In a participatory democracy, citizens may take part in public policy making.

Participation requires communication, and a participatory model of communication is well suited to democracy. Public engagement and public involvement, terms employed by U.S. government agencies to convey the intent of broader communication toward improving public understanding of science, describe approaches to facilitating public participation, engaging the public in dialogue with officials and experts. But they are often not distinguishable from conventional public affairs operations, based on the one-way transmission model of communication. While giving lip service to opening doors for broader communication, U.S. agencies appear to have difficulties with putting participatory communication into practice, likely due to the requirement of power sharing imposed by a participatory approach.

Public participation in policy and planning is an emerging issue in U.S. science and society. The purpose of space science and exploration in the 21st century is an emerging issue as well. Public participation in space science and exploration policy and planning is a way of empowering citizens to articulate a 21st century purpose for this government-funded activity. Another way to expand public participation in space science and exploration is to broaden opportunities for citizens to experience encounters with other worlds. At the same time, expanding public participation could broaden opportunities for scientists to establish their credibility as experts, their value as cultural resources, and their purpose as contributors to the public good.

Some U.S. government institutions are encouraging, if not requiring, scientists to include communication, education, and outreach activities in their research proposals – a first step on the way to enabling participation. NASA’s Astrobiology Program is increasingly asking scientists in search of funding to specify how they will contribute to communication, education, and public outreach about their work. However, top NASA officials have not officially endorsed such activities as important elements of science and exploration. These efforts are typically one-way communications. Opportunities for true public engagement are an exception, and opportunities for participation are rare. Structural change is needed to open the door to participation.

Another important step toward enabling participation is improving relationships among scientists and journalists. Journalists understand that to do their jobs, they must learn about science and engage with scientists. But scientists typically are not inclined to learn about journalism and engage with journalists. Scientists must accept that journalists are an important means of access to the public. Knowledge of journalism and engagement with journalists is part of the job of a government-funded scientist and in the public interest. Some NASA projects, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, hold science workshops for journalists. In 2006, the Adler Planetarium in Chicago hosted a workshop for scientists on searching for extrasolar planets and extraterrestrial life. The organizers obtained a foundation grant which specified that its funds be spent on improving science communication. The organizers funded journalists and journalism students to attend the workshop and provide a critique of its science communications. Successful initiatives such as the Hubble and Adler workshops could, and should, be replicated.

The steps described above toward enabling public participation are just a beginning. Their goal is to inform citizens about publicly funded research, explaining "who, what, when," and “where.” A broader challenge is to engender dialogue among policy makers and other government officials, scientists, and citizens on the purposes of space science and exploration – that is, "why." It is time for the space community to take on this challenge. Working with experts in media and communication, experts in science and exploration can work on developing mediums, methods and meeting points to enable public participation. Strategic communication planning – integrating communication with other aspects of program planning and activity – makes communication an integral element of science and exploration and paves the way toward enabling public participation.

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PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Empowering scientists and citizens through participation in space exploration

Linda Billings   NASA Astrobiology Program

In a participatory democracy, citizens may take part in public policy making.

Participation requires communication, and a participatory model of communication is well suited to democracy. Public engagement and public involvement, terms employed by U.S. government agencies to convey the intent of broader communication toward improving public understanding of science, describe approaches to facilitating public participation, engaging the public in dialogue with officials and experts. But they are often not distinguishable from conventional public affairs operations, based on the one-way transmission model of communication. While giving lip service to opening doors for broader communication, U.S. agencies appear to have difficulties with putting participatory communication into practice, likely due to the requirement of power sharing imposed by a participatory approach.

Public participation in policy and planning is an emerging issue in U.S. science and society. The purpose of space science and exploration in the 21st century is an emerging issue as well. Public participation in space science and exploration policy and planning is a way of empowering citizens to articulate a 21st century purpose for this government-funded activity. Another way to expand public participation in space science and exploration is to broaden opportunities for citizens to experience encounters with other worlds. At the same time, expanding public participation could broaden opportunities for scientists to establish their credibility as experts, their value as cultural resources, and their purpose as contributors to the public good.

Some U.S. government institutions are encouraging, if not requiring, scientists to include communication, education, and outreach activities in their research proposals – a first step on the way to enabling participation. NASA’s Astrobiology Program is increasingly asking scientists in search of funding to specify how they will contribute to communication, education, and public outreach about their work. However, top NASA officials have not officially endorsed such activities as important elements of science and exploration. These efforts are typically one-way communications. Opportunities for true public engagement are an exception, and opportunities for participation are rare. Structural change is needed to open the door to participation.

Another important step toward enabling participation is improving relationships among scientists and journalists. Journalists understand that to do their jobs, they must learn about science and engage with scientists. But scientists typically are not inclined to learn about journalism and engage with journalists. Scientists must accept that journalists are an important means of access to the public. Knowledge of journalism and engagement with journalists is part of the job of a government-funded scientist and in the public interest. Some NASA projects, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, hold science workshops for journalists. In 2006, the Adler Planetarium in Chicago hosted a workshop for scientists on searching for extrasolar planets and extraterrestrial life. The organizers obtained a foundation grant which specified that its funds be spent on improving science communication. The organizers funded journalists and journalism students to attend the workshop and provide a critique of its science communications. Successful initiatives such as the Hubble and Adler workshops could, and should, be replicated.

The steps described above toward enabling public participation are just a beginning. Their goal is to inform citizens about publicly funded research, explaining "who, what, when," and “where.” A broader challenge is to engender dialogue among policy makers and other government officials, scientists, and citizens on the purposes of space science and exploration – that is, "why." It is time for the space community to take on this challenge. Working with experts in media and communication, experts in science and exploration can work on developing mediums, methods and meeting points to enable public participation. Strategic communication planning – integrating communication with other aspects of program planning and activity – makes communication an integral element of science and exploration and paves the way toward enabling public participation.

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

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