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how to engage people in science

How to engage people in science

Featured image: Dr Alan Finkel AO at Science meets Parliament 2017 with Sally-Ann Williams, Engineering Community & Outreach Manager for Google Australia 

Dr Finkel spoke about how to engage people with science at the 18th Science meets Parliament event in Canberra today. One of his key messages was to develop your elevator pitch.

“Identify the key idea and write it up as a 100-word media release, then try it out on a politician.”

The need to develop simple, clear pitches to engage people with science was echoed by Buzzfeed political reporter and panellist Alice Workman, who gave the example of the viral ‘big chicken’ video on twitter as exemplifying the ‘simple, no BS’ idea that can rapidly get picked up in media. The video, released yesterday, was retweeted 35,000 times.

While science research often cannot be distilled into one thought bubble, like any news story, science stories need a simple pitch that everyone can understand, Workman told the group of 200 scientists gathered for the two-day event.

“I think the bigger problem is trying not to use complicated words, but also to whittle stories down to their basics. Journalists are under the pump, and journalism is a business.”

Four key tools to engage people in science

Engaging an audience beyond clickbait requires a deep understanding of your audience, access to influential people and being prepared, said Dr Finkel, who listed attitude, ambassadors, access and ammunition as four key tools for science advocacy.

He emphasised having an open attitude to engage people with science.

“You can’t assume your audience knows the facts. You can always assume they have the capacity to learn.”

He also said that it was important for science to have ambassadors, and that his office was in ‘early consideration’ of a program that mirrored internships such as the volunteer internship program which allows students and professionals to learn from US congress – and which funds them for up to one year to learn about the political process there.

“Could we create the same process for Australia? It takes a person of integrity and awareness to be an ambassador. We need to create the same qualities in ambassadors for science,” said Finkel.

Access to politicians is tempered by a difference in timescales at which science and politics operate, he said.

“Research timeframes are long; the window to operate in politics is short. How then can we hit the window where the evidence and the opportunities align? This event is one. Another is the Commonwealth Science council for which the PM is chair. This allows politicians and researchers to identify areas of shared opportunity in areas such as expanding the economy and navigating risks.”

Before approaching politicians, or others you need to engage, Finkel advocated preparing your pitch as ammunition for the encounter, as well as consulting widely, gaining supporters and identifying paths to funding.

Science meets Parliament is held over two days in Canberra and includes a televised National Press Club address, and a day at Parliament House, where delegates meet privately with parliamentarians.

Heather Catchpole

Science meets parliament

Science meets Parliament

Featured image above: In his  National Press Club address this week Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, says lessons can be learned from The Swedish Vasa warship. Photo courtesy of Dennis Jarvis as per the Creative Commons License, image resized.

Finkel’s speech was the National Press Club address for Science meets Parliament 2016. This two-day event brings together scientists looking for better ways to communicate their research to policy makers.

Over a series of workshops and activities, people from the media, policy advisers and parliamentarians share their insights on developing policy and how to engage key influencers.

With a host of esteemed speakers, the Science meets Parliament program covers topics such as ‘what journalists need to turn your science into news’ and ‘science and politics, how do they mix?’. This year it also addressed what the National Innovation and Science Agenda means for scientists across Australia.

The event’s organisers, Science and Technology Australia, say that Science meets Parliament aims to “build links between scientists, politicians and policymakers that open up avenues for information and idea exchanges into the future”.

It also hopes to “stimulate and inform Parliament’s discussion of scientific issues that underpin Australia’s economic, social and environmental wellbeing”.

At last year’s event, Professor Ian Chubb AC, former Chief Scientist, spoke about the pace of progress over the past 25 years and how science will be a cornerstone for future prosperity.

This year, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Alan Finkel AO, spoke about a nation in transition, learning from failure and encouraging intelligent innovation. Finkel believes this requires thinking and operating at scale, and collaborative research to manage the issues and interactions that surround bold, innovative technology.

Click here to read the full transcript of Finkel’s address published by The Conversation on 2 March 2016.

Click here to see some of the speeches presented at last year’s event, such as The Messy Nature of the Policymaking Process, Who is Inspiring Australia? and Getting your Science out of the Lab.

– Elise Roberts