Reading List EN

RL #014: Well-run and successful meetings

Team meetings, project meetings, informal gatherings, and conferences. It is impressive how different meetings are conducted and experienced. Without focusing on online meetings, this reading list collects publications and ideas on the topic.

Well-managed meetings

Good meetings save time and are productive. They create a pleasant atmosphere and convey appreciation. They achieve a goal, a compromise, or a basis for discussion for subsequent meetings. Some basic requirements apply. A room with windows is one of them. An agenda that can still be adjusted and modified. Space for discussions beyond the agenda and, depending on the meeting occasion, at least the prospect of catering.

From Unsplash.

But then the meeting begins. On his streaming channel, Max Castéra explains the model of group dynamics created by Bruce Tuckman in 1969. It shows the four phases of a (professional?) get-togethers. In his model, Tuckman divides meetings into Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing (Abstract to Tuckman’s original). The most significant insight for me was how important time is for creating group dynamics, and the fact that goal and time are relational. And you can influence that.

Shaping group dynamics in meetings

If you are organizing a meeting on an alpine pasture or self-catering hut, you can find the catalogue for group dynamics exercises of the Austrian Youth Red Cross. “Know your own Team! writes Mindtool in Improving group dynamics. The list of dominant characters within groups is also informative. The most comprehensive list for leading and shaping meetings and seminars is from Kevin Yee et al. He collects 289 freely accessible and comprehensibly categorized ideas for interactions.

From Unsplash.

Agenda and sense of time

I start with work situations. I don’t think the perfect agenda exists. There are, however, plenty of considerations on the topic. See here and here. If we then include the active shaping of group dynamics in the agenda, it usually becomes apparent that the program is ambitious. Boosting productivity comes in handy.

You could minimize the time to find solutions. In 1999, Bluedorn et al. argued in the Journal of Applied Psychology that meetings in which people stand, take 34% less time to reach solutions. The scientists compared the solution-finding process of 56 group constellations.

From Unsplash.

There are other ideas for active (time) management. For example, the Pomodoro Technique (app recommendations). The timer organizes one’s own, but also groups dynamic work processes in 25-minute intervals with breaks. During breaks or at the beginning of a longer session, you can exercise and activate your body and mind (e.g. the Active Meetings Guide der Emory University). More radical approaches are in the 16 Out of the Box Meeting Ideas by the Great Barn. Get out, drink coffee. Radical?

Good Meetings

I leave with a good feeling, knowing that we have taken a step forward. I have new ideas. There were creative and productive phases. And breaks.

I attended many well organized and excellently led meetings. People with marvellous skills in rhetoric, strategic empathy, and para-verbal aspects. But his is for further reading lists to come.

Reading List EN

RL #013: About being brief

I once had a co-worker who included the phrase “Sent from Mobile Phone. Excuse brevity.” in his eMail signature. I don’t know if he really preset this signature only on his cell phone, or maybe for practical reasons on his other devices as well. In any case, I kind of liked the phrase in the signature, because it made me not wonder about terse phrases in his mails and didn’t consider them rude.

Finding the right balance in communications work is not easy. When is a video too long or a text too short? Is something too long because it really does contain a lot of detail, or is it just because the wording is excessive? How much attention can be expected from target groups? How much impatience should be assumed?

The 8 second attention span myth

For years, a number has been circulating in the media about attention spans. The average attention span of media consumers has fallen to eight seconds, it is often said. But this information is obviously not tenable as a verifiable fact. Natasha Keary describes in a readable article in the blog of the digital content publishing company Turtl how the figure of eight seconds has made it into media reports worldwide and why it is better off in the realm of myths than in pretty presentations and communication strategies.

280 characters: Has it changed Twitter?

Short messages that can be captured quickly still have their place in online communication, of course. Twitter has focused on brevity from the very beginning. As recently as November 2017, the maximum character length in tweets was increased from 140 to 280 characters. This was intended to make discourse on Twitter more deliberate and polite. Professor Yphtach Lelkes at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania has studied how Twitter has changed as a result of the move.

