What enables meaningful science communication?

Frank Kupper (shown in the picture on the right) works as Associate Professor at the Athena Institute VU, and is closely involved at national and European level with research into – and the development of – innovative forms of science communication. In this blog you can read more about his background and the research he will conduct together with Willemine Willems (center) and Sem Barendse (left) in the context of the Rewarded! program.

What’s your name and what is your position?

Frank Kupper – I have a background in biology, philosophy and theatre. In my position of Associate Professor of Science Communication at Athena Institute VU, I combine these three disciplines to enhance the dialogue between science and society. I’m also the founder of Mens in de Maak, an enterprise that organizes theatrical interventions that also inspire these dialogues.

In what capacity are you involved in the Rewarded! program?

Over the past years, I have led RETHINK, a European consortium that – in the light of the digitization of society, and blurring boundaries between science and society – investigates new forms of science communication. We would like to employ the insights we have gained at RETHINK to enrich the Rewarded! program. For example, by discussing how scientists can relate to the developments aforementioned and how they can further develop their science communication practice.

I was approached by the Rewarded! project team to investigate what is needed to enable meaningful science communication, and will research this together with my research team members Willemine Willems and Sem Barendse. Starting from the experiences of the scientists who have received an award from the Pilot Fund Rewarded!, we want to find out what is required to enable researchers to communicate about their profession and knowledge, from a personal level, but also what they need from their working environment.

What does your research bring to the table for other scientists?

The results of our research are actually more directed at the universities. At the end of the project, we want to provide them with a guide on how they can (better) support their scientists with their science communication practices. We foresee this is what brings the real added value for scientists.

In addition, our research helps scientists to reflect on their own role and repertoire in communicating about science. Questions such as ‘What am I striving for? What kind of contribution can I make?’ are reflective questions that help to improve one’s own science communication practices. In the beginning of 2022, a workshop will be offered to all Rewarded-researchers, in which they can investigate and tackle challenges together. By asking and answering questions that are currently at stake, we want to collectively improve science communication, and in this way contribute to the improvement of current science communication activities.  

Great plans! Why do you feel it’s important to engage society in research?

In the first place because it concerns them; science often deals with issues that affect real people’s lives. In that sense, scientific research is relevant for everyone, whether you are a scientist or not. Secondly, science alone does not suffice in answering vital questions about life and humanity. Scientists therefore need social perspectives to see the bigger picture. In short: people have a right to know what science entails, and it helps scientists to ask and investigate the questions that matter.