Responsible science communicator

by Eric Jensen – Warwick University

It takes critical reflection, evidence-based practice and a community of practice to develop responsible science communication
There are many different pathways into science communication. But rarely do these pathways involve critical reflection on what it means to be a ‘responsible’ science communicator. This kind of critical reflection is increasingly salient in an averred ‘post-fact’ world, marked by the wilful disregard of evidence in contexts such as Trump and Brexit. Debates about ‘value’ that have been gaining ascendance in arts and culture spheres may take on greater significance for science communicators in 2017 and beyond.
Responsible science communicators are audience-focused, beginning their decision-making process by considering their audiences’ starting positions. Being responsible in this context also involves critically evaluating your position as a communicator, ensuring that you are taking a realistic approach to communicating the science that matters most to you. Part of this self-evaluation process is to consider what is the best communication tool for you to bring to bear. Performance methods can broaden the toolkit of available science communication options. These and other communication tools are most likely to be effective when they are underpinned by appropriate training and evaluation practices.
Regardless of the tool you choose, as a responsible science communicator you should be concerned about quality. The best way to establish quality is to learn from existing research and theory on effective communication and to regularly use empirical evaluation evidence to inform improvements in practice (Jensen 2015a. For scientists and other engagement practitioners, I advocate training in core principles of communication and learning that have been demonstrated by prior social research. Furthermore, for science communication activities that are funded or conducted by full-time professionals, the standard of evaluation research that is conducted to inform practice should be greatly enhanced (Jensen 2014). Impact evaluation can establish success or value at the level of individual initiatives and activities (Jensen 2015b). However, it is also important for the sector to periodically reflect on the big picture of science communication to see where there are gaps, who is being left behind, what values are being promoted through our work, etc. Responsible science communication cannot be left only to the individual science communicator: It is a collective responsibility to establish high quality, evidence-based practice grounded in a robust understanding of audiences.
Jensen, E. (2014). ‘The problems with science communication evaluation’. Journal of Science Communication, 1(2014)C04. Accessed at
Jensen, E. (2015a). Evaluating impact and quality of experience in the 21st century: Using technology to narrow the gap between science communication research and practice. JCOM: Journal of Science Communication, 14(3): C05. Accessed at:
Jensen, E. (2015b). Highlighting the value of impact evaluation: Enhancing informal science learning and public engagement theory and practice. JCOM: Journal of Science Communication, 14(3): Y05. Accessed at