Welcome to our final newsletter for the year – Participating in science.

This theme reflects on our participation in the New Zealand SCANZ conference, where participation in science was a topic that came up again and again.

It also reflects on the Australian Government’s recent attention to citizen science.

And in the past month, we have been developing a communication strategy for the Australian Citizen Science Association.

As usual, we welcome your feedback via Facebook, Twitter or email, and we wish you a safe and pleasant holiday season. We’ll be back in 2017.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam

Jenni MetcalfeSarah Cole (newsletter editor), Jane Ilsley, Melina Gillespie and guest contributor Toss Gascoigne



iDo Science – citizen science for communicators

By Jenni Metcalfe

One of my most favourite things as a science communicator is to get out into the field with scientists and actively help them do their research – whether it be surveying animals and plants, or monitoring a river near a remote Aboriginal community.

When I work directly with the scientists I find I get the best stories, the best photos, and I feel like I’m helping in some way.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with scientists on the mountain tops of north Queensland’s Hinchinbrook Island, with others working with remote Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley, and with agricultural scientists working on remote farms in south Mindanao in the Philippines.

Earthwatch holidays in Alaska studying sea otters and across northern West Australia studying freshwater turtles have further heightened my love of working with scientists on real and important projects.

What role can science communicators play in the citizen science space? Here are my 5 suggestions:

  1. Build ‘citizen science’ into your own science communication projects. It’s about allowing people to work directly with scientists in some way; it doesn’t have to be about counting birds, otters or turtles!
  2. Work with scientists to make sure their expectations from citizen science activities are clearly communicated with the people taking part.
  3. Encourage and support scientists to directly interact with the people participating in their research as often as possible.
  4. Feed back the results of citizen participation, and the value of that participation, to the people involved.
  5. Participate in the science yourself, alongside other citizens and with scientists, and write up your experiences. Trust me: it’s so much fun!


Talking science to girls

By Melina Gillespie

Women represent only a quarter of the STEM workforce, and hold less than a fifth of senior research positions in Australian universities and research institutes.

This is according to the Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, and the website proclaims: “We need a concerted, national effort to overcome the cultural, institutional and organisational factors that discourage girls and women from studying STEM”.

New Zealand statistics show a similar story, reports Kate Hannah, who presented at the recent SCANZ conference on new ways of thinking about ‘the problem with girls’ in science. Kate is the executive manager of Te Pūnaha Matatini, one of New Zealand’s Centres of Research Excellence.

Kate has previously expanded on why it was important to have more women working in STEM: “Because a science system that better reflects the world will be better at working with the world to mitigate against the critical issues of our time. … Science and technology are too important to our shared future for the same people to keep on having the same ideas.”

Image: The inaugural cover of Kazoo, ‘a feminist magazine for girls who love science and climbing trees’.

So how do we go about encouraging more girls into science?

The National Innovation and Science Agenda suggests encouraging greater gender equity in STEM-based organisations and industries, and highlighting amazing stories of Australia’s successful female innovators and entrepreneurs.

But as more and more resources are becoming available to promote science to girls, we can all be better equipped to encourage girls to dive into the world of science. Tips include:

  • encourage their natural curiosity about the world
  • help build their confidence to do well in STEM at school
  • find learning opportunities in science, outside of the school room
  • identify role models
  • help them to learn about the different and exciting fields of STEM.

Perhaps what we need to do at a basic level is be more aware, and ensure our communication with young girls includes the language of science.
kazoo magazine for girls
PBS Parents and the Australian Government also have resources for encouraging girls into STEM.



Climate Champion farmers help improve research

By Jenni Metcalfe

We had the very great fortune to develop, manage and support the MCV Climate Champion program of farmers over 6 years from 2009.

The program, funded until June this year, supported over 40 farmers to communicate with other farmers about climate science to manage risk on their properties. It also supported them to communicate with researchers. This included interacting with scientists about farmers’ research needs and giving feedback about the products and results from research.

At the end of the program, we surveyed farmers and researchers about their interactions.

More than 80 per cent of the farmers rated the scientists’ responsiveness and willingness to listen as ‘high’ or ‘very high’. The scientists rated their interaction with farmers even higher. Scientists’ response to open-ended questions suggests they made significant changes to their research direction and products based on the feedback from the Climate Champion farmers.

“Our original list of variables that we intended to analyse changed dramatically after talking with climate champions,“ said one researcher.

“The way we presented our research results benefited significantly from communication with Climate Champions,” said another.

My tips for supporting farmers to engage with researchers are:

  • Ensure plenty of face-to-face time, including social time, so relationships can develop and trust can be built.
  • Encourage researchers to make their presentations as interactive as possible.
  • Design sessions where researchers and farmers actively listen to each other.
  • Get researchers out of their offices and labs and onto farms to engage in farmers’ space.
  • Provide communication skills training to farmers so they are confident in expressing their views, knowledge and experience.

Group of farmers in a discussion
Image: Econnect Communication



Science and art collide on Dunedin streets

By Toss Gascoigne

Last week I took part in my first Atheist Pride march. 40 people led by man in gorilla suit marched down the main street of Dunedin, chanting slogans:

  • “What do we know? Nothing! How do we know it? We’re not sure”
  • “What do we want? Evolution! When do we want it? Tomorrow!”
  • and carrying placards “Thank God I’m an atheist”.

The march ended at the Anglican Cathedral where our gorilla preached his wisdom: “We acknowledge science but caution against all types of hype, which can only lead to disappointment. We are all going to hell; let’s face it. We are simple-minded, banana-eating, sex-driven, short-lived blips in time and humbly declare we do not have a clue! … Uga Uga Uga Chuga!”

Then he had an (apparently amicable) meeting with the Primate of the Church. I can report that the local population was bewildered and amused, and the event featured on the front page of the local paper.

It was all in the name of science participation and science communication, an art-in-science event connected to the conference on science communication run by the Science Communicators Association of New Zealand.

My question is: what other city in the world would close off its main shopping street for 30 minutes to allow a march of 40 Atheist Pride people?

Atheist pride March in Dunedin, New Zealand
Image: Toss Gascoigne



Quote of the month

“We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, or otherwise have faith in.”

— Aldo Leopold