7 November 2018

The final day of #SCICOM100 saw researchers presenting various community-related initiatives and projects, from learning interventions at science centres to identifying different attitudes towards the environment, or using community input to to help keep HIV-positive people on antiretroviral therapy. Conference organiser Dr Marina Joubert made a compelling case for the power and influence wielded by #scicomm-savvy South African researchers like Prof Lee Berger and Prof Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan. Finally, Prof Peter Weingart wrapped up the conference, warning of the dangers of 21st century media practices for science communication, and highlighted the urgent need to keep improving evaluation of South African science communication and engagement efforts.

Involving the public is better for everyone

The majority of the day’s presentations were about communities as audiences of science communication or engagement efforts, and how to make those engagements better by talking to the communities or using evaluation approaches before and after the event. We heard from Corlia Meyer (Stellenbosch University) that public perceptions of environmental issues are split into distinct groupings across income level, education level, and knowledge.

Dr Michael Gastrow (Human Sciences Research Council) showed that attitudes towards and understanding of technical concepts like biotechnology and GMO crops have improved within the South African public, and his colleague Dr Konosoang Sobane showed how antiretroviral therapy communication campaigns could be improved by asking affected communities about the process.

The conference finished with a discussion of the Living Knowledge network and associated science shops in Netherlands (University of Groningen) and South Africa (The Knowledge Co-op, University of Cape Town). These so-called ‘shops’ provide a space for communities, civil society organisations or NGOs to raise issues and research questions with a university. This allows the universities in turn to learn about real challenges and bring diverse researchers together to develop a solution in collaboration with social groups.

Beginning a new era of South African #scicomm

The inaugural #SCICOM100 conference wrapped up with comments from Prof Peter Weingart, who raised his critical issues for science communication in South Africa: the danger of scientists seeking to have global online influence rather than focusing on developing a reputation as a reputable researcher within their own academic communities; and the continued need for accurate and objective evaluation to ensure that science engagement efforts in South Africa are meeting their objectives.

Over three days in Stellenbosch, science communication and evaluation researchers from across South Africa and beyond gathered to discuss their successes and the pressing challenges they face. They leave inspired, informed and challenged to grow the practice of science communication within their own organisations and research groups.

“Communication strategies in antiretroviral therapy have been missing the voice of the people who are affected; the ones the strategy is supposed to be helping” – Dr Konosoang Sobane, Human Sciences Research Council