What happens when you invite an academic scientist and a regular member of the public to come and talk to each other on-to-one about environmental issues? This project attempted to explore, develop and pilot a new forum for deliberative interaction, the deliberative exchange. The deliberative exchange was designed as a facilitated one-to-one conversation, based around important scientific, ethical or policy issues, between two persons from very different backgrounds. The participating groups were made up of six academic scientists based at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and six members of the public recruited from the local community in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The one-to-one exchange provided an unusual context to study communication between scientists and non-scientists. None of our non-scientists had previously had an opportunity to talk at any length to a scientist about science related issues. All of the scientists had some previous experience of public engagement but a detailed discussion with a single member of the public was quite a different proposition. In fact, due to the variety of topics involved, the scientists found themselves in some of the exchanges discussing issues on which they were not expert. The scientists thus had to reconsider the role they were playing within such exchanges.

The research presented here reports on the experience of the academic scientists during he six deliberative exchanges that participated in. The results reported are still very tentative and requiring further enquiry and analysis. Three of the six scientists, at least part of the time, took on the role of ‘science communicator’. These scientists were willing and able to talk science and engage in science explanation across a range of issues involved in the project. In contrast, the other three scientists deliberatively avoided talking science. They restricted themselves to discussing ‘the issues’ with the non-scientists. They didn’t draw on their own research experience or engage in detailed science explanation. For the ‘science communicators’, science, or at least relevant environmental science, was not that special – it was more systematic than lay knowledge but they didn’t consider it difficult to understand. The ‘issues only’ scientists, on the other hand, had a more esoteric conception of science, which may have discouraged them from trying to explain science to the non-scientists.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Scientists as citizens
Talking issues versus talking science

Mary Brennan   School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

What happens when you invite an academic scientist and a regular member of the public to come and talk to each other on-to-one about environmental issues? This project attempted to explore, develop and pilot a new forum for deliberative interaction, the deliberative exchange. The deliberative exchange was designed as a facilitated one-to-one conversation, based around important scientific, ethical or policy issues, between two persons from very different backgrounds. The participating groups were made up of six academic scientists based at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and six members of the public recruited from the local community in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The one-to-one exchange provided an unusual context to study communication between scientists and non-scientists. None of our non-scientists had previously had an opportunity to talk at any length to a scientist about science related issues. All of the scientists had some previous experience of public engagement but a detailed discussion with a single member of the public was quite a different proposition. In fact, due to the variety of topics involved, the scientists found themselves in some of the exchanges discussing issues on which they were not expert. The scientists thus had to reconsider the role they were playing within such exchanges.

The research presented here reports on the experience of the academic scientists during he six deliberative exchanges that participated in. The results reported are still very tentative and requiring further enquiry and analysis. Three of the six scientists, at least part of the time, took on the role of ‘science communicator’. These scientists were willing and able to talk science and engage in science explanation across a range of issues involved in the project. In contrast, the other three scientists deliberatively avoided talking science. They restricted themselves to discussing ‘the issues’ with the non-scientists. They didn’t draw on their own research experience or engage in detailed science explanation. For the ‘science communicators’, science, or at least relevant environmental science, was not that special – it was more systematic than lay knowledge but they didn’t consider it difficult to understand. The ‘issues only’ scientists, on the other hand, had a more esoteric conception of science, which may have discouraged them from trying to explain science to the non-scientists.

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