To Think, To Write, To Publish

Program Areas – Education and Engagement

Forging a Working Bond Between Next Generation Science Communicators and the Next Generation of Science and Technology Policy Leaders

Project Summary

The project and associated workshop, “To Think, To Write, To Publish: Forging a Working Bond Between Next Generation Science Communicators and the Next Generation of Science and Technology Policy Leaders,” began to fill the need to connect science and technology policy with the communicators who will translate the substance and future of these fields into language and style that public audiences will find illuminating and compelling. The Next Generation (“Next Gen”) Communicators comprise a variety of participants, including writers, journalists and bloggers, as well as documentary filmmakers and museum and other communication professionals whose jobs are primarily in writing (such as catalogs, magazines, etc.). The workshop emphasized training these communicators in a genre called “narrative” or “creative nonfiction.”

The need for such an activity is illustrated not only in the experience of the principal investigators, but also in the quality of contemporary public dialogues around many, high-profile scientific and technical issues. To help bring a new understanding among the public and forge a new relationship among some of the players, we to brought together for an intensive two-day workshop three key groups: 1) Next Gen Communicators interested in science and technology; 2) Next Gen science and technology policy (STP) leaders; and 3) editors of major magazines, publishing organizations and documentary film production companies covering these topics. The workshop, took place in May 2010 in conjunction with a larger symposium on “The Rightful Place of Science?” to help Next Gen Communicators and STP scholars connect by providing them with a cohort experience and shared training in the skills necessary to enlighten a broad and growing audience, articulate ideas and share them with that audience, work with editors and other senior communicators in their fields and, at the end of the process, publish their work. The workshop has lead to ongoing relationships among the participants.

Intellectual merit. This workshop began to bridge the gaps between the public’s understanding of science and the innovative scholarship and perspectives of science and technology policy. The workshop was organized by a PI (Lee Gutkind) and co-PI (David Guston) who are, respectively, leaders in the genre of creative nonfiction and the field of science and technology policy. It is intellectually innovative because there are very few examples of the effective informal science education around science and technology policy, especially by STP scholars and those informed by them, rather than by scientists and engineers themselves. Moreover, the workshop introduced both Next Gen Communicators and STP scholars to creative nonfiction—which has increased awareness of and excitement about science and technology—as a new method for communicating their work. They therefore become more skilled and motivated to communicate the essence and value of what they do, not only to policy makers in government and decision makers in business and industry, but also to the media and the general public through print, video, radio, and cyberspace.

Broader impacts. Through the workshop, twelve Next Gen Communicators and twelve STP Scholars began to fill the need for STP scholarship to be communicated to publics and policymakers through the building of new relationships. These new relationships manifested in a major product of the effort in a special issue of Issues in Science and Technology, dedicated to publishing creative nonfiction work derived from the workshop, as well as through a variety of far-reaching web-based dissemination activities and other products. The outcomes of the “To Think, To Write, To Publish” workshop have relevant implications not only for individual communicators and scholars, but also for the public at large, for whom the innovations and impacts of STP have very real consequences. By creating working bonds between these Next Gen Communicators and Scholars, and by providing them with the tools to effectively translate STP for mass public consumption, this workshop filled a timely and relevant need in the U.S. to promote greater understanding and interest in science and technology policy for years to come.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0925043. Any opinions, findings and conclusionns or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

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