By Dr. Amanda Stanley, Executive Director of COMPASS, and Dr. Laura Lindenfeld, Executive Director of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science
When you’re addressing urgent, complex problems, it can be hard to step back and look around. Even though every day we work to help scientists reach beyond the ivory tower to communicate their research more effectively, it’s all too easy to wind up isolated in our own towers, doing things the way we always have because it’s the way we know, and recreating the wheel on our own whenever we come up against a new challenge. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In December of 2018, we (COMPASS and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science ) partnered with the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and The Kavli Foundation to host a SciComm Training Summit, bringing together a group of 52 science communication professionals representing 37 organizations, with the goal of building an inclusive community of practice and advancing science communication training.
Photo by CZI.
The group was a representative sampling of the many different individuals and organizations currently involved in training scientists in communication skills. There were people who’ve been training scientists for 20 years, and some who’ve been training scientists for less than a year. There were scicomm trainers, researchers, practitioners, and funders, representing big groups, small groups, and everything in between, as well as many different types of institutions both inside and outside of the US, from nonprofits to universities to scientific societies. We had two things in common though: almost all of us have been operating in isolation, and all of us feel a strong sense of urgency to better connect science and society.
Part of that urgency stems from the increase in demand for this work. We are all hearing from scientists that they want to learn how to be more effective communicators, but they don’t know where to get started or how to get the specific help they need. The field of science communication training has been growing rapidly in an effort to meet this demand, but we are still falling short.
Another factor contributing to our shared sense of urgency is the compounding evidence that what the public thinks of scientists—not just science—really matters. Truth and facts are important, but perception and trust also play a large part in how science is used in policy, in practice, and in people’s daily lives. The massive changes and challenges we are seeing in the world around us, and the need for solutions to address them, mean that we can’t leave the portrayal of science to chance.
Communicating science isn’t easy (just ask the scientists who are coming to our trainings!). Helping others learn to effectively communicate science well isn’t easy either. And that’s why we gathered this group of scicomm trainers, practitioners, researchers, and funders. It’s time for us to come together to learn from each other, share best practices, and clarify where we want to go as a field.
There’s a saying—if you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together. We’ve all been traveling alone for a while, but this community has recognized that by working in isolation, we are losing knowledge and missing opportunities to push the field of science communication forward, so that science and its integration in society can advance at the pace that we need now.
The purpose of this Summit was to begin building a scicomm community of practice to:
- Professionalize the field
- Create shared identity
- Ensure quality and standards
- Share best practices
- Strengthen capacity
- Diversify the field and increase inclusivity
- Link research with practice
- Grow more resources for the field
To read more about the discussions on these topics, and on the plan for building this community, please see this summary document from David Ehrlichman and David Sawyer of Converge, our fabulous facilitators. You can see the full list of attendees here.
This event was powerful, productive, and energizing. For such a diverse community in terms of institutions, approaches, goals, and audiences, the fact that there was such strong agreement about working together and building this community was incredible. We are deeply grateful to our generous funders, The Kavli Foundation and CZI, who also recognized this need and were true partners in bringing this event together, and to all the people in the room who were so generous with their time, expertise, and thoughts. A heartfelt and particular thank you to Sawyer and E., the Converge team, who facilitated these complex discussions with grace, wisdom, and good humor. We accomplished a huge amount in a short time and walked out feeling tall.
This meeting was just the beginning. Though we strove for a representative sample of who is doing this work, we recognize there was no way to fit everyone working on scicomm training in the room. Our intention has always been to welcome anyone who wants to help build this learning network for scicomm training. If you would like to join us, or even if you just want to stay in touch, please fill out this Google form to receive updates on how you can be involved.
Together, we can travel far.