Workshop Description

Public Engagement with Science:  Defining and Measuring Success

Sep. 4, 5, 11, 12, 2020 Online

Methods and modes for public engagement with science have proliferated over the past two decades. “Public engagement with science” is now used to describe everything from the public consumption of scientific information to collaborative research endeavors, where the public shapes both the direction and development of scientific research. What counts as a successful public engagement, however, has become increasingly murky, particularly as deficit model thinking (that the goal is getting the public to think like– or at least agree with– the scientists) has been problematized.  

This conference will bring together practitioners of public engagement techniques in order to think carefully about what should count as success and how to measure success. We do not think there is one best answer to this question. What is more likely is that depending on the forms of public engagement pursued, we aim at different kinds of success. This conference will help to organize the forms of public engagement, so that what should count as success (and how we might measure such success) can be shared and debated, and a richer, clearer texture of possibilities becomes available to practitioners moving forward.

We conceive of engagement as differentiated from the broader category of communication and outreach by the expectation that the public provide some constructive input into the products of the endeavor. Thus, public engagement has to be more than merely learning from scientists or science communications, with the public independently making meaning from or deploying what they have learned. The process of engagement must take input from the public that helps build the results of the process. This conference will focus on engagement so understood.

The conference will be organized around how the public is conceptualized in engagement practices. Some engagement efforts work with whomever volunteers to participate. Some efforts work with identified stakeholders whose participation is sought. Some efforts work with a carefully constructed demographically representative sample. Some efforts work a particular community (a subset of the broader public), often using some of the three approaches above, for whom an engagement process is thought to be particularly helpful or needed. Each way of conceiving the public brings an important, but different, set of strengths to a public engagement process and each raises particular challenges. Finally, there is also work that engages publics across political sovereignty boundaries that raises additional challenges.

Across these different ways of thinking about the public in public engagement, different modes of engagement can be deployed, with different aims and different strategies. This conference will bring together practitioners for each of these conceptualizations of the public to share the benefits and pitfalls that are encountered, and to share knowledge of how to define and measure success within, and across, each.

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