Background Universities and other institutes of knowledge deal with scientific topics that can be of interest to a lay audience. The presentation of science to a wide audience is needed for creating societal understanding and support for scientific endeavors and for stimulating young people to consider embarking on scientific careers. Institutes of knowledge often lack the know‐how for communicating the importance of their work to the general public. Trying to turn scientific research into a matter of ‘popular’ interest can lead to friction within the academic setting. Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam has developed a format for scientific events.

Objective Stimulate involvement in scientific research among the general public.

Methods Scientific research is a product of human curiosity. Science is an engaging activity that produces thrilling results. These factors form the basis for a festival format for events for science communication. A number of presentation techniques were employed in the course of a week to stimulate involvement in scientific research among the general lay public: an exhibition, guided tours, lectures, discussions and demonstrations. The Rotterdam Museum of Natural History was approached to be involved in the exhibition. Experience has shown that institutes of knowledge generally have too much, rather than too little information to share. A thematic approach can help in formulating coherent core messages. In taking a thematic approach, a communication professional suggests a theme that is then adopted by the directors of the organization. Topics can then be selected based on the theme. The theme acts as an umbrella for an assortment of research activities that, when taken together, are representative for the institute as a whole. For example, the Erasmus MC event ‘Pulses: Pain, & Pleasure’ was devoted to the neurosciences, and presented the relationship between fundamental research, psychology, pain research and treatment and anesthesiology.

Once the theme has been chosen, an editorial council is convened, which is made up of members of the scientific staff and communication professionals. The initial brainstorming session will undoubtedly produce a flood of ideas. A limited number of meetings (just one or two) are then planned for discussions during which a coherent line will be sought. During these meetings, many ideas will be abandoned, while new, unexpected opportunities will present themselves. This process will result in a story line consisting of an introduction to the most important topics within the theme through to the scientific concepts to be illuminated. The story line can be seen as a main thoroughfare that offers the chance to turn off onto a limited number of side roads.

As the decision is made to adopt a particular story line, the opportunities for preparing an attractive event should be taken into account right away. Exhibitions, for example, should be interactive. Guided tours should offer visitors a look behind the scenes. The lay public should have no trouble comprehending presentations, yet their content should remain scientifically sound. Topics will be mentioned during the brainstorming and discussion sessions that are spectacular enough to be used as publicity generators for the event. This is vital for attracting an audience.

Results Erasmus MC has put on three successful scientific events based on this format: Mensbeeld (2003), Pulses: Pain, & Pleasure (2005), and CSI Rotterdam: safe city * safe port (2007). These events were attended by thousands of visitors.

Conclusions The general public can be introduced to scientific research without concessions to academic quality. This can be achieved through cooperation between researchers and communication professionals. The festival format paves the way for stimulating the media and the public with thrilling topics.

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PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Science communication for the general public
Starting from scratch

Fred Balvert   Erasmus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam

Background Universities and other institutes of knowledge deal with scientific topics that can be of interest to a lay audience. The presentation of science to a wide audience is needed for creating societal understanding and support for scientific endeavors and for stimulating young people to consider embarking on scientific careers. Institutes of knowledge often lack the know‐how for communicating the importance of their work to the general public. Trying to turn scientific research into a matter of ‘popular’ interest can lead to friction within the academic setting. Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam has developed a format for scientific events.

Objective Stimulate involvement in scientific research among the general public.

Methods Scientific research is a product of human curiosity. Science is an engaging activity that produces thrilling results. These factors form the basis for a festival format for events for science communication. A number of presentation techniques were employed in the course of a week to stimulate involvement in scientific research among the general lay public: an exhibition, guided tours, lectures, discussions and demonstrations. The Rotterdam Museum of Natural History was approached to be involved in the exhibition. Experience has shown that institutes of knowledge generally have too much, rather than too little information to share. A thematic approach can help in formulating coherent core messages. In taking a thematic approach, a communication professional suggests a theme that is then adopted by the directors of the organization. Topics can then be selected based on the theme. The theme acts as an umbrella for an assortment of research activities that, when taken together, are representative for the institute as a whole. For example, the Erasmus MC event ‘Pulses: Pain, & Pleasure’ was devoted to the neurosciences, and presented the relationship between fundamental research, psychology, pain research and treatment and anesthesiology.

Once the theme has been chosen, an editorial council is convened, which is made up of members of the scientific staff and communication professionals. The initial brainstorming session will undoubtedly produce a flood of ideas. A limited number of meetings (just one or two) are then planned for discussions during which a coherent line will be sought. During these meetings, many ideas will be abandoned, while new, unexpected opportunities will present themselves. This process will result in a story line consisting of an introduction to the most important topics within the theme through to the scientific concepts to be illuminated. The story line can be seen as a main thoroughfare that offers the chance to turn off onto a limited number of side roads.

As the decision is made to adopt a particular story line, the opportunities for preparing an attractive event should be taken into account right away. Exhibitions, for example, should be interactive. Guided tours should offer visitors a look behind the scenes. The lay public should have no trouble comprehending presentations, yet their content should remain scientifically sound. Topics will be mentioned during the brainstorming and discussion sessions that are spectacular enough to be used as publicity generators for the event. This is vital for attracting an audience.

Results Erasmus MC has put on three successful scientific events based on this format: Mensbeeld (2003), Pulses: Pain, & Pleasure (2005), and CSI Rotterdam: safe city * safe port (2007). These events were attended by thousands of visitors.

Conclusions The general public can be introduced to scientific research without concessions to academic quality. This can be achieved through cooperation between researchers and communication professionals. The festival format paves the way for stimulating the media and the public with thrilling topics.

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

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