists, but also increase their agency through widespread engagement as equals with farmers, entrepreneurs and policymakers [rather than above them, as implied by the deficit model]".
Ruth Ladenheim, secretary of planning and politics in science, technology and productive innovation of the Argentinian Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation (MINCYT), said that public engagement is a novel concept for many developing countries but that this "does not mean that their … engagement is poor compared to developed countries".
Ladenheim said that Argentina has been engaging the public with science with a "conviction" previously unseen and cited TECNOPOLIS, a public science, technology and innovation exhibition; TEC TV, the first Latin American television channel dedicated to science and technology; and an annual innovation contest that allows even non-scientists to take part.
Public Understanding of Science doi: 10.1177/0963662512455295 (2012)
Dr.A.P.Jayaraman ( SICOMS | India )
23 October 2012
Educating the public is the first step in communication. Informing the public and informating the public are two different functions. Scientists condescend to educate. But an educated public engages the scientists. Recent events in one of the most literate states of India- Kerala- is witness to an engagement phenomenon on the nuclear front. I find a new deficit model where scientists with their deep and narrow knowledge and comprehensive technical expertise find it difficult to articulate and address the issues raised by the educated public. Freed from the constraints of bureaucracy and the restraints of peers. the scientist exposed to an engagement environment his or her position vulnerable.Paid PR professionals have trust deficit. The community of scientists has to nurture a breed of science communicators who can engage NGOs with hidden agendas. But science communicators are looked down upon by the high priests of R&D as lesser mortals and are not mentored.This is an enormous problem in developing countries with multiple languages. At the time of deployment of a technology assiduously built up, we find the society unprepared and even hostile to its deployment. Confidence without competence and competence without confidence are detrimental to effective science communication.
Sinclair ( Sweden )
23 October 2012
Many organisations (not all) that support and target financial assistance to research in developing countries, it must be said, very often pay "lip-service" to social issues and the public perception of research that is being conducted. There is still too little actual realtime stakeholder participation in the formulation stages of research. The public (who are stakeholders very often because of the mere nature of development research) are only consulted during or after the event. More, and much more, needs to be done to engage public opinions in the FORMULATION of research pertinent to development. Not merely to be told that something is happening or has happened!! New initiatives must be developed where adequate training in science communication and relevant political science methodologies how to manage stakeholder platforms is provided to researchers so that they can integrate public perceptions and opinions BEFORE (this latter word is stressed!) they even carry out their research. In that way society will be involved and eager to await the outcomes of research which they might adopt, if appropriate, very quickly!! That includes not only farmers, foresters village communities but "joe bloggs" or whatever the equivalent word is in local relevant language(s).
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