Science in Society Program takes a step forward

by Sir Peter Gluckman
Close up of two businesspeople shaking hands outdoors in a city, during the day.

Yesterday marked a new milestone in the development of a strengthened relationship between the science community and other sectors of New Zealand society. With the government’s announcement of funding for two new projects under the Science in Society banner, there is an opportunity for some new and innovative partnerships to be built. Details of these new funding opportunities can be found on the MBIE website.

In response to the report of the national Science Challenges Panel, these initiatives are intended to address to some of the objectives outlined in A Nation of Curious Minds, and are consistent with projects developing in Australia, the UK, in US states and across many European countries. Arguably though, the New Zealand approach takes a further step in avoiding the “deficit-model approach” by not only promoting greater public engagement in science, but also greater science sector engagement with the public. This can be done through a variety of channels including the work of the Science Media Centre, initiatives for use of evidence in policies affecting the public and – with this new funding – the chance for a broader and more diverse range of publics to access science and be hands-on with research.

What is behind the push to enhance the connection between science and society? Quite simply it is the realisation that publically funded science is not conducted in a vacuum and that it is important to increase the understanding of how scientists work and how they contribute to the many ways in which New Zealand society is developing and evolving – not only by exploiting knowledge but also by making informed choices about the use or limit technologies. The momentum around Science in Society also reflects the increasing awareness that better connections with the science community can help inspire young people toward careers in the sciences, and that all New Zealanders have a stake in our science system and the future that it can help us build. Many of these issues surfaced in the recent survey on New Zealanders’ attitudes toward science and technology, and I believe the initiatives announced yesterday can help New Zealanders better use science to advance our country.

One of the newly announced initiatives is the roll-out of a platform for participatory science through a pilot project this year. When citizens – teachers, students, whanau, and community organisations – have the opportunity to collaborate closely with science professionals on projects that are locally relevant and mutually beneficial, there is the potential not only to generate essential knowledge, but also to impart new skills and form lasting productive relationships.

My Office has been asked to be part of the trial period of this platform in assisting three regional agencies to identify and support researchers and community partners to co-develop projects. We will also be helping to carefully monitor and evaluate the project, together with the local agencies, to make recommendations on the post-pilot phase in the months ahead.

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