Addressing many of the most complex and important problems we face—from climate change to global health threats—requires conversations and collaborations among scientists, decision makers, and the public more broadly. For many scientists, these interactions are embedded in their identities and daily realities; they may regularly speak to the media, meet with their elected representatives to discuss science policy issues, or collaborate with communities to undertake problems that address local issues. These activities contribute to a culture of “civic science,” in which scientists are active citizens and create opportunities for all members of the public to engage with science.
Scientific societies have an important role to play in cultivating a culture of civic science and in supporting scientists who engage in various capacities with diverse audiences. For example, ASPB’s Plant BLOOME grant provides funds for projects to advance knowledge and appreciation of plant biology among youths, students, and the general public, and the Society offers guidance to members who want to participate in outreach events and advocate for science.
Scientific societies have traditionally supported their own members in this work, but with support from the Kavli Foundation, which is dedicated to advancing science, these organizations have the opportunity to collaborate to advance their collective support of scientists’ civic science efforts. The Society Civic Science Initiative, which began in fall 2019, is led by the American Society for Cell Biology, in partnership with American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, and Research!America. ASPB is actively participating in this collaboration.
Through the Society Civic Science Initiative, collaborating scientific societies are laying the groundwork for a more cohesive whole among societies to work toward influencing long-term culture change within the scientific enterprise to promote and support meaningful civic science engagement. To this end, societies’ current civic science efforts were examined and documented to identify common ways they aim to equip, empower, and reward scientists who engage with broad audiences; the report is available online. This landscape assessment provided insights into key opportunities for scientific societies to make a greater collective impact in this area. From there, the collaborating organizations developed a collective vision and goals, which include the following:
- Creating opportunities for collaboration among societies to scale up effective civic science programs
- Expanding the number and influence of incentives to increase scientists’ prioritization of civic science and encourage more scientists to engage
- Encouraging more universities to offer greater support and rewards for scientists engaging in civic science
- Supporting more scientists in engaging more often and more effectively with policy makers and members of the public.
At the end of January 2020, staff from a wide range of societies, including ASPB, convened to kick off specific projects toward these shared goals. As the projects expand and gain momentum, the Society Civic Science Initiative will continue to monitor and measure civic science progress and to seek ways to connect efforts with relevant social science research, diverse practitioner expertise, and other emerging efforts.
There is optimism among the participants that this new collaboration will create valuable opportunities for scientific societies to advance a culture of civic science. When science–society relationships are strong, scientific research reflects public priorities and values, public interest in and support for science grows, the uptake of scientifically sound practices and policies increases, and the promise of a diverse and competent scientific workforce is realized for years to come.
Please contact Natalie Henkhaus (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information about ASPB’s involvement with the Society Citizen Science Initiative. More on civic science can be found at the Rita Allen Foundation’s website.