‘Glocal’ approach makes global knowledge local

Science museums can be used as a forum for glocalisation. Copyright: Flickr/mitisuka

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Science should go ‘glocal’, integrating global with local knowledge, if it is to reach diverse ethnic communities, says Julia Tagüeña.

The word ‘glocal’ — a combination of global and local — has long appealed to me. Perhaps it is because, at a UK university, I and fellow Latin American students used Portuñol, a combination of Português (Portuguese) and Español (Spanish), to understand each other.

A glocal approach means presenting global knowledge within a local context that respects human rights. It encapsulates the concept ‘think globally, act locally’. According to Wikipedia, the term originated in the 1980s from within Japanese business practices, but first became prominent through work for the Global Change Exhibition in Bonn in 1990.

I first talked publicly about glocalising science communication three years ago in a panel session at the Science Centers World Congress in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of Science, liked the term. He defined it as "taking a global issue and making it meaningful to society at the local level", and promised to use it.

He has done more than that, extending its meaning to include the public as partners in the glocalising process, saying:

"We [in the US] should take up ‘glocal’ science advocacy to complement the traditional approach. This strategy involves taking a global issue and making it meaningful to society at the local level. Scientists and citizen advocates should recruit their non-science friends and neighbours to promote science funding to decision-makers… The appeal should be locally focused for two important reasons: policymakers often seem to listen better in their home districts …; and they need to see clearly that science funding is not only a national, but a local issue for all their constituents, not just those who are scientists."

Inclusive approach

Scientific methods — the search for facts and hidden patterns, data analysis, the criticism of peers — are assets to society. Science also debunks false fears and superstitions, such as concern about the dangers to a foetus during a solar eclipse. But if it is to further equity and tolerance, it should not be presented in a way that leads the reader or listener to conclude that science presents final and unalterable truth.

Glocalisation embraces both universal and local values, and places them in a familiar context. The term is useful because the struggle between globalisation and local cultures cannot be ignored. We have to find new ways to bring global knowledge to indigenous groups. For example, in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America isolated ethnic groups still experience discrimination, despite political programmes aimed at integration.

Respecting diversity and cultural differences without losing scientific rigour is a big challenge. Rational arguments should be presented in a way that takes into account the meaning that different societies accord natural phenomena. To increase their effectiveness, communicators need to recognise the existence of common cultural preconceptions.

A glocal approach would take the global system of health and vaccines to isolated ethnic groups, together with anthropologists and science communicators who understand the local way of life. These communicators would work with locals (preferably in their original languages) to explore why they can trust medicine and how some simple changes in their domestic routines might improve their health. 

In the process, we may learn of traditional methods that are useful to our modern society.

Museums leading the way

Science museums can also take a glocal approach. In 2004, Daniel Gil Pérez and Amparo Vilches from Spain, and Mario González from Colombia, suggested museums should use the concept of glocalisation to face up to the global ecological crisis and promote a sustainable society.

In Mexico the following year, Elaine Reynoso, Carmen Sánchez and I published a glocal model for science centres that we are applying to several museums and science communication projects.

For example, when establishing the Museo Chiapas de Ciencia y Tecnología (Chiapas Museum of Science and Technology) in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico, my first step was to meet local groups and identify their interests — social and artistic as well as scientific. Each of the museum’s three halls — universe, life and technology — uses Chiapas as a common reference: why does Chiapas have so many earthquakes? Since we are different but belong to the same species, what does it mean to be a chiapaneco? How was Chiapas’ abundant amber formed? How is pozol, a local corn drink, produced?

If humankind is to survive on planet Earth, we must try to bring together two apparently opposite poles: global and local. Knowing our own society needs to be our main strength when communicating the global knowledge of science.

Julia Tagüeña is a science communicator and researcher at the Centro de Investigación en Energía, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.