scicommunity: A Web-Based Platform for Community and Communication in Science

Who are the people in your community?
From my own childhood, and reinforced by more recent viewing with my own children, I recall a Sesame Street ditty showing the value of community:

‘Oh, who are the people in your neighbourhood,
In your neighbourhood, in your neighbourhood;
Say who are the people in your neighbourhood–
The people that you meet each day?’

The melodic answers included familiar faces such as the postman and the firemen; those you could count on to be around each day for a friendly conversation and to discuss issues that affect the community.

As science communicators it can sometimes be difficult to work out who your neighbours are, what your community is. Many of us work in relative isolation on small projects with limited budgets and under time constraints. Heads down and bottoms up, we find little time or opportunity to touch base with each other.

However the launch of the Inspiring Australia strategy in February 2010 provides plenty of incentive for us to forge community. Recommendations from the report refer to the need to conduct community-based activities, to generate collaborative projects, to share information, to raise awareness in youth and under-served groups of opportunities in science and research.

Recently we have been working on a new online resource, dubbed scicommunity, aimed at bringing together these recommendations for Australians conducting science communication and engagement activities.

Inspiring community in science communicators
The goal of scicommunity then is to provide a free online meeting place for Australian science communicators who create a log-in profile, through which a sense of community may be created.By providing a space for people to share their initiatives, scicommunity will open up new collaborations and identify opportunities for outreach and engagement. To this end, and with support from the Inspiring Australia initiative, we recently developed a test site for scicommunity and submitted it to a pilot run. Our current focus is to develop it further and optimise functionality to achieve the following outcomes:

  • easy login and intuitive navigation;
  • facilitate pathways for communication;
  • provide mechanisms to keep informed of community activities;
  • encourage the identification of opportunities for collaboration and mentorship; and
  • allow the identification of gaps in the material and audiences being targeted by science communication.

A role for social media in scicommunity
An additional feature of scicommunity which we are exploring is the use of social media as a community builder.

It’s hard to ignore the presence of social media tools such as Twitter. Whilst Twitter can be a forum for banal chit chat if you allow it to be so, it has emerged as a powerful communication tool for professionals in many fields. In the 2010 Andrew Olle lecture, Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger listed 15 characteristics of Twitter which make it an effective tool for communication and information sharing. Of interest to science communicators may be the following:

  • Twitter creates communities;
  • Twitter is a series of common conversations;
  • Twitter changes the tone of writing;
  • As a search engine, Twitter rivals Google;
  • Twitter is a formidable aggregation tool;
  • Twitter is a great reporting tool;
  • Twitter is a fantastic form of marketing; and
  • Twitter has different news values.

A more detailed discussion of these issues and other features of twitter can be found in this Guardian newspaper article: Why Twitter Matters for Media Organisations (Alan Rusbridger).

You might imagine then, that scicommunity users could create conversations and communities using Twitter as a platform. Capturing these conversations using a hashtag like #scicommunity and supplementing them by further information about our interests and initiatives through the scicommunity website will enable further relationships, collaborations and projects to occur.

Welcome to the community!
Over the Christmas break you’ll no doubt be spending time in your own personal communities and neighbourhoods just like the gang at Sesame Street.  As you start 2011, we invite ASC members to keep their eyes and ears open for the launch of scicommunity, and we hope that it provides you with new ways to connect with each other as a community of science communicators.

scicommunity (www.scicommunity.net.au) is being developed by Kristin Alford, Sarah Keenihan and James Hutson at Bridge8 Pty Ltd, www.bridge8.com.au.

Follow us on twitter: @kristinalford @sciencesarah @jameshutson @scicommunity