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“Inclusive SciComm” Organizers Share Next Steps with Virtual Public Engagement Community

Attendees of the 2019 Inclusive SciComm Symposium at URI.
Attendees of the 2019 Inclusive SciComm Symposium at the University of Rhode Island.
Photo credit: Zak Kerrigan

Sunshine Menezes hopes that one day, the “inclusive” part of the hashtag #InclusiveSciComm won’t be necessary -- all science communication will be inclusive by default. To bring together some of the many disparate conversations and notable work being done toward that goal, Menezes, associate professor of environmental communication at the University of Rhode Island (URI) and executive director of the Metcalf Institute, organized the first Inclusive SciComm Symposium in 2018, in collaboration with a national planning committee. It was by all accounts a big success, and the second one was recently held on September 27-29, 2019.

Last Friday, November 8, Menezes and her colleague Hollie Smith, assistant professor of science and environmental communication at the University of Oregon, shared outcomes of the 2019 symposium as part of the #SciEngage virtual meeting series, co-hosted by Geoff Hunt (director of LabX at the National Academy of Sciences) and the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science.

Menezes reported that the Inclusive SciComm Symposium focused in part on critical dialogue as a way to have “difficult conversations across difference,” about “potentially uncomfortable topics such as privilege, power, or marginalization.” From pre-and post-surveys of symposium participants done under an NSF grant, Menezes and Smith found that 81% of attendees who responded to the survey had participated in critical dialogue in the past 12 months, and 87% of this group already felt somewhat-to-strongly confident in their ability to do so. They acknowledged that the group attending the symposium is self-selecting, and this points to the need to broaden those who are engaging in conversations about inclusivity and diversity.

During the November 8 #SciEngage virtual discussion, Smith suggested that if the goal is to expand the group of people who feel comfortable engaging in critical dialogue, then defining terms up-front in conversations is important for lessening fears about what language to use. Menezes also noted that “the very idea of how we construct our [science communication] training is limited” by its own lack of diversity. It was noted that science societies, for their part, can play a role especially with their meetings -- not only by having sessions that address topics of inclusivity, equity and accessibility, but by keeping it in mind throughout conference development.

According to Inclusive SciComm symposium survey respondents, the biggest reported barriers to inclusive science communication include commitments by funders and institutions to focus on this; lack of collaborative opportunities across the field; the need to move beyond diversifying who engages with science, to diversifying science itself; long-term support for projects; and silos among the people doing this work.

To break down these silos, one of the goals coming out of the symposium was to coordinate attendance at other gatherings across a range of disciplines, to both learn from what others may be doing and to bring them into conversations. At the 2020 AAAS Annual Meeting, Menezes is moderating a panel at the Communicating Science Seminar on building community for inclusive public engagement with science. Going forward, the Inclusive SciComm Symposium will convene every other year. In the meantime, symposium organizers plan to engage broader networks in the conversation and encourage local or regional meetings that share inclusive practices. Attendees at the 2019 Symposium were keen to develop a multidisciplinary web portal for sharing resources. As a starting point, Metcalf Institute created this resource list -- they welcome relevant additions. Menezes and her colleague Katherine Canfield from URI are also leading a related landscape assessment of inclusive science communication research and practice to identify the motivations, gaps, and synergies among leaders in the field.

Starting in August 2018, the #SciEngage virtual meeting series has convened those interested in public engagement with science on an approximately monthly basis to discuss a variety of topics. Attendees recently heard from the National Academies’ Standing Committee on Advancing Science Communication Research and Practice, NPR’s Scicommers group, a collaboration of scientists and graphic artists, and the Kavli Foundation’s public engagement with science team. The meetings are intended to facilitate discussion and questions, and topic/speaker suggestions are encouraged.


Elana Kimbrell

Project Director

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