Science communication on Instagram

Text is not the focus on every communication channel. On Instagram, for example, it’s primarily about visual content. Can complex content be communicated there at all? Is it possible to communicate science on Instagram? And should scientists use their individual accounts for this purpose? A lively debate developed around this question and the associated gender aspects as early as 2018. At the time, an opinion piece by Meghan Wright in Science caused a stir. Her critical position at the time: “Publicly documenting what a cute outfit I wear and how sweetly I smile in the lab won’t help me build a fulfilling career in a field where women hold fewer leadership positions, are paid less, and are constantly underappreciated.” For a summary of the debate this kicked off, check out the generally very readable science communication blog

Science communication going TikTok

That was 2018. Of course, digital attention has moved on since then. To TikTok, for example. There, too, brevity is in demand. Robert Lepenies from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) describes in a presentation what science communication on Tiktok can look like.

Did you make it to the end of this text, or was it too long? If you are still reading, you may remember the ex-colleague mentioned at the beginning. In the meantime, he assured me, his eMail signature for mails sent on the road is “via mobile. pls excuse brevity.” Finally, even very short communication formats offer room for optimization.

From our projects

At Oikoplus, a varied and, on balance, successful year 2021 is coming to an end. A lot has happened in our projects despite the pandemic and many changes caused by it. Updates on our archaeology-tourism project ArcheoDanube can be found in the current ArcheoDanube Project Newsletter. And in the Horizon2020 project EnergyMeasures, which contributes to the reduction of energy poverty in Europe, there a current EnergyMeasures Newsletter has also been published recently.

Reading List EN

RL #012: Newsletters: a Direct Link

Having written about meta-themes such as Common Sense and Relatability in science communication lately, this issue focuses on newsletters. Anachronistic? No Front, the only form of a newsletter that is out of date is the one in typewriter font and formatted by your email programme. But much has changed. And even if Google Trend indicates that newsletters have reached their absolute bottom as a search term, there are good reasons to take them more seriously again.

Reverse the trend

Newsletters are in fashion. And that is no coincidence. In the Journalist, Catalina Schröders argues that the new hype around newsletters has mainly to do with the fact that money can now be earned with them. As an example, Schröders cites the Heated newsletter published by environmental author Emily Atkin. It generates 6-figure revenues annually. With more companies offering authors simple designs and processing payments, new business models have emerged.

A second reason why more independent authors are starting their own newsletters is social media. In his NPR article, Bobby Allyn explains that journalists of this world want to write less for algorithms and more for readers again. Is this more satisfying? Probably. Is that sustainable? Sometimes. You need to have enough followers.

Followership in science

US chief virologist Anthony Fauci would not fail to generate a large number of followers at the moment. Packed in weekly digests, he could provide thousands of people around the world with news about the virus. For those who don’t have the followership of contemporary virologists, Jessica Lawlor on the Muck Rack blog suggests an alternative: pitching independent newsletters. As with companies, the same should apply to research projects. Contributed content is the keyword here. And where could scientists contribute content? Have a look here: Improbable Research, Sunday Brain Food, Important, not important, the Marginalian.

How to Newsletter?

Of course – a newsletter and contributed content are two different things. In many project applications, a project’s newsletter is listed as a must-have. Most newsletter providers have thus published detailed how-to newsletter guides. Most offer video tutorials. Relatively simple yet comprehensive introductions can be found here and here. We are looking forward to reading from you!

Reading List EN

RL #011: Commons Sense: Creating Commons by Science Communication

Of the commons in theory and practice, in urban traffic and vaccine development – and in french film.

This Oikoplus Reading List comes not as usual in the middle of the month, but with a little delay. Because the Oikoplus team has been busy. As part of Sustainication – Association for Science Communication and Sustainability, we organized a partner meeting at the ArcheoDanube project in Vienna’s new Sonnwendviertel, an area of urban development and renewal.

