Dog poo in Victoria, feral fish in South Australia, climate-savvy farmers in NSW, and parasites in Tasmania
BRISBANE, 3 February 2014— “For the first time, we will be able to see just how much, or how little, we are doing as a nation to involve ordinary people in our scientific research,” says Jenni Metcalfe, Director of Econnect Communication in Brisbane.
A new website chronicling science engagement activities across Australia is being launched today [3 February].
Science Engage—sciencengage.com.au—currently records almost 400 projects that were collected in 2012 during a national survey of universities, research institutes and communication agencies. This is the first time such a database of activities has ever been collected.
“There are some really interesting engagement activities including citizen science programs and one where Australian farmers are working with scientists to create new climate products – the Climate Champion program,” Ms Metcalfe says.
The activities on the website highlight science communicators’ endeavour to grow Australians’ interest in science; inspire change in behaviour or policy; get people to think more critically about issues such as climate change or coal seam gas issues; or encourage young people to pursue a career in science and research.
However, despite there being a lot of programs that seek to raise awareness about science, Ms Metcalfe says that ‘genuine engagement’ is not as evident.
“The nature of science engagement in Australia tends to be dominated by one-way communication rather than participatory engagement that encourages critical thinking about issues, or involvement in shaping the science questions.”
Ms Metcalfe says www.sciencengage.com.au will be a ‘fantastic tool’ for communication researchers to see where gaps exist in engagement activities, and to explore trends and changes in science and communication.
Some projects on the new site include Poo Power, a program pioneered in Melbourne which is converting dog waste into renewable energy, and runs educations programs to raise awareness about the science of generating bioenergy from waste. The Conservation Council of South Australia trains local communities how to identify and report invasive marine pests. In Tasmania, parasites in the wild have been the centre of public discussion.
“Science Engage is addressing a significant science communication need in support of the Inspiring Australia initiative,” says Professor Graham Durant, Director of Questacon, Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre.
“It will help us to chart the progress and impact of science engagement activities. Making this data available will drive improvements in the sector, enabling us to see what’s been done and what’s working, and to think about what needs to happen next.”
The engagement activities—the earliest recorded so far dating back to 1980—include one-off events such as a public talks to week-long events, road shows and long-term ongoing education programs.
The national survey and website were co-developed by Econnect Communication, Bridge8 and the Australian Science Communicators. The project was funded by the Australian Government’s Inspiring Australia initiative.
Launch details: The new website—sciencengage.com.au—is being launched at the national conference of the Australian Science Communicators, in Brisbane 2–5 February.
Australian Science Communicators National Conference — www.ascconference.asn.au
People involved in science, science communication and research can add information about new engagement activities to the online database.
Jenni Metcalfe, Econnect Communication, mobile: 0408 551 866, email: [email protected]
Alison Binney, Econnect Communication, mobile: 0428 900 450, email: [email protected]
Kali Madden, Australian Science Communicators, phone: +61 2 8011 3557 email: [email protected]