RETHING project, a scientist’s opinion
Interview with Marzia Mazzonetto, Senior Project Manager, Sissa Medialab.
What is the objective of the RETHINK project? It is not just a question of mapping the science communication landscape, it is also a question of understanding its evolution.
The goal is to understand how science communication is changing. It has already changed, in fact. The change is mainly due to the digitisation process, which means that journalism and communication itself no longer happen in ways that until a few years ago were commonplace: they now happen in a much more uncontrolled way. So there are influencers, youtubers, etc., that people follow much more than journalists who write in ‘traditional’ newspapers. Basically, the European Commission realised that the communication of science had to be reconsidered in order to make it more suited to the current context. Therefore, the objective of RETHINK is first of all to understand how science communication is currently being carried out in some selected pilot countries. Who are the actors on stage? Which channels do they use? How do they find their sources of information? Starting from this point, we want to try to develop new paradigms, new advice to be given to those who work in this field to help them to deal with this new reality.
What does the project consist of?
There are these two big phases. The basic idea is that we cannot tackle the situation without understanding it well. In the first year and a half, there will be an initial phase called ‘sense making’ to understand how professionals, as well as the public, create a level of knowledge around what they read or hear about science, which is obviously influenced by the context in which this happens. This process of ‘making sense’ of science has changed over time. It’s not like 20 years ago anymore, because there are many more sources of information, there are many more channels, everything is much more unregulated. In this first year and a half of observation, we want to find out what is there, what exists, who communicates science and how in these seven pilot countries. Then we also want to understand what the level of training offers is and from there start to act, to make suggestions and recommendations and establish new ways of communicating science that make more sense in the current context. We also want to propose training modules i.e. training offers that take into account this changing landscape.
The way science is communicated is changing, but so are the professions in the field of scientific communication.
The other thing we are trying to analyse is how those who communicate science perceive their role. In the sense that there was obviously a transition between being a communicator of science as a main activity – as a journalist, for example – and the scientist who, in his spare time, writes his blog and suddenly becomes more famous than a character in the famous TV series The Big Bang Theory, because people like what he writes. So there is a new way of being a communicator of science that no longer involves traditional forms of work. And this is also one of the elements we are trying to analyse by observing how science communicators work today. The RETHINK project will make science communicators more aware and will make all research done on science communication more useful for the communicators themselves.