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Posted by under science and SPRU.    This post has 3 comments.

Would you trust these scientists?

Sometimes we miss the point despite ourselves. Alice Bell injected some much needed energy and understanding into SPRU’s efforts at public engagement today. But did we miss something important?

The framing of the public under discussion returned again and again to one which is docile, timid and all-in-all, not too far from one on the wrong side of a science deficit model (despite efforts from Alice). The public as a slothlike mass, waiting for us to decend the ivory steps and assist them with their problems. For free, or certainly without expectation or motivation of profit.

We should know better. Especially at SPRU.

Society is not docile. Society is not out there waiting for our benevolence. And society certainly doesn’t require the philanthropy of cloistered innovation policy experts.  Society is getting on with it. It’s funding innovation diffusion. It’s finding new ways to engage a moribund politics. It’s clawing at the data silos and it’s not holding back.

In short, society will not wait for academics to finish vigorous beard stroking and sign off on scientific consensus before loping into the field on an engagement exercise predicated by late night box ticking on a last minute funding bid. Science is going to be engaged with regardless, the only issue being the directionality. So here’s the takeaway; if we want it to be our science with which the public engages, we better shape up, catch up, and welcome them in.

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Posted on the 14th of February, 2013 at 12:19 am.

“Engaging with the public” has the same quality, as a statement, as “climbing a mountain” (or any other overblown metaphor). Its a broad concept the enactment of which requires several small steps.

Should it be limited to ivory tower saints teaching to the unwashed masses? Not really.

Could SPRU people use their expertise and knowledge to assist with certain problems, in such a way that those receiving the solution actually have a benefit from that? Why not. Sure you could argue that SPRU should engage in business transactions instead; but then that’s outside of “public engagement” and entering “consultancy”-territory.

It is not leading to anything if you define “the public” as docile and timid. It is also not very helpful to state the exact opposite, except for presentational purposes. By this, you create black-white narrative (or black and “the rest”, for that matter) and marginalise first ideas.

If you want to move away from that, it might be worth coining an unloaded term to start with.

Posted on the 14th of February, 2013 at 11:54 am.

Thanks for the comment Marcel. Maybe the point of polarizing in such a manner is not to present an accurate abstraction of society, but illicit a response. To knock a conversation slightly off it’s very linear track.

Posted on the 14th of February, 2013 at 2:28 pm.

Illicit a response you certainly did; I believe, however, that you need to walk a fine line when provoking a response. Too much, and people will react to your provocation alone and categorise you as a hater. Not enough.. well, then it’s not really a provocation. It would be good to find a middle ground in which the provocation stimulates thought, rather than defense. And I think Alice might well be the right person for that.