RETHINK project : a look at the future of science communication

Science communication is no longer the same. A project involving seven European countries aims to understand how science communication has changed. It’s not only a question of knowledge but also a matter of opportunities for the future.

The RETHINK project was launched in January 2019 and is an unprecedented initiative that will outline the features of the European landscape of science communication. What is commonly called the ‘digital revolution’ has substantially changed the way science is communicated and has brought to light new professional figures who operate in ways that did not exist until a few years ago. The RETHINK project aims to understand the characteristics of today’s ecosystem of science communication. A goal as ambitious as it is necessary.

One project. Seven nations.

The project will last for three years, until December 2021, and involves seven European institutions: the University of the West of England (UK), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Netherlands), Sissa Medialab (Italy), Copernicus Science Centre (Poland), the Centre for the Promotion of Science (Serbia), Vetenskap & Allmänhet (Sweden) and ITQB NOVA (Portugal).

The whole RETHINK project is structured in two distinct major phases. The first, the one defined by the project coordinators as ‘sense-making’, is a cognitive phase, fundamental to understanding the new context in which science communication professionals are operating. In each of the seven countries taking part in the project, seven ‘rethinker spaces’ have been created. Each rethinker space is a hub that hosts 20-30 people involved in science communication in various capacities: scientists, science journalists, bloggers, influencers, DIY artists and public engagement professionals. The rethinker spaces will generate a thorough and widespread overview of the national science communication landscape and act as testbeds and validation mechanisms. The participants will, during several meetings, discuss and outline the local landscape of science communication.

Marzia Mazzonetto ESMH ScientistMarzia Mazzonetto, Senior Project Manager, SISSA Medialab. ‘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’.

At the end of this process of mapping and evaluation, the second phase will begin. It is in this second part of the RETHINK project that the outputs given by the various rethinker spaces will be used to take stock of the situation and provide suggestions and recommendations on communicating science that are appropriate for the current context and that of the near future.

At the same time, the project foresees the establishment of the European Sounding Board (ESB), a strategic hub that will work towards an integrated vision of science communication. The ESB will collect all the results obtained in the seven rethinker spaces and will also ensure that relevant developments are taken into account, that opportunities are seized and that key stakeholders such as scientists and science journalists are involved. The ESB is crucial to the methodology of the RETHINK project as it links academics with practitioners and ensures that research results and guidelines are validated by key professionals and practitioners in the field. The ESB will work with scientists, journalists, bloggers and communication experts, as well as social inclusion and gender experts. This will help with its ambition to engage hard-to-reach audiences.

Carmen Fenollosa ESMH ScientistCarmen Fenollosa, Senior Project Manager, European Network of Science Centres & Museums : “Rethinker spaces should provide safe spaces for discussion and should also be places to find solutions for existing and upcoming challenges. Members will obtain new knowledge, test it in their own practices or fields of expertise, and bring their new experiences back to the rethinker space. They are the incubator of shared learning processes that can bring about new knowledge. In practice, this learning process is centred around a series of workshops, four in total, plus a number of other activities, some of which have already been defined and some of which will be defined throughout the course of the project once the research has yielded its first results.”

One year on, the European map of science communication is taking shape. It has identified networks of traditional and new actors and the relationships, new roles and action repertoires required in currently emerging science communication practices.

Andy Ridgway ESMH ScientistAndy Ridgway, RETHINK principal investigator for UWE Bristol, University of the West of England. ’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.’

Once completed, the RETHINK project will provide an updated list of the types of science communicators in what has already been defined as the new ecosystem of communication and a catalogue of best practices for facilitating the opening-up of science. At the same time, the RETHINK project will come up with an improved set of indicators to measure the quality of interactions between scientists, the media and the general public and determine whether the guidelines and recommendations for practitioners, scientists and policy makers are improving the way science is communicated.

Useful links

The RETHINK project website
RETHINK open access peer reviewed journal on science communication
RETHINK project by EU Cordis

Related Content:
EU Project : RETHINK project
A scientist’s opinion : Interview with Marzia Mazzonetto about the RETHINK project
• A scientist’s opinion : Interview with Andy Ridgway about the RETHINK project

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