To what extent could informal dialogue events contribute to the development of moral competence of participating scientists and experts? In this paper we argue that this is a pertinent question for both scholars and practitioners in science communication, based on results of a qualitative empirical study (n=8).

In recent years, ‘classic’ ways of mass communication on science and technology in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe have been complemented by various live events for a general public. In science cafes, debating centers and science museums, people are not merely informed about science and technology, but actively engaged in discussions.

Social science critiques of the deficit model have mainly targeted “invited forms of engagement which are in some way connected institutionally with policy making” (Wynne, 2007), leaving informal public dialogues aside as initiatives that merely seek to “educate” publics. Yet, some have argued that such events, which have become increasingly numerous and popular, “may in some ways be a better forum for this [social] learning process than dialogue with policy outputs, where formalized, consensual outcomes are often demanded” (Davies et. al. 2009).

Some empirical research has been done on informal public dialogue on science and technology, which has focused on the interaction between scientists and “the” public (e.g. Kerr et. al., 2007). Little is known about the role of the organizers of such events in shaping and framing what is discussed and how that is perceived by participants. This paper addresses the question: How do organizers of informal, live public events on science and technology in the Netherlands relate to the notion of dialogue as symmetrical science communication? How do they apply it in their practices?

To answer this question, we first mapped the Dutch landscape of live public events on science and technology. Secondly, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 8 organizers on the functions, mission statements, and setting of their work, as well as their perception of the public and their views on dialogue. Thirdly, we performed observations during 5 events organized by some of the respondents.

We conclude that most organizers frame their work in terms of public understanding or public awareness of science rather than dialogue. In our discussion, we indicate some implications of this conclusion for both the practice of informal dialogue and the agenda of public engagement research.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Organizing informal dialogue on science and technology in the netherlands

Koen Dortmans   Centre for Society and Genomics, Radboud University Nijmegen

Maud Radstake   Centre for Society and Genomics, Radboud University Nijmegen

To what extent could informal dialogue events contribute to the development of moral competence of participating scientists and experts? In this paper we argue that this is a pertinent question for both scholars and practitioners in science communication, based on results of a qualitative empirical study (n=8).

In recent years, ‘classic’ ways of mass communication on science and technology in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe have been complemented by various live events for a general public. In science cafes, debating centers and science museums, people are not merely informed about science and technology, but actively engaged in discussions.

Social science critiques of the deficit model have mainly targeted “invited forms of engagement which are in some way connected institutionally with policy making” (Wynne, 2007), leaving informal public dialogues aside as initiatives that merely seek to “educate” publics. Yet, some have argued that such events, which have become increasingly numerous and popular, “may in some ways be a better forum for this [social] learning process than dialogue with policy outputs, where formalized, consensual outcomes are often demanded” (Davies et. al. 2009).

Some empirical research has been done on informal public dialogue on science and technology, which has focused on the interaction between scientists and “the” public (e.g. Kerr et. al., 2007). Little is known about the role of the organizers of such events in shaping and framing what is discussed and how that is perceived by participants. This paper addresses the question: How do organizers of informal, live public events on science and technology in the Netherlands relate to the notion of dialogue as symmetrical science communication? How do they apply it in their practices?

To answer this question, we first mapped the Dutch landscape of live public events on science and technology. Secondly, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 8 organizers on the functions, mission statements, and setting of their work, as well as their perception of the public and their views on dialogue. Thirdly, we performed observations during 5 events organized by some of the respondents.

We conclude that most organizers frame their work in terms of public understanding or public awareness of science rather than dialogue. In our discussion, we indicate some implications of this conclusion for both the practice of informal dialogue and the agenda of public engagement research.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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