What is Public Engagement with Science?
Efforts of university faculty to engage with the public about science used to focus mainly on communicating scientific facts to improve public understanding of science. Now, increasingly, it’s recognized that this deficit model isn’t the right approach. Public engagement with science is a new approach that address complex issues like trust in science, political polarization, identities and worldviews, and understanding scientific methods and social structure.
How the UC Center for Public Engagement with Science approaches this project
Public engagement with science cannot simply involve explaining scientific findings to the public. Instead, effective public engagement requires two-way exchanges that should be shaped more by the participants’ interests than the researchers’ interests.
Effective public engagement with science requires not only expertise in scientific content but also skills in effective communication, bridging of social divides and cultivation of trust, inspiring interest during brief encounters, and multiple perspectives on science and its roles in society. Doing this well requires collaboration among people with expertise in science, education and communication, history and philosophy, and more.
This ambitious, interdisciplinary vision of public engagement with science requires significant collaboration, not just among academic researchers, but also with community partners like experts at museums and zoos, classroom teachers, afterschool care providers, and more. A wide range of stakeholders have an interest in effective public engagement with science, and it is essential to value the expertise, perspectives, and goals of each of them.
The UC Center for Public Engagement with Science focuses on four areas of public engagement with science
➀ Science Communication
Public engagement with science requires a different skill set than traditional academic communication. Public audiences have different backgrounds, knowledge, and interests than a typical academic audience (and than each other), and effectively engaging with these audiences requires sensitivity to these differences. Science communication, such as in op-eds, public talks, news interviews, and social media, is improved by taking an engagement approach.
➁ Science Education
Crucial opportunities for effective engagement with science occurs in the classroom—from preschool through university education. These opportunities can be extended, as with the development of new curricula and introducing new methods to one’s teaching, or they can be brief, as with classroom “expert” visits and facilitated activities. An important opportunity for collaborative, interdisciplinary public engagement with science is also created in teacher enrichment and continuing education trainings.
➂ Informal Science Education
Learning about science also occurs beyond the traditional classroom; after all, people only spend approximately 5% of their lives in educational classes. Informal science education, such as in museums, zoos, libraries, and parks, offers members of the public only brief encounters with science but in contexts where they are primed for educational experiences. Many informal settings also attract an audience of different ages, from children to adults, each of which has different backgrounds and interests. Inquiry-based exchanges are especially important in this setting, which involves posing open-ended questions or problems to guide the exploration of ideas.
➃ Scientific Work with Communities
Some scientific research is conducted in collaboration with members of the public, such as people volunteering to collect data about the birds in their backyards. One goal of this can be helping to develop greater interest in or understanding of the research topic or of science in general. This setting for public engagement with science provides an opportunity for sustained interactions of researchers and members of the public in a project of shared interest.