There was little time for writing a reading list. But being guests for a couple of days in the pleasantly low-traffic new development, we noticed once again how strangely our cities distribute the space they offer.

Don’t you always find it curious how much space is given to cars in our cities? Of course, it could be that the traffic planners of past decades had no idea that there would one day be as many cars as there are today. Nevertheless, they have earmarked enormous amounts of space for car traffic. As a result, the car shapes people’s perception of urban space. And this is reflected culturally, for example in film. Even more, says historian Janosch Steuwer: “For various reasons, film in particular forms a natural ally in the dissemination of unrealistic images of car traffic.” In a readable article in the Swiss online magazine ‘Geschichte der Gegenwart’ (History of the Present), he devotes himself to cinematic images of car traffic.

The question of how much public space society should grant to motorized individual transport repeatedly touches on the concept of the commons. How much space should be public commons, how much space should be privatizable, and what is a fair price for it? Thijs Lijster addresses the tense relationship between the commons and capitalism in an article that can be read on Eurozines. In it, he gives an overview of the debate on the question: What are commons, and what makes them so?

Jacobin magazine uses a very concrete example to illustrate the tension between privatization and socialization, namely the enormous profits from the Covid 19 vaccine. Since this article was unfortunately only published in German, for the English readers of the Reading List here is a link to an English article on the topic from the US edition of Jacobin.

The question of what “belongs” to whom is, of course, not merely a legal question of ownership and possession, but also a social question of access, participation and availability. This becomes particularly clear in the example of traffic space mentioned at the beginning. The Mosaik Blog has published an article on the social aspects of road construction whose density of facts and figures is impressive. After all, this is about science communication.

And to take science communication a bit further: Science has – even if not always – the claim to produce social commons. The Commons Institute, a network of people from research, teaching and practice, has dedicated itself to the principle of commoning and thinking about it. On its website, the institute regularly links to articles worth reading on the topic of commons.

Until the next Reading List. Then hopefully on time again.

Thomas Stollenwerk

Reading List EN

RL #010: Creating Relatability in SciComm

Communication succeeds when it creates relations.

I have little idea about mechanics. Physics was one of my favorite school subjects only for a very short time. Whether I liked the subject had been depending entirely on the teachers, and how well they taught it. The other day, I saw a Youtube video that was all about mechanics, about differential gears, precisely. And I thought it was great. 

With the video, it’s like the physics teachers of my school days: the right delivery can create enthusiasm for a subject. When enthusiasm or at least an increased interest in a topic is aroused, a relation is created. And that connection, that relation, is what science communication is all about. Your goal in scicom should be to create connections to science, that is, to communicate relatable.

Jan Baetens takes a look at relatability in a blog article on the Cultural Studies department’s blog of the University of Leuven. The blog, by the way, has the beautiful claim “Blogging since 1425.” “Something is narratable if it can be retold,” Baetens writes, “but that is only the first and oldest meaning of the word. Today, “narratable” also refers to works that someone (a reader, a listener, a viewer) can “identify with.”

This current concept of relatability is mostly encountered where fictional content is discussed. In a feuilletonistic context, the term was discussed in 2014 by Rebecca Mead in the New Yorker, quite critically. Mead believes that cultural audiences can be expected to make a connection to the content presented itself, and that criticizing something for not being relatable enough is not really a legitimate criticism of content.

For art and the criticism of it, this may be true. Science communication that is not relatable to the audience has missed its target, one could argue.

Science communication that is not relatable to the audience does not succeed in showing the relevance of a topic. It does not succeed in triggering in its recipients the feeling of being affected by the topic, of being closely related to it. Fortunately, the Internet offers plenty of tips on creating relatability. For example, from Joe Lazauskas on the platform Contently.

A similarly pragmatic and commercial approach to relatability in communication (work) has an article by Ton Dobbe on his website Value Inspiration. Dobbe works as a “growth consultant for tech entrepreneurs”. For him, creating relatable content is about being more human. “A good start is to be more human in how we communicate with our ideal target audience. Like we’re having a conversation over a cup of coffee.” Is this the advice on conversational tone? And is it really helpful in science communication? Here and there, certainly.

