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The role of a scientific culture unit

What do science communication departments (science culture units, in Spain) do? Watch Prof. Javier Baena explain more.
They really are very varied. There are 2 large groups of actions that we have and want to carry out from the Scientific Culture Unit. The first is the commercial product itself. It would be the dissemination of what our institution, our university produces. There are many researchers who are producing research that is also cutting-edge and it is essential to show the scientific field what we do from our institution. That is the dissemination of news, that is the communication of results, that is the interrelation with projects… Make known what is strictly the academic scientific field, what we produce, our own product. It is also important to carry out an internal training, which is the one addressed to the researchers.
It is also very important that the institution itself, that the university knows how to train researchers in dissemination and also in scientific communication. And then there is a fantastic part that I like very much, which is the one that is derived from the output outside the University itself. How the University is capable of conveying everything we produce inside, towards the rest of society. And, above all, in a bidirectional way. That is to say, how we are able to make society part of what is that process of production and scientific future, of evolution in terms of what should and shouldn’t be done, what is worrying, what does not concern society in terms of the dissemination of science.
We units of scientific culture really go as far as we can. And I say that because
there are certain limitations: material limitations, especially human limitations. Limitations derived in many cases from what is the activity of a unit of scientific culture. The units have their own task, which is the dissemination of internal scientific production, a task that focuses more on the scientific-academic field. And then it has an external action, which in my opinion is one in which the units of scientific culture also have a greater responsibility. Because we can’t forget that we are also part of society. Universities or research centers are an essential part of what society is. And when there are human resources, material resources, economic resources, we can go very far.
When there is not that much supply of human or material resources we get to where we can. We try to do everything possible. In the clear commitment that it is our obligation. But also, being realistic that one does not always manage to do everything he wants.
The bet of the university for the units of scientific culture is something that is present. That is, universities or research centers They are very aware that it is necessary to make a serious and future bet, for those centers or these units, which are the ones that really have more capacity to know how scientific divulgation can be done better. However, it’s going to be a slow process. I am very optimistic, a lot, but I know that unfortunately we still have to advance a lot in all aspects in order to reach the level achieved by countries, let’s say, more developed than Spain.
From the units of scientific culture, we connect with people in many ways. We are interested, above all, in learning. In fact, in all the actions, in everything we do from our centers, we try to draw conclusions about what is best. There are aspects that are strictly limited to what can be the offer that the administration makes about events or activity days. This is the case of the Week of Science or it may be the Researchers’ Night, it may be the Scientific Weekend. Many actions that depend on an institution, museum or some association that undertakes a dissemination action. There we are. We have to be there, obviously.
We have to be there because they are demographic nodes, where we have many interlocutors to whom we can convey research, technology knowledge, and sciences above all. How to do it better? As we said, we are learning and many times social networks help us a lot. Knowing how people through blogs, web pages or even social networks, connects with people. It is a source of inspiration and, why not, almost training to know what are the best resources we can use to do the engage, the contact with people that we find essential. Trying to divulge without echo, unfortunately, is not the best.
What is interesting for us is that if we want to show something that our university has done, the more people we reach, the better.
Obviously, one of the most serious problems is having a sufficiently stabilized work team. It is essential to have a varied, rich team, also with lines of work including different training,
which also has a continuity: that is fundamental. Money, of course, always money. Not because it is money, but because it is translated mainly in support for actions, including the scientific elements that the University itself undertakes. It is not the same to have to do something for voluntarism that really have a broader financing. In this sense, money also gives us the option to have equipment on many occasions. However, what I think is most important is the human factor part. The human element is what I think is most important in a unit of scientific culture. And then, of course, the possibility of being able to support, materially or strictly economically, those actions, those elements that contribute to the dissemination of science.
Divulgation in its origin depended on the ability that a particular person could have, or the will that the same person would like to have at the time of announcing, not so much in the research field, that would be scientific communication, but to the rest of society its advance, its discovery, its innovation. In this sense, universities or research centers have a growing commitment in the training of these personnel, especially young. Although we also know that researchers already consolidated are to some extent committed to their own training. However, there is an increasingly intense growth of the awareness of what is the training of researchers.
And that is actually very important because the university begins to be aware of the fact that it is essential that in addition to researchers have a very high scientific level and are very good researchers, they know how to communicate what they produce to society. Because the model is changing to some extent. It is no longer a system in which we have the knowledge and society is just there to receive passively the information, knowledge or advances, but a system in which society begins to demand and must participate in all that process of relationship between what is science and the final addressee.
Of course it’s an output, it has to be a professional output. I believe that we are in a society, which demands more quality in everything that is done. Even trade or commercial fields. In our case, which is research, which is a relationship between science and the rest of the non-scientific field, we need people who really know how to make a communication and contact process, of bidirectional integration between those who produce research, technology, and science and who receives it, enjoys it or co-participates in some way in the lines of future research. Evidently, without society, research and science have no meaning. And what we cannot do is improvise. What we cannot do is dissemination in a spontaneous or improvised way.
That is to say, we need good professionals
who know how to carry out that procedure: how to make a good video, how to make good news, how to write or how to properly contact a group of people who are interested in a topic, how to develop a workshop for boys and girls… Professionals, after all.

How do universities communicate science?

Most research institutions nowadays have working groups, departments or units that are active in the dissemination of science. They are involved in a variety of tasks: transmitting information to the society at large, training staff, and increasing the visibility and reputation of the scientists and of the institutions who host them.

Your view

If you work in a university or other research-oriented institution,

  • Did you collaborate with your science communication department, for instance by participating in a science event?
  • What did you learn from it?

Share your experience with us and your fellow learners in the comments section!

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Science Communication and Public Engagement

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