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Participatory science communication's power to create societal change

The last two decades have seen calls by scholars for science communication to become participatory in nature, and to move away from linear (deficit and dialogue) engagement of publics. Theorised participatory science communication happens when scientists and publics directly interact in a process that scholars argue leads to a greater democratisation of science (Brossard & Lewenstein, 2010; Bubela et al., 2009; Joly & Kaufmann, 2008).

Scientists do not necessarily drive the participative process and publics may initiate and direct the engagement. This contrasts with the theorised deficit (one-way communication from scientists to public) and dialogue (two-way communication between scientists and publics) models of science communication, usually initiated by scientists (Rowe & Frewer, 2005; Bucchi, 2008).

Participatory science communication is theorised to possess an openness between participants and a deliberative democratic potential that linear models of science communication failed to deliver in practice. Achieving such a democratic potential relies on scientific governance to change its notions of power and control (Irwin, 2006; Stirling, 2008). 

However, there is no joint understanding of what 'participatory' science communication means despite the push towards it by scholars, practitioners and research agencies.

This session will examine specific cases of participatory science communication that have created positive societal change. Presenters will use their case studies to discuss the comparative usefulness of participatory approaches, the constraints to participation, and the potential seriousness and reach of participation. The session will conclude with a discussion of how science communication scholars and practitioners can collaborate to promote a scientific culture where more effective participatory programs are valued and supported.

Author: Jennifer Metcalfe
Econnect Communication , Australia

Trust and transformation through long-term participatory science communication: The Australian Climate Champion Program

In response to calls for more deliberative and open engagement of publics in controversial scientific issues, such as climate change, a number of participatory science communication methods have emerged including consensus conferences and citizen juries. However, while there has been significant research on such short-term participatory science communication practices, there has been little research on how the theorised model of participatory science communication has been put into practice in longer-term projects. This paper empirically examines a participatory science communication case study in Australia whereby scientists and farmers participated jointly in a Climate Champion Program that ran over seven years between 2009 and 2016. The Climate Champion Program purposively created opportunities for scientists and farmers to directly and openly participate with each other in understanding and managing climate risk.  My analysis of this case study demonstrates the importance of developing trusted, respectful and open relationships between participants for achieving the desired outcomes of all the theorised models of science communication. Participants in this program became very open with each other, including when acknowledging uncertainties. Scientists changed the science they did, the shape of their research outputs and how they communicated about those outputs as a result of their involvement in the program. Farmers gained considerable confidence and expertise from their participation with scientists, and many felt more confident and credible to discuss climate science with their peers as a result of the program. Scientists and farmers valued each other’s knowledge; there was a perceived mutual benefit from listening to and learning from each other; and they enjoyed interacting with each other. Moreover, trusted relationships developed through participation appear to make linear communication more viable, a finding which questions how many scholars have perceived the evolutionary nature of science communication models from deficit to dialogue to more participatory forms of communication.

Indigenous participation in climate change communication

Speaker: Anne Leitch
Adjunct researcher, Griffith University; casual senior editor, NatureResearch, Australia

Participatory science communication is complex – and remains rare despite increasing rhetoric about its importance – because it requires a devolution of power from ‘science’ to a ‘community’.  This case study outlines how adapting to climate change requires participatory models of communication, often described in the climate change literature as co‐production of ‘demonstrably usable’ knowledge that is obtained through several rounds of interactive processes. These interactions “influence how scientists pursue science and how stakeholders understand the possibilities and limits of science” (Bremer and Miesch 2017, p2) as well as finding ways of integrating local and scientific knowledge.

This case study— undertaken with Kerrie Foxwell-Norton and Sam Mackay from Griffith University—explores these issues through our experience of working with two Indigenous local governments in far northern Australia, Yarrabah and Wujal Wujal.  Our approach sought to create a dialogue about existing and forecast transformational change and in doing so, to identify resources to support climate change awareness and decision making.  I outline the participatory process used to foster the cocreation of these community-specific climate change resources, leveraging the extraordinary but often undervalued capacity of these two communities to ‘walk in two worlds’: that of deep and rich cultural heritage alongside often incongruous Western institutions. 

