Science Communication Workshop for IYA2009 Nodes

7 January 2009

Science Communication Workshop for IYA2009 Nodes

Organised by ESConet - European Science Communication Network and IYA2009 Secretariat

25 - 27 March 2009

Dubrovnik , Croatia



As our world grows ever more complex and the pace of scientific discovery and technological change quickens, the global community of professional astronomers needs to communicate more effectively with the public. This need and challenge is even more pressing now, when the world celebrates the 400th anniversary of the first use of the telescope by Galileo and the International Year of Astronomy 2009. With this in mind, ESConet - European Science Communication Network, kindly agreed to organise a science communication a special workshop IYA2009 Nodes.

This workshop is designed to give SPoCs the skills and confidence to interact with the media, engage with ordinary citizens, and to advise and persuade policy-makers.

The workshop will be held in the Centre for Advanced Academic Studies in the beautiful city of Dubrovnik on Croatia's Adriatic coast, from the 25th to the 27th of March 2009 (dates to be confirmed). 

Your accommodation will be covered by ESConet's EC funding for FP7 EU-eligible countries:

The structure of the workshop will be as follows:

Workshop timetable (all sessions ~2 hours)

Day 1 - 25 March

  •          Morning: Trainees arrive
  •          Afternoon Introductions; Who are you communicating with and why?
  •          Evening:  Media writing: lecture; start practical

Day 2 - 26 March

  •          Morning 1: Media writing practical
  •          Morning 2: Talking to the media: lecture; feedback on press releases
  •          Afternoon: Talking to media: interviews
  •          Evening: Feedback on interviews; How the media cover science

Day 3 - 27 March

  •          Morning 1: Public science on the web: lecture; start practical
  •          Morning 2: Public science on the web: lecture; start practical
  •          Afternoon: Feedback on web practical; Science in culture
  •          Evening: Trainees depart

The workshop will be available for 15 to 20 participants. Priority will be given do Single Points of Contact (or delegates appointed by them) from European Countries and Single Points of Contact from European Organisational Nodes.

The SPoCs should send the following information to before 31 January 2009:

  •          Name:
  •          Country:
  •          Address:
  •          Email address:


Overview of the modules

Basic science communication skills have very wide applicability, from scientific journals and conferences all the way through to giving talks to school students. ESConet Trainers make use of a "scenario approach", in which the researchers to be trained are put into a number of situations in which they will be expected to communicate with lay, but intelligent, audiences. In particular, ESConet stresses the importance of communication with and through the mass media in order to provide basic training in structured and well-focussed communication. These basic science communication workshops consist of a number of modules, most of which have practical activities. Feedback sessions are built into all of the practical modules, and further feedback will be given as required, after the workshops. The following modules are delivered:


1. Who are you communicating with and why

Before embarking on any communications activity, it is vital to ask: who is your audience, and why are you communicating with them? For any science communication activity to be successful, it is important to understand the specific characteristics of the audience that may shape how people relate to science. So the first section of this module looks at what we know about European citizens and their attitudes to science, making use of the Eurobarometer surveys, among other information sources. The second part of this module presents the reasons why lay people need and seek scientific information, using the "uses and gratifications" approach from communication theory. For both sections there are short exercises: you will be asked to introduce yourself, outline your experience in communicating with the media and lay audiences, and say what your particular motives are for being involved in science communication.

2. Writing for the media

If you publish in high profile journals or have to make an important announcement or conference presentation, you may often be asked to provide information for a press release. You may, of course, leave the writing of this release entirely to your institution's press office. But, increasingly, researchers themselves are being asked to play a part in formulating what goes out to the media, to ensure accuracy and to highlight the relevance, novelty etc. of what they are doing. The press release is a very disciplined, formulaic piece of writing designed to fit closely to what news journalists have to write on a daily basis, and to answer a few very basic questions: who, what, where, why, when and how. So this module provides you with the skills required to prepare a press release about your own research. You will be given an introduction to news values that you can apply in your own press release writing, and taken through examples of press releases that have successfully generated media coverage. The module engenders good written communication practices that may be widely applicable, including in a purely research setting, such as a scientific journal or conference poster.

3. Talking to the media

This module introduces you to the various forms and uses of the media interview in which scientists may be involved, and involves participants in a practical simulation of a media interview. You will be asked about your experiences and expectations of media interviews. You will be advised on preparing for media interviews, underlining the importance of clear focus on key points, and of anticipating the possible lines of questioning. You will be interviewed by media professionals in one or more settings. The default setting is the t.v. or radio interview in a studio setting for live broadcast or recording. Other possibilities are: interviews on the telephone for radio (live) or newspaper; extended interviews for magazine; interview on-camera in non-studio location; presentation to media at a press conference. Along with the trainers and other workshop participants, you will have the opportunity to review the interview performances, offering opportunity for peer and self-critique.

4. Public science on the web

This module examines the various forms and uses of the web as a medium of public science communication. You will review critically selected examples of science web sites, aiming to identify elements of good and bad practice, and to establish criteria for effective sites. You will undertake supervised exercises to review critically selected science web sites and to produce an outline of a web page or pages about the project, programme or institution to which you belong. You will be introduced to techniques such as blogging, and other sites, such as the social networking site Facebook. Tutors and participants will review together the pages produced. You will be asked to keep in touch with the trainers and undertake some follow-up exercises, to be undertaken in the following weeks.

5. How the media cover science

There is much anecdotal evidence of scientists experience difficulties with journalists and broadcasters when it comes to popularizing their work: inaccuracies, oversimplifications, removal of qualifying statements, over-emphasising controversy etc. Much of the uneasiness between the worlds of research and the media is due to mutual unfamiliarity. This module, however, is designed to increase your familiarity with the world of the media. The module presents an overview of the main features of media presentation of science and technology issues. It reviews the key findings of long-term studies of media coverage of science and technology, tries to highlight the dominant trends across time, the main differences across the diverse media (TV, press, radio) and presents some particularly significant case studies.

6. Science in culture

By the end of an intensive, two-day workshop, you will have been exposed to a great deal of practical activity and detailed information. So it is useful to reflect on what has been learned and put it into a wider context. This module provides a useful framework for doing this: the public representation of science is the result of a combination of a great multiplicity and variety of factors, the origins of which are difficult to trace. This module provides a brief introduction to some of those factors, and aims to generate a final discussion on why science communication is important at a number of levels. In short, it reinforces the lessons learned in the workshop by emphasising the context and importance of science communication.


Organisational Associates:

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 is endorsed by the United Nations and the International Council of Science.