The BSDB recently initiated an advocacy campaign, starting with (1) the gradual development of the best arguments providing elevator pitches to be used in discussions, presentations, applications or publications, and (2) the collation of support resources which were first published on the BSDB website and are now present in improved version on The Node. To take this initiative a step further, I recently took an invitation by the journal Open Access Government as an incentive to write a short text that would explain the nature as well as the societal importance and impact of DB in terms that are understandable to lay audiences. Please, read the outcome of that effort here. Please note that this is only a first attempt, but I hope that it will serve as a template that can be used and further developed by members of the DB community.
The BSDB’s advocacy strategy
As argued in a recent PLoS Blog, there are alarming indications of communication fatigue in our community which weakens our ability to coordinate our activities and promote the importance of our science. But why do we turn off in this way at the worst possible time when conditions for fundamental research are worsening? As my colleague Sam Illingworth and I have argued in an editorial for a recent special issue about science communication, the likely reasons include (1) lack of awareness about the means and power of communication, (2) lack of incentives and external rewards for participation in science communication, and (3) lack of time: as academics we usually have more than 5 professions rolled into one, and the time demand in each of these professional spheres is steadily increasing, suffocating our productivity as scientists, let alone as communicators.
Notwithstanding, I argued in the above mentioned PLoS Blog that current circumstances cry out for communication and we MUST find feasible and effective ways to do so. As I argued, this is possible through the formation of collaborative networks of science communication. To achieve this, we need to communicate within our own communities to be able to coordinate our action. We need to make our individual contributions to science communication; if we are prepared to share the fruits of our activities, for example via The Node, this can then lead to the cumulative build-up of high quality and freely available resources and strategies. Finally, we need to make active use of and further improve existing resources and strategies; by reaching out jointly we will have a higher chance of gaining momentum and impact – all with the common goal of promoting dialogue about the science we love.
To lead the way in this direction, the BSDB has started an advocacy campaign together with The Node. The first step is simple and consists in putting together the best arguments for Developmental Biology and powerful examples illustrating these statements. The first draft of this document has been published on the BSDB site and on The Node. This resource can now be capitalised on by us all, but it also requires further community input to refine and complement the arguments – in particular also in the areas of Plant Biology and Evo-Devo which are not well represented. To catalyse this process, the editorial team of Development has complementary plans that will be announced in due term, and the BSDB has initiated a writing competition for PhD students and postdocs focussing on advocacy.
The gradually improving advocacy resource is intended to provide us with effective elevator pitches that can be used in dialogue with the public, students, other scientists, clinicians and politicians – and many of the arguments may fly well also on grant applications or in scientific publications. The overarching goal is to achieve wider recognition of fundamental Developmental Biology research as an important science branch that deserves public funding support.
But we should not stop there, and hopefully more members of our community will join in and help to develop creative science communication initiatives that carry dialogue proactively into the relevant target groups. Ideally, this is done through collaboration and long-term objective setting which has a higher chance of achieving sustainability, momentum and impact. To illustrate this point, a recent special issue on science communication describes examples of existing initiatives, explaining their origins and gradual developments. To facilitate the task, the BSDB and The Node have collaborated to put together a link collection (originally published on the BSDB site) which provides ideas, advice and resources that can be used and followed. We hope that these actions taken by the BSDB will help to raise the awareness of and participation in science communication and advocacy within our community for the benefit of all.
To promote Developmental Biology, we should have our elevator pitches ready at all times – whenever there is an opportunity to talk about our discipline – be it to the public, students, fellow scientists or policy makers. We have no made a first start published on the BSDB website and The Node. This is a first attempt at providing a concise rationale and ideas that can be woven into conversations about our science. We are certain that the arguments presented can still be improved and complemented and expanded into the fields of evolutionary biology and plant sciences. We would therefore like to invite you to send in your ideas, potential corrections and suggestions for improvement, additions, new arguments and/or potential links that will further strengthen the message we want to convey. Please, forward your ideas to Andreas.Prokop@manchester.ac.uk. This initiative is only the first step of a collaborative advocacy campaign, and we’ll inform about next steps on The Node and on the BSDB site.