Relatability is also ephemeral. At least that’s what Amil Niazi thinks about Ellen DeGeneres’ U.S. TV show in an opinion piece in the New York Times. The long-running, highly successful TV show is about to go off the air. Niazi sees a reason for the show’s waning popularity: “There’s no question, in the end, that Ms. DeGeneres has had an incredibly successful run as an effervescent daily TV presence for many Americans. But she also serves as a reminder that even the most relatable celebrities are still putting on an act, still trying to sell us on an image.” To be sure, the host has been very relatable to her audience. But a few public scandals have caused the relations to crack. Communication is always about credibility, too.

The video about differential gears from the beginning of this text illustrated to me in the simplest way what a differential gear is, when it is used, where it is installed, why it is important and how it works. What, when, where, why, and how are constantly at stake in science communication. Providing different audiences with the right answers to this question is what relatability is all about. The texts linked in this Reading List did that for me. They were relatable for me. I hope the readers of this Reading List feel the same way.

Thomas Stollenwerk

Reading List EN

RL #009: What if our dinosaurs were fluffy?

Who remembers illustrated volumes about dinosaurs? With leathery, peely skin, a T-Rex gazes into the eyes of the mostly young readers from the cover picture. With its jaw slightly open, teeth gleaming through. Those who dared to immerse themselves in the world of dinosaurs were surprised by unique creatures that once populated our planet. Some of the reptiles depicted resembled dolphins, others had the shape of birds. They flew through the volumes’ air. I particularly remember the dinosaurs on land: the Brachiosaurus with its long neck, the Stegosaurus with the many tiles on its back and the Allosaurus as a small, nimble relative of the Tyrannosaurus. About 25 years after my first encounter with dinosaurs, a meme caught my attention the other day. It asked: What if dinosaurs were fluffy?

Photo by Mark Chan on Unsplash
Photo by Mark Chan on Unsplash

Ornitischia: Excursion into palaeontology

First of all, let’s be clear: the idea of cuddly dinosaurs is already at least 20 years old. In 2014, Riley Black wrote an National Geographics article on the state of research on feathered and furry dinosaurs and concludes that the depiction of leathery, scaly dinosaurs is outdated. As an example, he cites the group of Ornitischia. This is interesting from a science communication perspective.

Illustrated volumes: gaining knowledge or compensating for text-based communication weaknesses.

I knew dinosaurs mainly illustrated, after all I had my dinosaur phase as a child who couldn’t read long texts. Which brings us to the dilemma of the picture book: Do we need pictures only until we know the words to describe a phenomenon? Superbly discussed by Nicola Mößner and available to listen to here (in German), the philosopher discusses the role visual representations can play in the process of cognition. For children who lack vocabulary, the question is less controversial: in the online magazine element-i, Patricia Sigg argues (in German) that when looking at picture books, there is another, aesthetic cognition in addition to the knowledge-oriented cognition. It includes the sensory, cognitive, emotional, and social perception of an object. Be mindful of your aesthetic cognition when browsing the great examples of stunningly illustrated science books collected here!

Photo by Amy Baugess on Unsplash

Relational truth: Let’s be unsure

A second aspect that research on the fluffiness of dinosaurs brings to light concerns the absolute truth of scientific statements. Knowledge isn’t static: it is formed and retains validity in recognised systems only. Was it possible for the illustrators of my book to draw of a dinosaur in fur? Soft and cuddly? In the online magazine Aeon, Tom McLeish, for instance, says that science is more about imagination than results. Arno Frank offers a pointed description of five true insights in the Fluter (in German), which, starting from the equation of altitude, confirm the relationality of knowledge and absolute ignorance even in supposedly fact-based sciences. Possibly the illustrators of my illustrated volume were lacking the imagination and knowledge to conceive of a furry, fluffy dinosaur at the time they created the drawings.

