woensdag 11 mei 2011

From communication to participation

Went to a thinktank meeting. Subject: how can we better communicate the value of science. Or would that be the relevance of science? My feelings the day after are mixed. Mainly because I feel again the discours was caugt in a sender-message-receiver framework and it was very much guided by a marketing line of thinking. How can we send better? What should we send? To whom should we send? What are our goals? Science is so broad and diverse, can we actually communicate it? The bright side to me: it was all in good spirits with everybody aiming for a good, positieve exchange of thoughts and ideas. And much came to the table.

But why do we always somewhere along the lines get caught in the tranmission model when it comes to science communication, I wonder? Are we right there where society is? I wonder but I am inclined to say that we are not. I have a nagging idea that we could well be underestimating our audience. I think that we all pretty much understand that we are no longer outside a shop window (to use one of yesterdays analogies) looking at the science and technology on display, trying to figure out what suits us best. Rather we are in the midst of that shop. We are in it and of it. These are philosophical terms, whether everybody will use those same words to phrase our position: probably not. But that does not mean that it is not understood, I'd say. It does however mean that we really need to reframe our way of work and our way of thinking, talking and acting vis-a-vis science communication.

And that is exactly what I like about Naturalis - and by the way also about the Science Centre Delft, which is aiming for true interaction between the science community and the visitors as well (had some great pictures, but unfortunately iPhone is broken...). Because these institutions are going in full gear towards a participatory model of science education. In which the visitor is both part of the experience and creates his or her own experiences. In fact: in which the visitor helps to shape the institutions. Actively. By deeds, thoughts and actions. This is the fundamental shift I was talking about in my last blog. It's no longer a defined vision of what science is or what a museum is that is thought through and then shaped and communicated. What is presented is rather: this is the work that we do here, help us, experience, participate. An open invitation to visitors to make up their own minds. To shape their own experiences and follow their own interests by asking questions, participating in indexing the collection (in the case of Naturalis) and through their own interests and participation shape their view of science.

It is I feel a much needed turn. Because to keep on fine tuning the message, the relation between the message and the audience, to change the sender...it's all variations on the same theme that I feel do no longer fit the current day and age in which participation is key. Sure, it's about channels, messages and audiences. But channels, messages and audiences are more and more becoming one. The medium is the message, the audience is the sender and the sender is receiver and the medium and vice versa. The question is how to participate in that changing and evolving field. And that is I'd say through fundamentally changing our own mindset and way of work towards a participatory way of working. In which we do not control or even have the directors role. But in which we just present ourselves, as we are, doing the work that we do. And by extending an open invitatin to others to work with us, to experience with us, to get a sense of what has at some stage ignited our passion.

My, it was food for thought hey, yesterday! Anybody ready to help develop this line of thought?  Preferably at some stage into a line of action:-)?Because I'm thinking, searching, trying as well here, feeling I'm onto something, but maybe not yet able to write it down correctly.

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