When the scientist finally comes aboard: Teacher initiated participatory citizen science

Speaker: Tali Tal
Technion, Israel

Co-authors: Hilla Shefet, Nirit Lavie-Alon

Our project begins with one of the co-authors, a ninth-grade science teacher interested in citizen science, who wanted her students to take part in a local, meaningful and relevant study. Our Taking Citizen Science to School center (TCSS) did not find such project, nor did we find a scientist ready to work with the school. However, we introduced her to an ecologist employed by the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel (NGO), who pointed to a worthwhile question to investigate: Why some plants in the local population of the rare and endangered species of Iris (Iris atropurpurea) fertilise and make fruits while others not? A comprehensive investigation by the students has engaged them in scientific inquiry and was followed by extensive conservation efforts that involved the community and the municipality. After few months of authentic science learning, monitoring and reporting the data in various forums, a university-based ecologist showed interest in the project. Under his guidance and permission, the students learned how to pollinate the flowers using a delicate brush to collect pollen and apply it to other flowers’ stigma, and eventually - took part in removing clusters of plants from future construction and development sites to protected ones. Our study showed that: students' long-term investigation and engagement developed their interest in plant reproduction; the students' engagement and protection of a local plant population developed their agency and ownership and provided good evidence to the power of place-based education; the scientist came aboard only after some useful results accumulated but then took the lead; and we were able to show that citizen science projects offer a variety of forms of participation, which add to the participatory models our Center is offering.

Look Before You Leap: Assessing Community Readiness for Deliberative Health Action

Speaker: Christy Standerfer
U of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, United States

Co-authors: Jason Lochmann, Louisiana Office of Public Health; Emily Loker, University of Colorado Department of Communication; Brian Wegner, Colorado Department of Community

Scholars have long extolled the virtues of dialogue and deliberation as effective methods to involve citizens in policy development. However, few have considered community readiness before demanding democratic, collective action. We argue that any type of public-facing science communication requires first assessing a community's readiness for collaboration. Further, we assert that community readiness is the product of four interdependent factors: a community's knowledge of a given subject; that subject's perceived salience within the community; the citizens' ability to work collaboratively; and the group's ability to visualize a shared future. We provide evidence for our claims in the form of survey and discursive data, collected during a two-year research project in 15 communities across a rural state in the Southern U.S. The project's objective was to determine the comparative effectiveness of three communication-based strategies for democratically addressing Type II diabetes, a pervasive public health issue. Those interventions included: 1) lecture series led by Certified Diabetes Educators; 2) facilitated community meetings; 3) deliberative forums on prioritizing diabetes and training on how to facilitate similar forums. We defined "effectiveness" as both planned and realized collective action after the interventions. Our data analysis suggested that community readiness - rather than communication methodology - was the best predictor of democratic participation. We then characterized the determinants of community readiness, ultimately creating a progressive step model to guide action-oriented science communication. Ultimately, the effectiveness of participatory approaches to science communication will depend on science communicators’ ability to assess if and when to introduce such approaches. Without such an assessment, participatory approaches will at the least be ineffective and, at the worst, drive a further wedge between scientist and citizen.

Co-creating a participatory exhibition on archaeology and Caribbean heritage with 12 international partners

Speaker: Tibisay Sankatsing Nava
Royal Netherlands Institute: SE Asian & Caribbean , Netherlands

Between May and July 2019, 12 local adaptations of the international exhibition 'Caribbean Ties: connected people, then and now' opened across the Caribbean and Europe. This exhibition is the result of two years of co-creation with partners from countries across the Caribbean and presents the findings of six years of interdisciplinary research on archaeology, geochemistry, network science and heritage in the Caribbean. Local partners collaborated extensively to develop a common story that is presented internationally in 6 languages, and adapted the exhibition for locally relevant narratives. To engage new participants with the topic, exhibition is presented in a variety of venues: museums, community centers and universities across the Caribbean. Participatory elements in the exhibition invite visitors to share in the interpretation and creation of meaning. These elements are also used to encourage exhibition audiences in 12 countries to contribute their ideas for future research directions. Combining these local, regional, and global perspectives, the Caribbean Ties exhibition focuses on the connections between past and present indigenous Caribbean cultures and current multi-ethnic Caribbean communities, and as such explores the living impact of indigenous heritage. Using Caribbean Ties as a case study, this presentation examines how transdisciplinary research and collaborative exhibitions can shift the perspective from which we tell stories of scientific results and how this can contribute to decolonization practices. It also describes useful strategies to manage competing interests in a participatory science communication project, through the frameworks of co-creation and community based participatory research.

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