2017 science communication enquiry response

The National Forum for Public Engagement with STEM’s response to the landmark government enquiry.

Image: Danceroom Spectroscopy, credit: Paul Blakemore

The National Forum for Public Engagement with STEM Secretariat recently contributed a response on behalf of the Forum to the Science and Technology Committee’s enquiry into science communication. The consultation posed the question: How can UK Government, scientists, the media and others encourage and facilitate public awareness of – and engagement in – science?

The response argued that:

  • This question can best be addressed collectively by the broad range of organisations active in this area, including the Forum.
  • There is a great opportunity to better understand the motivations and capability of the public to engage with science, and to challenge our assumptions about why some people are not engaged, for instance by considering people’s ‘science capital’.  We should address the root causes of dis-engagement, not just address the symptoms.
  • The binary divide of ‘science’ and ‘culture’ is unhelpful.  We need to continue to challenge the widespread perception that science ‘isn’t for me’ but for professionals and experts by opening up its governance, and making science much more inviting and involving.
  • We need to continue to address the factors that inhibit scientists and researchers from engaging with the public.  The 2006 Factors Affecting Science Communication survey identified how the professional culture of science discourages public engagement.  Scientists often do not feel valued or supported to engage with the public and too often, public engagement is still viewed as a marginal activity on the fringes of organisations.  It needs to be seen as a critical strategic priority and people need to be appropriately supported to do it well.

The response identified positive actions that could be taken by government, including to:

  • Demonstrate its own commitment to public engagement in the ways it develops and delivers policy through a culture of openness and transparency; by appropriately engaging the public in dialogue around emerging areas of policy; and by ensuring that different departments work together in a more coordinated way on this agenda
  • Continue to affirm the strategic importance of public engagement with STEM and expecting organisations they fund to do the same
  • Leverage public investment in science and culture to incentivise excellence in engagement, recognising that engagement requires resources and expertise to be done well. 
  • Continue to invest in infrastructure that catalyses more effective support for and uptake of public engagement
  • Continue to address the need for culture change in the science profession, recognising that engagement should be a core professional competence of researchers and policy makers
  • Foster collaboration and ‘join up’ across initiatives
  • Continue to invest in evaluation and research to sustain a thriving, learning culture where continuous improvement is the norm
  • Encourage creativity and innovation as well as building on ‘what works’

Several members of the Forum contributed their own responses, these are available on the Inquiry website. The response of the Government to the enquiry is available here.