New Zealand was the host of the 15th global PCST science communication conference that took place in April 2018. Two VA colleagues travelled to the coastal city of Dunedin to present some of VA’s work in citizen science, scientific literacy and public engagement. The conference gathered around 400 delegates from over 40 countries to discuss the latest practices in the diverse and growing field of science communication.
The theme of the 2018 PCST was Science, Stories and Society, three elements at the heart of science communication. Lotta Tomasson and Fredrik Brounéus from VA gave four presentations at the conference, demonstrating the variety of VA’s science and society work. In a session on the importance of an offline presence in a digital era, they talked about the ways in which ForskarFredag (Researchers’ Night) activities are creating direct connections between researchers and the public. They also presented the results from School Meets Science, a project encouraging scientific literacy in schools through the use of ‘house scientists’ that act as a resource for both pupils and teachers. There was also an opportunity to showcase VA’s digital science communication toolbox, which to date has been quite an underused resource and VA is looking to potentially develop and promote more internationally.
From VA’s Science in Society project, they shared some preliminary results from focus groups with members of the public, highlighting findings on what inspires confidence in research and what this means for the researcher as a communicator of science. And, finally, they presented the mass experiment of 2017, The News Evaluator, where Swedish teenagers helped researchers explore what news young people are exposed to in their digital newsfeeds while practising a scientific method for digital source criticism. All of the presentations were well received and, with fake news still a hot topic, the News Evaluator particularly generated lots of questions from delegates.
Participatory research in focus
Citizen science and participatory research were topics that received a lot of attention at the conference. “I attended a number of very interesting sessions on citizen science, which will be useful for our work promoting citizen science in Sweden,” said Fredrik Brounéus. “There were also quite a few presentations on different aspects of science communication with findings and conclusions that will feed into current and future VA projects, for example with regards to researchers’ attitudes towards communicating their research,” he added.
“Overall, there was a strong focus on fostering dialogue with, and among, different societal stakeholders, which is, of course, very encouraging,” said Lotta Tomasson. “Another topic that generated debate was the distinction between science journalism and science communication and how, in a number of countries, the two professional roles often get confused.
New contacts and inspiration
Although the location may have prohibited delegates from some countries from attending, this year’s conference gave an interesting insight into science communication practices on the other side of the world, with 40 percent of delegates coming from New Zealand or Australia.
“Personally I was thrilled to attend so many interesting presentations with connections to the projects that I’m involved in at VA. For example, for my work with the Science in Society project, the News Evaluator and ARCS, where I also made interesting contacts with researchers and scicomm practitioners from other countries,” said Fredrik. Having previously worked in Dunedin for a number of years, for Fredrik the trip was also a bonus opportunity to catch up with kiwi friends and colleagues, and to enjoy the spectacular scenery and wildlife again.
“It is always valuable to exchange experiences internationally and learn about similarities, challenges and cultural differences from other practitioners, educators and researchers from around the world,” commented Lotta. “You always come back from PCST inspired and motivated!”
All the presentations from PCST 2018 will be made available via the PCST website shortly. PCST – Public Communication of Science and Technology Conference is held every two years. The next conference will be held in Aberdeen in 2020.