Factors influencing the public communication behaviour of publicly visible scientists in South Africa

Joubert, Catherina Magdelena (Marina) (2018-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH SUMMARY: Given the policy intention of the South African government to encourage and support public science engagement, this study set out to identify and understand the factors that influence scientists’ behaviours as far as public communication about their work is concerned. Based on an extensive literature review and interviews with 30 publicly visible scientists, a complex blend of factors that influence scientists’ participation in public science communication were identified and explored. Important factors included field of research, career stage, age, gender, personality and population group, as well as scientists’ attitudes towards communication platforms and the public. Furthermore, this study yielded new insight into the influence of the historical, bio-geographical, cultural and socio-political contexts on scientists’ engagement with public audiences, while also highlighting how their communication behaviour is shaped by institutional environments and national contexts. The population group to which the individual scientists belong emerged as an important factor in terms of scientists’ perceived ability to connect with multi-cultural and multi-lingual audiences in South Africa. In light of changes in the norms that govern scientists’ behaviour, and contradictory policies that scientists may encounter, the conflicted and contested nature of public science communication was highlighted, along with scientists’ resulting ambivalence about their own participation in these activities. The current study shows that visible scientists in South Africa are mostly keen to engage with public audiences, and that they are typically motivated towards public engagement by a blend of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Time constraints and a lack of institutional support, incentives and recognition remain key barriers which limit scientists’ participation in public communication of science. Earlier findings that visible scientists are typically highly productive leaders in the science community were validated, thereby challenging the perception that public science communication carries a stigma and is too time-intensive to accommodate in the career of a serious scientist. Based on the findings in this study, it is recommended that policymakers who seek to stimulate quality and/or quantity of public science engagement, need to focus on the contextual factors, i.e. the policies and support structures in the institutions where scientists work. Further policy implications that are outlined include the value of mobilising black scientists as role models and enabling visible scientists to act as communication mentors, as well as the need to ensure responsible use of social media and ethical science PR practices in public communication of science.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Gegewe die beleidsrigting van die Suid-Afrikaanse regering om skakeling tussen wetenskap en die publiek aan te moedig en te ondersteun, was dit die oogmerk van hierdie studie om die faktore wat die openbare kommunikasie van wetenskaplikes bepaal, te identifiseer en te verstaan. Op grond van ’nֺ omvattende literatuuroorsig en onderhoude met 30 wetenskaplikes wat in die openbaar sigbaar is, het ’n veelkantige beeld van die ingewikkelde vermenging van faktore wat wetenskaplikes se deelname aan openbare wetenskapskommunikasiegedrag beïnvloed, na vore gekom. Studieveld, loopbaanstadium, ouderdom, geslag, en persoonlikheidstipe is belangrike faktore, asook wetenskaplikes se houding aangaande kommunikasiekanale en die publiek. Hierdie studie het voorts insae gelewer aangaande die invloed van historiese, sosio-politieke, morele, kulturele en bio-geografiese konteks, sowel as die institusionele omgewing waar wetenskaplikes werk. Die bevolkingsgroep waaraan die wetenskaplikes behoort, is geïdentifiseer as ʼn beduidende faktor wat hulle waargenome vermoë om met multikulturele en veeltalige gehore in Suid-Afrika te werk, bepaal. In die lig van veranderinge in die norme wat wetenskaplikes se openbare kommunikasiegedrag bepaal, sowel as opponerende beleidsrigtings waarmee navorsers te make kry, is die konflikterende aard van openbare wetenskapskakeling uitgewys, sowel as hoe dit lei tot wetenskaplikes se ambivalensie oor hulle eie betrokkenheid by hierdie aktiwiteite. Die huidige studie toon dat sigbare wetenskaplikes in Suid-Afrika oor die algemeen gretig is om met openbare gehore te skakel, en dat hulle deur ’n mengsel van interne en eksterne belonings gemotiveer word. Tydsbeperkings en ’n gebrek aan institusionele ondersteuning, aansporings en erkenning het na vore gekom as die vernaamste struikelblokke wat navorsers se deelname aan wetenskapkommunikasie beperk. Vorige bevindinge dat sigbare wetenskaplikes ook produktiewe leiers in die wetenskapgemeenskap is, is bevestig. Sodoende is die idee dat daar ʼn stigma kleef aan openbare wetenskapkommunikasie en dat hierdie aktiwiteite te tydrowend is vir ernstige wetenskaplikes, uitgedaag. Op grond van die bevindings wat hierdie studie opgelewer het, word aanbeveel dat beleidvormers wat daarna streef om die gehalte en/of hoeveelheid openbare wetenskapskakeling aan te moedig, aandag moet gee aan die konteksgebonde faktore, d.w.s. die beleidsriglyne en ondersteuningstrukture van die instellings waar wetenskaplikes werk. Ander moontlike beleidsimplikasies wat uit die huidige studie na vore gekom het, sluit in die waarde daarvan om swart wetenskaplikes as rolmodelle te mobiliseer, asook om sigbare wetenskaplikes in staat te stel om as mentors vir wetenskapkommunikasie op te tree. Verder is klem gelê op die belangrikheid van verantwoordelike gebruik van sosiale media en etiese praktyke in openbare wetenskapskakeling.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/103268
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