People see science ‘engagement’ as many different things. For me it is about empowering people to fully participate in the science. At its most exciting it is about ordinary people doing the science working alongside researchers to investigate and solve problems.

The Climate Champion program that we support is getting farmers talking to scientists about their research and providing feedback to sample research products and outputs. I’m hoping the next step will be scientists working with the climate champion farmers on farm to see if the farmers practices are really helping them to mitigate or adapt to climate change.

Climate Champion farmers were finalists at Eureka Awards last year

At the other end of the spectrum, some people see putting out a science story in the media (or social media) as ‘engagement’. For me this represents more the ‘deficit’ model of science communication where people are seen as empty vessels who need to be filled with science knowledge.

We have just started a project which is auditing Australia’s science engagement activities for Inspiring Australia, and are working with Bridge8 and the Australian Science Communicators. In developing the survey for this last week, we had to agree on a definition for science engagement, and I knew we could be in for some arguments so I went to the academic experts.

Dr Joan Leach who runs the science communication courses at the University of Queensland suggested we should be inclusive rather than exclusive and sent a copy of a great paper by Alan Irwin for us to consider – Risk, Science and Public Communication: third-order thinking about scientific culture 

Joan went further to recommend that need to look at ‘science engagement’ in terms of what we’re trying to achieve.

So perhaps science ‘engagement’ includes everything to do with science communication. For now, we’re going to keep our national audit survey as open and inclusive as possible.