ASSAf hosts Science Engagement Week

ASSAf hosts Science Engagement Week

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) hosted a science for society week, from 15 to 18 March 2021. The aim of the week was to ignite conversations around policy, projects and activities that shape science engagement. It looked at roles played by different stakeholders in the national project of promoting science and supporting education in general.

Day one was dedicated to Space Science and Astronomy in Science Engagement. The seeming tensions between the scientific, societal, and economic worth and contribution of Astronomy and Space science in the public discourse requires attention. The impact astronomy has had on our society historically, and at present, in terms of cultural, technological, and economic benefits. This webinar focused on why these benefits are so difficult to quantify in terms of the contribution made by basic science. The webinar also looked at the contribution made by space science in science engagement and the national activities of South African National Space Agency (SANSA) in this space nationally. The speakers were Mr Dan Matsapola, SANSA and Mr Simphiwe Madlanga, South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO).

Day two focussed on the benefits of engaging different publics in science festivals. As a form of public engagement, science festivals have rapidly expanded in size and number over recent years. However, as with other domains of informal public engagement that are not linked to policy outcomes, existing research does not fully address science festivals’ impacts and popularity (Jensen, 2012). The webinar investigated how visitors value the opportunities afforded by the science festival to interact with scientific researchers and to encounter different types of science engagement aimed at adults, children and families. The webinar further investigated the inclusion of indigenous knowledge in engaging publics and bringing some of its benefits to relevance, The speaker was Mr Bushy Moabelo, Eding International Science Festival.

On day three, leadership and management in science engagement were discussed. South Africa has a young population with roughly 21.85 million people 19 years or younger. This young population is mostly in schools. Science education has a pivotal role to play reaching the publics and promoting literacy. This webinar provided guidance on assembling science engagement teams to engage society and how the platforms can be used for professional development. The webinar also examined institutional and organisational structures and policies to support science engagement and looked at science education and its support of the nation agenda of NSI. The speakers were Mr Moloko Matlala, South African Agency of Science, Technology Advancement (SAASTA) and Mr Livhuwani Masevhe, Department of Science and Innovation (DSI). The webinar looked at policy and strategic intents in driving science engagement and the support provided by both the DSI and SAASTA to entities and organisations in this space. Furthermore, the webinar explored the relationship between science engagement and science education and the national programmes managed by SAASTA on the two.

Day four focussed on Science Communication. Strategic aim 3 of the of the Science Engagement Strategy (SES) states that empowering public science engagement necessarily requires effective communication about science, which in turn requires that (a) the content and medium of the communication delivers on its purpose, and (b) the skills of the communicators are adequate to the task. This webinar looked at the work already done by SAASTA in this regard and how it can be used to direct science engagement in South Africa and beyond. The speaker was Mr Michael Ellis Manager: Science Communication, National Research Foundation (NRF): South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement: SAASTA.