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posted on 29.12.2020, 17:11 by Emma Needham

Thesis for MSc Science Communication.

Considering the immense impacts that science and society have on each other, the relationship between science and ‘the public’ deserves a great deal of attention. Through exploring the power dynamics behind the dominant, pervasive deficit model of public engagement with science, I uncover why it is harmful for both citizens and scientists, focusing on how undemocratic decision making about the direction of scientific research widens societal inequalities.

Reflecting on these issues, I explore the questions:

  1. what is responsive science, what are its benefits and what needs to be in place for it to occur?
  2. how can public engagement practitioners facilitate dialogue, so that scientists can better understand citizen needs?

I use the AccessLab project to help answer these questions, combining extensive research with details about the format of the project and testimony from interviews I conducted with two scientist and two citizen participants in the workshops.

This analysis exposed several ways that the project challenged the concerning, out-dated assumptions underlying public engagement with science. Firstly, the pitching of science as a service to citizens stressed the importance of ensuring science is not only relevant but responsive to citizen needs. Secondly, the project demonstrated how to challenge transmission models of communication within current constraints, through disseminating research skills, emphasising the skills of scientists over their expertise, and theming citizen participant groups. Thirdly, through careful consideration about the makeup and size of groups as well as the format and environment of the workshops, AccessLabs displayed several ways of easing dialogue between citizens and scientists. Finally, AccessLabs demonstrates how essential it is to adopt experimental, open, and critical approaches to public engagement if practices are to move forward and become more useful for citizens.