Key takeaways from the TRESCA & RETHINK project joint final conference

29. Apr. 2022

ZSI chaired Panel 4: The future of public trust: what role for policy?

On March 21st and 22nd 2022, the TRESCA and RETHINK joint final conference was hosted online and in Brussels. The conference was entitled ‘Connections, Conversations and Science Communication: The future of public trust in times of uncertainty’. Policymakers, researchers and science communicators from across Europe came together to discuss the key role that policy plays in ensuring public trust in science. On day one, experts clearly focused beyond the status quo of policy advising and research in context, discussing the role of connection with new audiences and social media. The second day of the event began with a rousing call to action on how science communication must be transformed.

As the panel overviews indicate, some of the key narratives emerging from the discussions highlighted pressing challenges for science communication. A topic that featured throughout the panels was a greater need for understanding and strengthening a bond with the audience: not just learning who audiences are, to overcome polarisation or disconnection, but also for science communicators to offer quality information, emphasizing the importance of inclusion and social justice on the agenda. For example, EC s high level Innovation Policy Officer Michael Arentoft, in the opening remarks of the conference, urged that “Science should be a point of connection, instead of polarisation.” A valid narrative and point that also returned in the first panel on day 1, on forging connections with audiences, where scicom consultant Vanessa Mignan Jenkins emphasized that, “Maintaining the status quo is not being neutral; we must recognise citizens as collaborators, not charity cases and stop acting as gatekeepers.” In a similar vein, this was confirmed by TRESCA-researcher Sara Degli Esposito, who expressed that science communicators “[...] must rebuild an Ivory Tower that’s more inclusive.” 

An audience-centered approach and a critical friend approach or self-reflection are only the first steps for each stakeholder to transform their science communication practices, to make science a trusted ally in all parts of society, participants call for closer collaborations among stakeholders themselves. Science can be made engaging if different strengths and resources of each stakeholder are made use of. Jing Zeng, a researcher of Zurich, emphasized that “Science communication is not just about being informative but also about being effective; credibility and amateurism are not necessarily opposites”, therefore, cooperation between amateurs or citizen scientists and institutions will be “a win-win situation”. Greater incentives for scientists to communicate their work can be integrated formally in policymaking, a view expressed by Peter Hylgard: “We need to force every scientist that gets funded to do science communication in some way.” The positive outlook of science communication depends on the synergies of efforts from all stakeholders, as Birte Fähnrich sees: “Connection of different projects and different actors brings science communication forward, we should go on collaborating that way in the future.” 

A CLOSER LOOK AT PANEL 4: The future of public trust: what role for policy?

This panel focused on the role of policy for science communicators. Pamela Bartar of ZSI introduced the two policy briefs: “Improving digital science communication in Europe”, from the RETHINK project; and “Science communication in support of evidence-based policy making”, from the TRESCA project. The policy briefs were positively received by Birte Fähnrich of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. "They are useful for gaining fresh insights [...], or [seen from a macro-perspective] for countries that are already a little further along in their growth to check that politics is on the right course." As Gabor Szüdi of ZSI explained, the TRESCA project highlighted how policy can shape the type of science communication practice that is carried out in Europe: "One important recommendation in this policy brief was about the trend of using more visual and digitalised solutions that make it more possible to create easily accessible science communication content and involving the public." Finally, Peter Hylgard of the Danish Board of Technology underlined that there are a lot of different actors that take part within scicom, and therefore there is no single discourse, it is always changing.

Reflections on the conference have been written up in two blogs which were published by Science Business and ECSITE to emphasize the collaborative nature of the conference. The videos of the conference will remain accessible via video streaming site Vimeo and will be disseminated via TRESCA’s social media accounts. A survey conducted after the conference showed an overall positive response to the event, emphasizing appreciation for its content and themes, which also demonstrates sustainability of the event longer term.

Overall, the conference has been received as a success, engaging and helpful to its participants and attendees. For a further impression (and behind-the-scenes impression of the online components), this video presents the highlights of the conference as also described in this report:

More video recordings of the conference are available for viewing at: (Day 1) and (Day 2). A helpful recap with behind the scene interviews can be seen on TRESCA’s YouTube Channel, or this link:

The Centre for Social Innovation was work package leader of the TRESCA project and focused particularly on the science communication/ policy making nexus.

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Tags: science communication

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