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The importance of standing up for science

18 October 2021 | by Guest

The following guest blog has been provided by Jayanthiny Kangatharan to talk about her experience undertaking Sense About Science's "Standing Up For Science" workshop.

I have always been interested in how academics can effectively engage with the media and policymakers and I’m familiar with public engagement approaches from attending a workshop at the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement.

So, I was I excited to be selected to participate in Sense about Science’s ‘Standing up for Science’ workshop.

The workshop opened up new possibilities for me to communicate my research effectively to journalists and policymakers.

Communicating with journalists

The workshop opened with an interactive panel with Professor Hannah Cloke from the University of Reading; Lawrence McGinty, former Medical Editor at ITV News; and James Clarke, Head of Communications at Rothamsted Research.

We discussed why researchers should take responsibility for how evidence is used in society, helping us understand that our work doesn’t end with publication, but continues with clearly relaying the meaning and impact of our research to the public.

To do this, you can talk to your press office before your paper comes out, get in contact with local journalists and engage your audience in your science.

When talking to journalists, agree on the content that is to be published. This reduces the chances of being misrepresented or misquoted in the piece.

Overall, the message is simple: talk to everyone about what you do and be sure to adjust your language accordingly for you to create an effective partnership with the public and the media through your research.

Communicating with policymakers

Another highlight was a lively discussion with George Freeman MP; Lauren Milden, Policy Adviser at the Centre for Science and Policy; and Dr Jo Hale from University College London.

They shared with us how we can create impact by providing our research and expertise to Parliament.

We can, for example, give evidence to Select Committees, get in touch with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), and All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs).

By being visible, we can support MPs to scrutinise government policy, look into urgent problems and make better decisions.

This can seem quite daunting, but it became clear that we can all tap into already existing extensive policy networks to get involved in the policymaking process.

Whether that’s by looking into the policy connections or the policy offices that professional societies such as the British Psychological Society has, or within our own organisations.

We all have expertise that we can contribute to policy debates. Sense about Science’s guide on Getting Your Research Into Parliament is a great place to start for practical tips.

As a scientist you can contribute to public and policy discussions to see positive developments both in your research area and outside of your research field.

It is your responsibility as a researcher to speak out and start having conversations with people, make new contacts and make connections.

Communicating with the public

Public Engagement: a practical guide’is Sense about Science’s free guide for researchers on how to effectively engage with the public and communicate research findings.

Public engagement is a two-way interaction, listening and communication between the public and researchers is key and often leads to mutual benefits.

First, to effectively engage, we need to understand the status of the public discussion: what are people saying about our research topic, what are the misconceptions?

This can involve looking at the media, policy discussions, blogs, public statements and forums to see where people are engaging with your research topic.

Use this scoping to identify and involve the individuals and groups who show most public interest in your topic. This will really help you influence the public conversation and support you in sharing your research findings.

Next, plan how to best communicate your research. You could choose websites, guides, graphics or videos. Be sure you choose the format that is relevant for people to access your content.

Once you’ve settled on the communication and have prepared some materials, you can hold user-testing workshops and one-on-one sessions.

These can be invaluable in understanding the aspects of your communication that need refining, and help you evaluate what the most and least clear things are in the way your research is presented.

Co-creating your research resources and tools with users in this way will ensure the information is presented in the clearest way possible.

Finally, by now you will have met people and groups who will have given you suggestions about your communication, so don’t forget to share it with them and ask them to help spread the word.

You can also promote resources in the media and at events, as well as online through blogs and social media.

Our role as scientists in society

The ‘Standing up for Science’ workshop highlighted our responsibility as early career researchers to engage with the public, media and policymakers at all levels and contribute our research and expertise to public debates and policy discussions.

This can start with a simple step such as approaching your local newspaper or a science journalist about your research, writing a blog for a learned societies magazine, or contacting your local politicians and policy advisors for you to provide them with evidence they can use in their policy discussions.

I encourage you all to get involved and start making good use of your expertise, be it related to research or not, so that we, as early career researchers, can positively shape future society.

To find out more about ‘Sense about Science’ and for more tips and advice on standing up for science, visit https://senseaboutscience.org/what-we-are-doing/voys/

Join the Voice of Young Science network to make sure you don’t miss out on opportunities to stand up for science.


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