Joseph Opoku Gakpo: Pioneer of a new model of science communication


On January 7, Sarah Evanega stepped down as director of the Alliance for Science (a global science communication initiative based at the Boyce Thompson Institute, Cornell University, USA) to take a new role at Pairwise, a start-up gene editing.

In the eight years since the Alliance’s inception, Evanega has mobilized and led an international coalition of communicators advocating for scientific solutions to the major challenges facing the world.

Evanega has built a solid foundation for the Alliance, which supports global access to life-enhancing innovations while actively combating misinformation on agricultural biotechnology, climate change, vaccines, COVID-19 and other issues. . Although her absence is keenly felt, her legacy remains both in the organization she nurtured and in the visionary model of science communication she created. I named it the layman model.

How does this model work?

Science communication is a complex endeavor. For years, a common model has prompted scientists to speak out about their work, in the hope that more information would help the public to adopt factual attitudes towards scientific innovations and emerging technologies.

Evanega reversed this top-down practice by bringing together ordinary people – farmers, journalists, musicians, youth advocates, religious leaders, students, politicians, community organizers – who shared the dream of improving the world, even though they lacked training. formal in science.

Through both regional training programs and her Global Leadership Fellows program, which I joined in 2016, she then equipped these champions with the skills and knowledge to effectively communicate about scientific innovations in their own communities. Once they were trained, Evanega wished them luck and urged them to call her when they encountered any difficulties along the way or needed extra support. In this model, the only skill needed to effectively communicate science is a passion for addressing challenges such as food insecurity, climate change, and public health misinformation.

This has proven to be an effective strategy because the layman model places the messenger at the center of science communication. Research shows that people are more likely to accept or reject scientific innovations based on motivations such as the credibility of the messenger, rather than the message itself. This model helps build trust and positively impacts persuasion efforts in the most fundamental way.

With this model, a substantial investment is made to equip local people with the scientific knowledge necessary to convey evidence-based messages in their own circles. This helps ensure that complex scientific problems are broken down into simple messages that can be easily digested by a non-specialist audience. The layman’s model also allows for the incorporation of local socio-political contexts and different perspectives into communication messages, thus improving their likelihood of acceptance.

Multiple perspectives and diverse areas of knowledge, including personal and cultural values, are all crucial for effective communication. This model facilitates this approach by creating more reliable channels instead of using outsiders that local communities cannot identify with as messengers.

Develop a global network

The second underlying principle of the layman model is to develop a global network to communicate science. The model encourages collaboration while discouraging the appropriation of scientific technologies by majority groups, which tends to relegate minority groups to a subordinate role as mere recipients of the technology. Currently, the Alliance for Science has more than 13,000 science allies around the world.

Engaging in global networks to communicate on science enables a good incorporation of indigenous knowledge in the process of education and awareness. As experts in the communication space will say, personal and community values ​​shape the way people take in scientific messages. Local communities are less suspicious when information on controversial scientific topics is shared by their own members, thereby increasing persuasion. This is exactly how the secular model of science communication works.

Localized actions of global networks also allow champions of science to properly contextualize the possible benefits of innovation and technology. People pay little attention to science, although they come across it and benefit from it every day. Most of the time, they will try to figure it out only when they need to make important decisions about their own life.

Local communicators can also quickly hear about and correct misconceptions and outright misinformation about scientific innovations before misinformation takes hold.

While the emphasis is on local engagement, the global network serves as a broader support system that regional science champions can turn to when they need help with their own advocacy efforts or wish to make a contribution. brainstorming. The network can also effectively engage participants in international events such as the United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change and the recent United Nations Food Systems Summit.

This summary reflects how I have personally observed Evanega’s model of science communication in Africa, South Asia and Latin America. She has publicly stated that she does not mind if other scientific groups “steal” the model for their own use. I urge them to do so because I can attest to its effectiveness.


The author is a member of the Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellow, Boyce Thompson Institute, Cornell University – USA


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