Innovation is never far away in science communication initiatives. Governments, universities and private practice are always looking to connect with people in a way that they’ve not experienced before.

We love to see fascinating activities that engage people in thinking about issues that are important to them, and that could help them make the best decisions about that issue.

So this month, we thought about Clever ideas to engage people in science-based issues – particularly ones that encourage us to consider multiple perspectives.

We wish you and your loved ones a relaxing festive season, and look forward to connecting (Econnect-ing?) next year!

Regards from the @EconnectTeam:
Jenni MetcalfeSarah ColeJane Ilsley, Toss GascoigneClaire Heath & Madeleine Stirrat.

Clever ideas to engage people differently

By Jenni Metcalfe

I recently asked subscribers on the Public Communication of Science & Technology (PCST) email list for any clever ideas they might like to share about how to engage people in science-based issues, such that people are encouraged to consider different perspectives.

Here are 7 great ideas that were sent in:

Bringing arts and health science together

Health Literacy Media’s CRI Theater for Health program’ integrates theory and practice to engage disadvantaged Peruvian communities about health and hygiene, so they can consider evidence-based information and practices.

The pilot studies, communicated to me by Andrew Pleasant from Canyon Ranch Institute (CRI), involve two neighbouring communities in Peru. The first step was to research in and with communities about their local narratives, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. Community-based interactive theatre performances ran over 11 weeks, with at least half the time of each performance devoted to community interaction. A ‘facilitator’ or ‘joker’ helps audiences find, understand, educate, communicate and use the information provided.

Listening to science and speaking frankly

AURATOR is a public engagement platform for ‘frank speech’ about synthetic biology. AURATOR is filled with personal audio diaries from multidisciplinary leaders in the synthetic biology field. It invites people into an intimate world of ‘listening to science’, and asks them to leave their own audio diaries to evolve the discussion further.

Britt Wray created AURATOR after being inspired by her PhD research at the University of Copenhagen, which focused on the function of emotion and affect in science communication.

Using a values-based approach

People are best engaged when their values are first understood and considered, according to Wiebke Finkler, a New Zealand-based science communicator. She suggests identifying people’s values, and then using framing and the ‘SUCCESS format’ (simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, science, storytelling) to engage different audiences based on value co-creation.

She notes a similar community-based social marketing approach, which I have also used, based on Douglas McKenzie-Mohr’s Fostering Sustainable Behaviour. Another approach Wiebke recommends is Tools Of Change.

Playing cards and making policy

Democs is a part card game, part policy-making tool to help small groups of people to engage with complex public policy issues. Rick Holliman says it is just one tool that the UK’s national centre for public dialogue in policy making involving science and technology issues, Sciencewise, has created.

Democs aims to help people find out about a topic, express their views, seek common ground with the other participants, and state their preferred policy position from a given choice of four.

Adapting to climate through comics

Comics are a good means of communicating about environmental and health issues, especially to young people, says Bruno Pinto from Portugal. One such comic book Bruno has written is about adapting to climate change in Portugal.

The comic book invites the reader to follow a reporter and a cameraman while they report on a local climate adaptation project ‘ClimAdaPT.Local’. The book is based on real people and stories involved in the project, shows the main issues, and also possible solutions to address climate change at a local level.


PlayDecide is a role-playing game for perspective-taking on current scientific issues, which was brought to my attention by Jamie Bell. PlayDecide is a conversation game for a small group of people (4 to 8) around a table. You can choose your playing kit from 23 science issues topics, in more than 20 languages.

And, inspired by PlayDecide, FUND is a two-year project that aims to stimulate the use of discussion games and other debate formats in European cities to develop a scientific culture at the local level.

People sitting at a table playing the PlayDecide game

The PlayDecide game in action.

Citizen science + technology for disaster relief

Geotag-X is an open crowdsourcing platform that engages volunteers to analyse photographs (and other media) about disasters. Australian science communication researcher Cobi Smith says this program is an example of how citizen science can help people understand different views and sets of knowledge.

Geotag-X aims to support relief and recovery efforts of disaster response agencies with the help of volunteer citizen scientists. It is a pilot project within the Citizen Cyberlab, which develops and studies new forms of public participation in research.


Tweet us with innovative perspective-taking science activities you’ve seen!


Putting on a politician’s hat to make energy decisions

By Toss Gascoigne

Germany has decided to abandon nuclear and replace coal with renewables, and this is a hot political debate.

So how do politicians make decisions in the face of conflicting advice, and in areas where different communities will be advantaged or disadvantaged by the decision?

Graph of the change in power generation capacity in Germany since 2002.

Germany’s energy mix: the change in power generation capacity since 2002.

Munich’s giant Deutsches Museum recently mounted energie.wenden, a new exhibition that allows people to feel the pressure politicians feel.

The centrepiece is a display of 10 panels, each featuring a life-sized person affected by the power debate: a coal-miner, a businessman, a retired couple, an environmental scientist, and so on.

When visitors approach a panel, the figure breaks into voice and explains their position.

The retired couple complains about soaring electricity prices; the businessman voices the need for consistent baseload power; the environmentalist expresses her concern about greenhouse emissions.

Next to each of the panels is a voting station presenting 3 statements. Visitors choose one; different people react to this decision, and the computer checks: ‘Are you sure?’

The visitor records their final decision on a punch card, and moves on to the next figure.

At the end, visitors insert their card in a computer and get a read-out on what sort of energy person they are.

It’s been the most popular display in the history of the Deutsches Museum (much to their surprise). More importantly, it allows visitors to feel the tug of conflicting arguments, as well as different people’s perspectives, needs and values. This is what a politician feels every day.

This exhibition tries to counter the regrettable tendency of people to lock themselves into a position and remain impervious to evidence or to other people’s opinions.

Would the exhibition work in Australia, and help settle our damaging and spiteful debate on energy and climate change? It would need some translation but, yes, it would be fantastic.

PS. And what did the computer say about me? My 8-line statement began “You have a social conscience…”

Toss Gascoigne at Deutches Museum with energie.wenden, a new exhibition that allows people to feel the pressure politicians feel.

Author at the energie.wenden exhibit



The weird and wonderful: a giggle to end your year

As we end the year that is 2017, you might need a bit of a breather. Check out this weird stuff: blue tarantulas in Guyana, people would be cool with aliens existing, Hogwart-style animated stills, new theory on Cuban ‘sonic attack’, and artificial corpses with heartbeats and breath.

cadaver by SynDaver Labs

The hyper-real cadaver from SynDaver Labs