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Unlocking the Power of Science Communication in Policy Making

Connecting Research, Government, Industry, and Society

12>13 Mar. 2024

This high-level conference was co-organised by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), Fund for Scientific Research (F.R.S.-FNRS), and Science Europe under the auspices of the Belgian Presidency of the European Union (January–June 2024). It brought together European policy makers and stakeholders to highlight the importance of open, ethical science communication in research processes. It also raised awareness of the need to address science communication more formally in research programmes.

About the Conference

In recent years, researchers have become increasingly involved in public communication programmes; the COVID-19 pandemic and other global challenges have accelerated this trend. Despite this, misinformation and ‘fake news’ about important social issues – such as artificial intelligence, big data, food security, energy, and climate change – continue to spread through social and new media. This has led to growing international recognition that science communication is an essential aspect of research culture.

Science Europe has as one of its priorities to “strengthen the voice of science in and for society”. As part of this, science communication has emerged as its own priority topic. In June 2022, Science Europe published a Position Statement that aligns its Member Organisations in the initiation of actions that contribute to fostering better and more effective evidence-based science communication. This statement was produced in full collaboration with the Working Group on Communication and adopted by Science Europe’s General Assembly.

Science Europe and its members envision a system that considers science communication as an important part of the research culture we want to build, and embeds it in a research framework based on open science, ethical standards, and renewed research assessment practices.

Objectives and Dynamics of the Conference

The main goal was to highlight the importance of science communication in research processes and raise awareness of the need to address it more formally in research programmes and policy making, in particular to:

  1. foster a better understanding of the importance of science communication in research and innovation systems and shift the mindset of policy makers at the national and the EU level.
  2. highlight the role of science communication in providing timely evidence relevant to societal challenges and policy making, informing and engaging citizens, explaining the importance of public investment in research, and inspiring new generations.
  3. promote the development of institutional tools for researchers to better communicate research, such as toolkits and guidelines, training activities, incentives, and integration of science communication into funding schemes.
  4. build partnerships with science communication stakeholders, intergovernmental bodies and media representatives to address misinformation as we navigate through an increasingly polarised, diverse, and volatile context.
  5. showcase successful science communication initiatives and best practices, including new and diverse forms of knowledge communication.

The conference included plenary sessions, panel discussions, deep dives, and networking opportunities. The plenary sessions with high-level keynote speakers provided an overview of the current state of science communication in Europe and worldwide and advocated the importance of science communication in addressing societal challenges and informing policy making. The panel discussions and pitch session showcased successful science communication initiatives and included policy makers and practitioners from the field. The deep dives focused on specific science communication topics and best practices from across Europe and beyond.

Outcomes of the Conference

As the overarching objective was to actively promote the seamless integration of science communication as an integral component within research programmes, two types of outcomes were envisaged:

  • Strategic conclusions targeting policy makers on how to integrate more and better science communication in research programmes. These conclusions will feed the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU R&I priorities.
  • Longer and more detailed recommendations for Science Europe members, including, for instance, suggestions on integrating science communication into research programmes and enhancing science communication training offers.

Welcome Statement

Effective science communication is a crucial aspect of research processes to ensure that research findings benefit our societies. Scientific results must be made available to other researchers to continue the advancement of knowledge, to entrepreneurs to create useful products and services, and to policy makers to build evidence-based knowledge. Scientific processes should be better explained to the general public to inform and inspire them, and to engage them in the dialogue between research and society.

The importance of science communication was highlighted in particular during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, our societies face other equally crucial challenges (such as those related to health, climate, and access to clean water) where the availability of research outcomes is of paramount importance to addressing them.

At the same time, science communication faces challenges of its own. Social media enabled immediate outreach to broad audiences and allow every individual to participate in public debates, but they have also lowered the barriers to spread research mis- and disinformation. Moreover, although trust in science remains high, some vocal minorities challenge the research endeavour and seek to erode that trust without sound arguments.

Science communication is one of the priorities of the 2024 Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU, and it is also a priority area for Science Europe, F.R.S.-FNRS and FWO. With this High Level Conference, we aim to promote the development of improved institutional tools for researchers to better communicate their work and to build stronger partnerships with science communicators. We will also delve deeper into relevant topics to science communication, including talking to policy makers, ethics and integrity, and the opportunities and challenges of artificial intelligence and of social media.

We will do so by learning from successful examples of ethical science communication, bringing together European policy makers, research and innovation stakeholders, and science communicators.

As an event held under the auspices of the 2024 Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU, we hope that the conclusions will be taken into account by EU Member States and pan-European research and innovation stakeholders.

Join us in this dialogue to improve science communication!

  • Hans Willems, Research Foundation Flanders (FWO)
  • Véronique Halloin, Fund for Scientific Research (F.R.S.-FNRS)
  • Lidia Borrell-Damián, Science Europe