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2019 AAAS Communicating Science Seminar Offered Evidence-Based Strategies for Engaging Public

Interactive Breakout Sessions Expanded and Enriched This Year’s Discussions

Bray Beltrán, Laura Schmitt Olabisi and Rae Wynn-Grant spoke at the 2019 Communicating Science Seminar.
Bray Beltrán, Laura Schmitt Olabisi and Rae Wynn-Grant spoke at the 2019 Communicating Science Seminar.
Photo credit: Robb Cohen Photography & Video

The 2019 AAAS Communicating Science Seminar brought together approximately 500 scientists, public engagement practitioners, and science communication researchers for discussions about topics ranging from having conversations with policymakers to increasing collaborations across science and art to engaging local communities in scientific research. Organized each year by the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology as part of the AAAS Annual Meeting, this year’s seminar took place on February 14 in Washington, DC.

The day began with a session on Connecting Science and Policy: Opportunities for Dialogue with Policymakers, moderated by Daniel Barry, director of AAAS’s new program on local and state advocacy. Liz Suhay, associate professor of government at American University, shared strategies from her and others’ research for framing messages about science in terms of what policymakers and their constituents value, and for having productive conversations about controversial topics in a politically polarized environment. Sarah Brady, interim deputy director of the California Council on Science and Technology, talked about specific ways scientists can engage with policy depending on how much time they can commit, and how her organization facilitates these opportunities in California. Jesus Alvelo-Maurosa, a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the National Science Foundation, offered tips to avoid common mistakes from his experience as a science advisor in Puerto Rico and his time at NSF – in particular, to first listen and try to understand their challenges before talking.

The second panel on Strategies for Sustaining Public Engagement in a Research Career gave participants examples of how scientists can weave public engagement into their work on an ongoing basis. Rae Wynn-Grant, a fellow at the National Geographic Society, emphasized how her identity shapes her work – noting that she chooses which part of herself to “center” based on which part will help her connect with an audience – and how working toward justice, equity and inclusion improves science. Laura Schmitt Olabisi, associate professor of community sustainability at Michigan State University and a 2018-19 AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellow, challenged the notion of waiting for tenure before dedicating time to public engagement, and shared strategies such as writing and publishing about the process of community-engaged research, before other scientific results are available. Bray Beltrán, science coordinator at the Heart of the Rockies Initiative, discussed the importance of changing who is considered an “expert,” who gets compensated for participating and how to be sure research is both informed by and benefits public stakeholders. The panel was moderated by Dominique Brossard, professor and chair of life sciences communication at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Afternoon breakout sessions included a “networking fair,” where attendees could move between six different stations to talk informally about building capacity for public engagement at research universities, land grant institutions and elsewhere. Other interactive breakout sessions addressed the use of infographics (with lessons learned from a collaboration between food and agricultural researchers and graphic designers, participants had a chance to start their own infographics); how to communicate scientific uncertainty; using science communication to enhance diversity among those doing, using or benefiting from science; and how research-practice partnerships can enhance equity in science communication. One breakout session offered participants the chance to practice writing research summaries for public consumption, and another discussed the NSF Broader Impacts criteria as “applied science communication” and strategized ways to integrate different modes of science communication into Broader Impacts plans. Yet another shared and gathered feedback on a draft of “the Michigan Public Engagement Framework.”

Brief summaries of key discussion points and outcomes from the breakout sessions will be shared on the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science website. Video from this year’s panels will also be available soon, along with those from past seminars.


Elana Kimbrell

Project Director

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