President’s update: reflecting on a successful AGM

Thank you to Claire Harris for this president’s update.

This is my last update from the 2013 President chair.

For this last edition of Scope I wanted to briefly summarise the AGM but also have a bit of a muse.

The AGM, held in Canberra on the 29th November, covered a range of important items including reviewing the year that was and discussing the future that could be. I posted a summary to the ASC mailing list.

The AGM elected Joan Leach as new President for 2014 and I congratulate her on taking on the role. Our finances are stable, we have made significant upgrades to our online infrastructure and our administration, and our branches have run a range of events and activities this year and I congratulate them for all they have achieved. We honoured David Ellyard as ASC life member. David was National Treasurer and President for over ten years.

Joan Leach is probably well known to many of you. Particularly if you are from Brisbane or studied at The University of Queensland. I first met Joan when I studied my Grad Dip in Communication at UQ. Joan was inspirational and energetic and really opened my eyes to science communication as a discipline and some of the great scientific debates and controversies of our time (such as health effects from silicon breast implants and mad cow disease).

I have recently been wondering if times have gotten tougher in sci comm. We are all advocates of communication/education/engagement/journalism etc. as a vital part of society’s relationship with science, technology, engineering, maths, innovation etc.. But some people I talk to are concerned about how challenging it is to keep up to date and not feel fragmented and how to keep going against the strong tides of apathy, hostility, politicisation, exhaustion and decreasing science (and sci comm??) funding… (If anyone has some stats – please let me know or comment below.)

I reflected on the ‘Science engagement in Australia is a 20th century toy’ article in The Conversation, published earlier in the year. Many I talk with agree with the need to ‘do better’ but that often the challenges around securing resourcing and support for more ‘well-rounded’ science engagement are too great. How can we shift the valuing of science engagement effectively without burning people out in the process? I’m very buoyed by what will be covered at the conference and am hoping the ‘impact’ part of our theme: Insight, Impact, Innovation comes out strongly.

Thinking about the ASC backyard, something that I have come across in most ASC members is a real integrity and spark of energy. Quite often there is a heady mix of creativity, nous and drive. There is undoubtedly passion.

Also undoubted, in my mind, is that we (the wider collective) are progressing in the right direction, with a national Inspiring Australia strategy for science engagement (which ASC continues to contribute to), science communication research and networks of people sharing their ideas and experiences to continue to push boundaries. Members of this community are contributing to expert working groups and are helping to pull together ground-breaking assessments. Just have a browse through the Inspiring Australia site full of stories and events or explore this website a bit more.

I think this particular member-based organisation is gaining strength at its 20 year anniversary – but this is not without challenges. Can the ASC explore different benefits or directions? Definitely. So a request to you, if I may, is (and this isn’t new) connect with others about what you think and what you will do to make a difference and change things. Will you canvass members near you to put forward an idea for funding or support? Will you start that special interest group (SIG) you’ve been talking about for ages? Will you help as an expert in your field to help others around you rather than expect that they will be able to get up to speed themselves? We know that many of the branches are canvassing members to find out how to offer what is needed, so will you work with your state branch reps to figure this out?

The ASC, only has one paid, part-time employee. But this doesn’t cancel out that there are brilliant opportunities for ground-up collective action. ASC provides a thread that connects you to 20 years of people (and their contacts) who are passionate and creative and value discussion of science and how it can be more effectively communicated in these times… Just like you.

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