The Department of Energy’s Office of Science and The Kavli Foundation share a common interest in ensuring that basic science engagement is supported, sustainable, and effective. SciPEP (Science Public Engagement Partnership) was built on that common interest and sought to ensure scientists are supported to be effective communicators and, if appropriate, active in engaging the public. We also wanted to recognize and empower communication and engagement professionals to play an important role in supporting science and scientists’ engagement efforts. Lastly, we aimed to understand how, why, and when publics-at-large seek, find, and make use of information about basic research.
Engaging with Basic Science
Our understanding of how broader publics engage with the process, the people, and the products of science has grown tremendously in the past two decades. The “science of science communication” has well and truly come into its own as both scholarship and practice. Yet, many gaps and questions remain.
As we surveyed the advances in science communication and science public engagement, we saw a conspicuous gap: public engagement with basic, curiosity-driven, or fundamental research is rarely the focus of our community conversations. Case studies, examples, and conference sessions often focus on controversial science, applied science, or emerging technologies. While there are good reasons for this, the bread and butter of basic science is seldom given the attention accorded these other issues.
We suspected public engagement around basic science is neither well understood nor well studied. We intended that SciPEP would address this gap by exploring the unique characteristics of public engagement in basic research. We convened our community to explore these questions and challenges, created toolkits and resources for scientists and researchers, and stimulated scholarship around public awareness, understanding, and support of basic science. We aspired to create communities of people who care about these topics to convene and discuss their ideas.
Equity in Engagement
The scientific endeavor belongs to everyone. In order for basic science to truly be a public good, its processes and outcomes must be accessible and broadly shared beyond the scientific community. Public engagement in basic science that leads to mutual learning between scientists and the public is critical for realizing this goal. So too is acknowledging and working to address exclusion and disenfranchisement of many people, both scientists and members of the public, from that engagement
In order for SciPEP to empower scientists and communications professionals to engage the public in basic science, we are committed to equity, diversity, and inclusivity in our work. Those who have been long excluded should have ample opportunity to share their unique experiences and expertise. This cornerstone of the SciPEP mission will help those who participate in and lead public engagement in basic science realize the shared enterprise of exploration, discovery, and knowledge.