Building bridges in science communication. Report on VA’s experiences at PCST in Turkey

Istanbul was the host city for the 14th global PCST science communication conference that took place between 26 and 28 April 2016. The conference gathered some 300 delegates from 40 countries to discuss a wide range of issues in science communication practice, training and research. This year VA (Public & Science) contributed three engaging sessions to the programme on citizen science, factors influencing public confidence in science and ways of influencing Horizon2020, respectively.

PCST _Maria
VA’s Director of Research, Maria Lindholm, presenting ”Public confidence in science – what does it mean?”

Encouraging scientific citizenship in future generations

VA’s first session was given by Lotta Tomasson, where she presented VA’s mass experiments in schools alongside two other presentations as part of a panel. One, an Italian EU project called GIACONDA that provides young citizens and local administrations with a tool for dialogue on health and environmental issues and another run by the Austrian organisation Open Science that holds scientific literacy workshops for high school students, in which they search for scientific literature on the internet and critically review their findings. “Our project was enthusiastically received and complemented the other two presentations well, leading to lots of questions and discussion about how to teach scientific literacy in schools,” said Lotta.

Measuring public confidence in science

Maria Lindholm, VA’s Director of Research, participated in two sessions. In the first she presented the preliminary results from VA’s latest study into public confidence in science and the factors that influence it. “Delegates were interested in our study and I received questions as well as comments confirming that our results are in line with findings in other countries, for example, the Netherlands,” said Maria.

Maria’s other presentation was about the Swedish SwafS Advocacy Platform. Delegates were particularly interested in the model and how Swedish stakeholders are working together through a nationally-financed platform, coordinated by VA, to influence Horizon 2020.

New insights and inspiration

“As it is a global conference, PCST is a great opportunity to meet science communication professionals, both academics and practitioners, from all over the world, find out about lots of different initiatives and to get new insights and inspiration to inform our own work. You also discover that many people are struggling with the same issues,” said Lotta. “Being responsible for VA’s public engagement activities, I was particularly interested in the sessions that looked at how to create a modern science show, how to tackle stakeholders’ lack of participation in public engagement activities and how much science does a citizen need to know”.

“I also attended a workshop about how to design a science communication curriculum, run by Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Sweden is one of a few countries not offering standard science communication courses at university and it was fascinating to hear perspectives from different countries and cultures, ” said Lotta.

“There were number of sessions on evaluation, survey methodology, longitudinal analyses of both attitudes and science reporting in the media that were particularly relevant to our attitude surveys and society–media studies, and I made a number of useful new contacts,” added Maria.

Something for everyone

With over 200 papers, posters, panels, performances and workshops, the programme offered something for everyone. The overarching theme of the conference was ‘Science communication in the digital age’ and there were a number of case studies of how social media can be used effectively to engage the public. Humour in science communication was also a theme explored in a number of sessions, for example, the use of stand-up comedy, comics, as well as science humour online.

Holding the conference in Turkey did present a few visa restrictions for some potential delegates and delegate numbers were slightly lower than in Brazil in 2014, likely due to recent developments in Istanbul as well as in other major European cities. However, as the President of the PCST Network, Brian Trench, said in his opening speech around the theme of science bridging nations, as a city that bridges two continents, Istanbul provided an appropriate backdrop against which bring people from around the world to talk about how to build bridges between science and society.

PCST is held every two years and will be heading across the other side of the world to Dunedin in New Zealand for 2018.

Images and tweets from PCST 2016.

View the PCST programme and abstracts.

Read the President of the PCST Network Brian Trench’s opening speech.


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