SciComm along the Silk Road – report on VA’s experiences in Beijing

At the beginning of June, VA’s Lotta Tomasson was invited to participate in the 2017 Beijing International Symposium on Science Communication. Sponsored by BAST – the Beijing Association for Science and Technology and organised by a number of Beijing-based organisations, including the Beijing Development Centre of Popular Science, the conference provided an interesting insight into science communication in China as well as an opportunity to share VA’s work and expertise.

SciComm along the Silk Road
The symposium brought together a diverse range of professionals involved in science communication, including researchers, teachers, students and the media to exchange ideas, develop new partnerships and share experiences. A number of international scicomm professionals were also invited to share their methods and practices.

The main organiser of the symposium, the Beijing Development Centre of Popular Science, is responsible for a wide range of science activities in Beijing, including the National Science Popularization Day, Beijing Science Festival, the Beijing new Media Popular Science Competition as well as number of community-based exhibition tours. They are also involved in the EU Horizon2020 NUCLEUS project.

The symposium was focused on science communication along the Silk Road Economic Belt. The Silk Road features in China’s latest Five Year Plan (social and economic development initiatives), one of the aims of which is to “improve social scientific literacy and strengthen science popularisation infrastructure”.

Science ‘populisation’ rather than ‘engagement’ seems to be a key feature of science communication activity in China, although many events do feature hands-on activities. One of the challenges is narrowing the gap between research, teachers/journalists and the general public. However, China is investing both money and resources in science and technology and is keen to learn from other countries and find ways to adapt others’ practices to fit their own structures and cultures. Another challenge is tackling education in rural areas and Lotta heard about several organisations’ work to reach other parts of the country, including the use of travelling exhibitions and science buses. Social media and the Internet are also tools that are being used effectively to reach broader audiences.

The first day of the symposium focused on new trends in the concept and practice of science communication in China and internationally. Lotta joined a panel of experts with backgrounds in the media and STEM education to discuss a range of topics, including co-creation and transparent research methods, such as open science. On day two, Lotta contributed to a training session on ‘science communication – a prerequisite for trust’. Participants were particularly interested in hearing about VA’s suggestions on how to best engage and motivate researchers to participate in science communication activities. One of the highlights of the symposium was a science café about opportunities and challenges in science communication both in China and internationally held in the evening.

One of the contributing experts was Ganigar Chen, Director of Office of the Public Awareness of Science, National Science Museum Thailand, which provides an impressive platform for science communication, science festivals, exhibitions, education and outreach activities in Thailand. They also work with the media, including TV and radio, deliver professional development courses and run science camps for children and young people.

Another interesting contribution was from a female researcher, Tian Xiaochua, from the China Institute of Marine Technology & Economy and Deputy Director of the China National Defence Science Communication Committee. She is particularly passionate about science communication and getting young researchers and students engaged in communicating science to the public.

“My trip to China was extremely interesting. It is always valuable to exchange experiences internationally and learn about different methods and approaches. Science, and especially science communication, is global and in order to solve the global challenges that we all face, we need open and fruitful dialogue with each other. The Chinese were very welcoming hosts and I also had an opportunity to learn more about their history and culture,” commented Lotta.

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