Monday, 16 February 2009

What's the role for science communicators in dialogue?

The big unasked question for me is what's the role for science communicators in the context of dialogue?

For the last 10 years we've talked about two-way not one-way, dialgoue not deficit but have we talked ourselves out of jobs in the process? Many of the projects funded by the Sciencewise programme have been led by 'dialogue professionals' in more market- or social- research based organisations. While museums, journalists, web designers and other comms folk have been involved, it has been as partners.

Of course helping participants understand the science their debating and publicising the findings of participation projects is an important role, but is that the sum total of our contribution? What else could we and should we be doing?

Projects like Small Talk have shown that science communicators can lead meaningful public dialgoues and reach much bigger numbers than other processes. Is this a possible future role for us ? Or is there a case for good science communication that we need to shout more about? And more importantly, how are we going to fund it?

Perhaps ,as the line between communication and dialogue blurs more and more online, this line of questioning is increasingly artificial. What do you think?

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Do we need a digital debating chamber?

A strong thread that has run through most science communication activities for a very long time, is the idea that we go to where the people are - taking science to shopping centres, buses, mass media and so on.

With this 'interruption' model in mind, I started thinking about online PR in terms of getting bloggers to blog about our projects or websites to mention and link to us.  But my conversations with various 'experts' in digital PR have led me to think that I've been looking at this the wrong way round.  I've forgotten that the really clever thing about the web is how easy it is to find stuff.  This means that it's possible to build a following and audience relatively quickly, as long as you are offering interesting content.

But if you're trying to reach a wide cross-section of citizens, then waiting for someone to google 'nanotechnology consultation' is likely to skew your feedback somewhat.  I touched upon this issue in my last blog when I questioned the existence of such 'interest free' citizens.  My digital guru colleague argues that while you can't target 'everyone except those who are likely to be interested', one way around it might be to target 'everyone who wants to have a say'.  This would mean creating a place where online government dialgoue takes place - a kind of digital debating chamber, so that anyone who felt they had something to say can browse and comment on the debates of interest - maybe even starting some of their own.  

Added to that, alerts and RSS feeds could allow people to register their interests and be alerted when a discussion that they'd like to take part in begins - all the kind of thing that's happening in the blogosphere already, but formalised so that it feeds into policymaking rather than just goes into the ether.

Good, bad or mad idea?