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Building a Future on Science: Interview with Laurent Chicoineau

Opinion | Researchers
Building a Future on Science: Interview with Laurent Chicoineau

Moving towards a better world together, is science communication the key? Laurent Chicoineau, Director of Quai des Savoirs, believes so. Here, he tells us how he thinks we can do it. And how, with a little guidance, all scientists can and should participate in making a difference.

“Building a future together,” is the goal of Quai des Savoirs, a French science engagement project based in Toulouse, France. The association encourages interactions between communities and groups with stakeholders in STEM. As such, they hope to enable them to find ways of working together towards a brighter future for all. 

“[Quai des Savoirs] is not a political program - but almost!” jokes Laurent Chicoineau. “When you think about it, both science communication and culture are about imagining the future. They are at the heart of society and its challenges. Environment, health, technology, energy, and so many more concerns involve science. It is part of common culture. Therefore, it is important to share if we wish to progress and build a united future together.”

We are surrounded by science and technology; mathematic algorithms and health paradigms, for example, govern our daily lives in a certain way. But we often lack perspective. It is important to understand the influences steering our future if we are to step back from their grip.

At Quai des Savoirs, researchers, engineers, companies, associations, artists and public outreach specialists can meet one another. There, they conceive and nurture a wide range of public engagement and collaborative projects with the objective of sharing science. “At Quai des Savoirs, we are not experts in science but we work with people who are,” explains Laurent. “The project offers an interface between scientific disciplines and communities. I am a facilitator - a creator of opportunities. I reunite people, ideas and new situations. This is how I see public engagement with science. It is not only about popularizing and making it more accessible. But it also involves working towards a common goal with societal impact.”

Quai des Savoirs is a gold mine for new, multi-dimensional ideas to help explain the latest advances in science and technology. And each new concept brings with it new ways to communicate. According to Laurent, you cannot communicate science these days without the involvement of “new media” and “new information systems”. The current climate is one of post-mass-media where social media sit at the forefront, changing the face of how we learn and educate.

Laurent says that from the earliest age, it is vital for individuals to find the tools required to grow; acquiring knowledge, expertise, and skills, while arousing curiosity and imagination. It is up to everybody to find their own way to innovate and shape the world. For him, the answers are not only found in the experimental sciences. He also believes that literature, philosophy, and other such topics should be equally as accessible to everyone. 

Quai des Savoirs is particularly attentive to audiences who do not immediately feel concerned by science. “We are not just doing science communication for those who like science,” adds Chicoineau. “Those who enjoy it are those who have already been in contact with initiatives like ours. We try to reach out to those who don’t naturally feel attracted to science. We want to make them aware of important issues and to feel connected to them. They have a say, just as much as anyone else.” 

Over time, Laurent Chicoineau came to realize that people always enjoy science if you bring it to them in the right way. “People don’t just not care about science. The interest and fascination is rooted in everyone. But, unfortunately, what often happens is the manner in which it is communicated is ill-adapted to the audience. And throughout the years, we have learnt how to better tailor the science to the public, in a way that interests them.” 

Moreover, there is a flourishing new attitude in young researchers, who really grasp the importance of communicating their research. More and more, they are seeing this as part of their job. “There have never been as many public speakers, podcasts, videos and so on…” Laurent adds gleefully . 

However, public engagement and communication are still not recognized as part of the role of being a scientist. So, most of the time, projects are born out of passion, away from the academic sphere. “Scientists often speak up alone, create communities alone, work alone. Institutions have yet to see how beneficial these interactions can be,” he says.

Nevertheless, public engagement projects still need professional support if they are to flourish. Content needs to be refined and tailored. Feedback is required and projects need direction. “Some scientists are convinced that they are the first to speak out to the public and that they can do it without any help or advice. But too often their passion is not enough,” he says. But, with a little help, everybody’s needs can be met. 

Communicating science is a professional field that needs much thought and experience. There is history to science communication that is interesting to know and take on board before jumping in. This is where scientific journals can help; by sharing more information about best practices in science communication, supporting programs and offering a platform for expression and dissemination.


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This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Illustration adapted from Adobe Stock by David Jury.

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