Interview with Andy Ridgway, Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), Bristol, and Principal Investigator for the RETHINK project.
What role does UWE Bristol play in the project?
Andy Ridgway: At UWE Bristol, we have been involved in some of the earlier phases of the data collection for RETHINK. The first thing we did was to ‘map’ digital science communication in several countries across Europe to understand which individuals and organisations are doing what online. Anecdotally, we have known for some time that online platforms such as blogs and social media have enabled many more individuals and organisations to communicate science – it has ‘democratised’ science communication. But there haven’t been attempts to try and measure this in some way.
How can you measure science communication?
Andy Ridgway: Online science communication is a challenging thing to research because of its vast scale – the sheer number of individuals and organisations communicating about this online make measuring it quite daunting. So we decided to tackle this in a number of ways. Firstly, we decided to concentrate our exploration of online digital science communication on three topic areas – climate change, artificial intelligence and healthy diets. This means we did not have to explore all online science communication. In fact, the researchers who carried out the mapping in each country (Italy, the Netherlands, the UK, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and Serbia) chose two of the three topics they were going to map. We chose these topics because they are currently very important to individuals and society as a whole but also because the types of individuals and organisations who will be communicating about them will be very different, giving us a richer insight into the nature of online science communication. We wanted to ensure that the mapping was carried out in the same way across each country, so we could compare what we found in different countries – how differently, for example, science about climate change is communicated in Italy compared with the UK. So Elena Milani, a Research Fellow at UWE Bristol, developed a ‘mapping protocol’ – a set of instructions that each researcher in each country would follow when exploring digital science communication.
And what did you find?
Andy Ridgway: Across the seven countries where the mapping was carried out, a total of 697 different individuals and organisations involved in communicating climate change, artificial intelligence and healthy diets were identified. That’s not supposed to be all the individuals and organisations communicating about each topic; we limited the number of each type of ‘actor’ (individual and institution) we would map in each country to 10. So, for example, once the researcher had found 10 universities communicating about climate change in the UK, they would stop. To try and count them all would have been almost impossible. What we were really aiming to do was to explore the different types of actors doing the communicating so we could understand that, as well as the forms of communication they are involved with. So, for example, do they have a blog and are they using social media? If so, what kinds of social media are they using? So, to use mapping analogy, it was more about trying to map the extent of the terrain – how far it reaches and what’s there – rather than trying to measure the peak of each mountain i.e. the number of specific types of organisations or individuals communicating about each topic.