Exploring reflexivity: Building bridges between theory and practice in science communication

Exploring reflexivity: Building bridges between theory and practice in science communication

Author: Rhian Salmon – Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand


  • Jo Bailey – Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Over the last decade, science communication has shifted away from ‘pop outreach’, towards more strategic, deliberative approaches. However, many scientist-communicators still lack the support, training and professional recognition required to design effective and theoretically-informed engagement.

The authors of this paper are both public engagement practitioners and researchers. We will present how we have explored bridging the theory-practice divide in a number of science communication case studies in Aotearoa New Zealand. This includes engagement about national research programmes on climate change, complexity, and sea level rise; and a series of festivals that celebrate mathematics and mathematical thinking through the medium of craft.

This research explores the practical challenges of putting engagement theory into practice, building on two papers that propose that an increase in reflexivity on the part of science communicators could change the focus of public engagement with science (Salmon et al. (2017), Salmon & Roop (2019)). We have experimented with different, consciously designed engagement devices that are used to change the way a practitioner thinks about and delivers their communication and engagement. This ranges from exercises using cardboard prototypes and drawing exercises; to an activity that interrogates the power structures and implicit assumptions behind a given initiative; to designed installations at conferences seeking to elicit insights into participants’ thoughts, hopes, and fears.

We argue that by continually interrogating our theoretical approach to public engagement, while also having very real associated funding, responsibility, deliverables and deadlines, we have been contributing to building bridges between science communication practice and research in Aotearoa New Zealand. This has been demonstrated by changes to the annual national science communication conference; integration of engagement at a senior level across national research programmes; and the inclusion of an Engagement Incubator in a new funding proposal for a national Centre for Research Excellence.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Transformation