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How Can Science Communicators Engage More Diverse Audiences?

Title: Science Communication Demands a Critical Approach That Centers Inclusion, Equity, and Intersectionality

Author(s) and Year: Katherine N. Canfield, Sunshine Menezes, Shayle B. Matsuda, Amelia Moore, Alycia N. Mosley Austin, Bryan M. Dewsbury, Mónica I. Feliú-Mójer, Katharine W. B. McDuffie, Kendall Moore, Christine A. Reich, Hollie M. Smith, and Cynthia Taylor; Published in 2020

Journal: Frontiers in Communication (Open Access)


​TL;DR: The inclusive sci-comm (ISC) model seeks to help researchers and practitioners equitably engage diverse audiences, but it’s just the beginning.

Why I chose this paper: As a writer, an environmental scientist, and a white woman, I urgently want to communicate as accurately, authentically, and accessibly as I can. But I often feel unsure about how to do that work and genuinely connect with people. I was introduced to inclusive sci-comm during grad school, partly through this article by Canfield et al., (2020). These authors present a model addressing how we can communicate effectively and keep our ears attuned to our diverse communities.

The Takeaway

The field of science communication still has a long way to go to effectively engage diverse audiences. The authors offer recommendations to sci-comm researchers and practitioners for centering inclusion, equity, and intersectionality as key components of effective science communication.

By tackling systemic barriers and including people with diverse identities and ways of knowing, sci-comm researchers and practitioners can be more impactful and effective in building strong communities of science communicators and various audiences. The authors frame this critical approach within the umbrella of Inclusive Science Communication (ISC). Prioritizing ISC offers a powerful approach for researchers and practitioners to advance the field of science communication in ways that better engage and serve diverse audiences.

The Details

Why should we care about inclusive science communication?

Canfield and her co-authors remind readers that historically, the fields of science and science communication have centered Western approaches and excluded or underrepresented voices from marginalized communities. This entrenched bias has oppressed voices from marginalized communities, further limiting knowledge sharing by diverse groups. By shifting into a more inclusive, equitable, and intersectional approach where we consider the historical, political, and social contexts involved in science and sci-comm, more people can benefit from a more diverse pool of knowledge, problem solving, and community support.

As the authors assert, “ISC can leverage society’s intellectual assets” to engage more people in both the process and products of the scientific community. Building a more inclusive sci-comm community also has benefits for an individual’s or group’s sense of belonging. When people feel that they belong, via a sense of representation and respect in formal or informal settings, they can work together more effectively.

What goes into the model for an inclusive sci-comm community?

To build their model, the authors created the Inclusive SciComm (ISC) Symposium at the University of Rhode Island in 2018. The ISC Symposium included 150 science communication practitioners, trainers, educators, and researchers from a variety of academic and community organizations. The ISC Symposium purposefully sought to engage participants across a wide range of STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine) disciplines. An important concept in the ISC Symposium was countering the “deficit model,” a dominant sci-comm model that the authors argue oversimplifies and devalues science communicators and audiences. Some major themes in Canfield et al.’s Inclusive Science Communications (ISC) model were to:

  1. Identify the community members’ needs and opportunities for using ISC approaches.

  2. Highlight strong examples of ISC research and practice, especially by innovators in the sci-comm field.

  3. Discuss structural problems and possible actions to improve ISC.

  4. Inspire new collaborations among community members at the ISC symposium.

How can science communicators make their work more inclusive?

According to the authors, the first steps for any science communication researcher or practitioner in making their work more inclusive is to recognize the value of prioritizing inclusion, equity, and intersectionality. Another recommended step aligned with the ISC model was for practitioners and researchers to participate in inclusive sci-comm conversations. The authors suggest that such participation could occur within formal gatherings like the ISC Symposium, and via more informal settings among personal and professional networks or more publicly in social media conversations or other published content.

The authors recommend several ongoing actions when making these shifts using two main themes of valuing diverse perspectives and committing to ISC as a practice. For instance, the authors recommend planning an inclusive approach from the early stages of any science communications project. This can mean welcoming a variety of perspectives throughout the life of a project and encouraging open communication among speakers from diverse backgrounds. The authors explain that this approach involves directly seeking and inviting speakers representing diverse races, disabilities, sexualities, genders, nationalities, ages, as well as other aspects of identity, and making plans that meet the needs of all parties.

When engaging in ISC, the authors suggest that researchers and practitioners embrace a variety of approaches and modes across disciplines, using various tools and techniques to reach people via different platforms. The purpose of using these various tools, the authors indicate, is to remain flexible and goal-oriented with science communication efforts depending on the needs and interests of various target audiences.

The authors also discuss the importance of allowing opportunities for dialogue, listening, and collaboration among diverse participants, especially when discussing potentially controversial or uncomfortable topics. For example, the authors highlight the relevance of structural inequities, exclusion, and injustices against marginalized communities, both historic and current, noting that an inclusive approach to science communication works to undo systemic harms. By adopting these kinds of ISC strategies and considering the expertise, preferences, and interests of diverse audiences, the authors argue that science communicators working across STEMM fields can make their work more inclusive.

The Impact

Inclusive sci-comm is a powerful framework for making the field of science communication more accessible and effective in reaching more diverse audiences, as well as leveraging the collective power and intellect of those audiences. Gatherings such as the Inclusive SciComm Symposium can be important venues for sharing knowledge and spurring future collaborations and ideas, but more research is needed. Canfield et al. (2020) offer their inclusive sci-comm model as a contribution to more inclusive and intersectional science communication among practitioners, researchers, and diverse public audiences around the world.

Edited by Joshua Buchi and Niveen AbiGhannam

Cover image credit: [Linh Do via Flickr, CC BY 2.0]


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