Memes: Triggering enquiries

So the question that remains is why it was a meme that made me question my childhood visualisations of dinosaurs. The original definition of the term “meme” comes from Richard Dawkin. In his book The Selfish Gene, Dawkin describes a meme as a cultural artefact that spreads rapidly and uncontrollably. Meanwhile, several research papers and reports have been published on the use of memes in the immediate context of science. On ASBMBToday, Karen R. Resendes describes how her biology students began to communicate in memes and built up a common knowledge base. In “Facts, Opinions, and Scientific Memes” Lars Guenther et al. explore how memes offer an efficient tool for combating alternative facts. Diana K. Riser, Stephanie D. Clarke and Allison N. Stallwort show how memes could work in the communication of knowledge in detail. Unfortunately, their article is hidden behind a paywall.

Photo by Elizabeth Pishal on Unsplash

Anyhow, the fluffy dinosaur meme did its job. It forced me to look and put into perspective my own imagination of findings and knowledge in the field of palaeontology. It made me look into the subject. If memes achieve that, we should use them. How? Inspiration can be found on Pinterest, among other places.

Reading List EN

RL #008: More and More Tools: a Look into the Future of Science Communication

“Get a cup of tea, friends of the sun, make yourselves comfortable – time for science!” This is how the German YouTube channel Mailab advertises topics from the natural and social sciences. With success: Mailab had reached 1.3 million subscribers by June 2021. From the question of what Netflix knows about us and which facts about climate change are proven, to the effect of turmeric on the human organism: just like in science, no question is too small or too big, too complex or too simple for Mailab.

Witty, evidence-based, thought-provoking and precisely narrated, the channel is just one of many forward-looking examples of how science can have a broad and meaningful impact. How will science communication continue to develop? What trends and perspectives are emerging? In what direction can and should it go?

Social media as a non-stop academic conference

Let’s start with the most obvious: the possibilities that are and will be created by social media. In an article in Nature, science communicator Jens Foell describes it this way: “Social media science communication is a nonstop academic conference for all”. The thesis: science communication in social media today fulfils all the functions of classic academic conferences. They provide a framework for rapid communication and exchange, are important hubs for social interaction, often creating lifelong friendships and professional collaborations among researchers, and serve science journalists to learn about the latest developments and report on them to the general public. Today, researchers post lab equipment on Instagram, method tutorials on YouTube, comments on Twitter. They answer questions on ResearchGate and summarise their results on TikTok. The entire spectrum of personal and professional scientific exchange that otherwise takes place at academic conferences has developed online, says Foell. With one striking difference: the public, traditionally excluded from scientific conferences, listens, reads and watches along. And not only that: since social media are designed to enable interaction, many of the listeners comment and ask questions.

Evaluate, compare, generate your own content

For those who want to get closer to the matter in a scientifically sound way: In the current issue of the Journal of Science Communication (Volume 20, 2021), communication researcher Monika Taddicken and social psychologist Nicole Krämer explore the question of how lay people engage with scientific information via online media. In their paper “Public online engagement with science information: on the road to a theoretical framework and a future research agenda” they describe how internet technologies and social media in particular have drastically changed science communication. The public no longer just consumes science-related information, but actively participates (e.g. through evaluation and dissemination) and generates its own content. At the same time, scientists are no longer dependent on journalists as gatekeepers for the dissemination of relevant information. The paper reflects on relevant theoretical strands, and discusses a new knowledge order and actors. One person who sees video as the most important visual communication medium of the future is the US agricultural researcher Eric B. Brennan.  His article “Why Should Scientists be on YouTube? It’s all About Bamboo, Oil and Ice Cream” offers answers to practical questions and a reflection on why it pays for researchers to train as videographers – among other things, to improve their own communication skills and reduce misinformation. Becoming a scientific DIY-YouTuber can, from this perspective, be a fun, creative, rewarding and fulfilling activity that can also enhance many aspects of a scientist’s career.

On burning houses and working close to people: new values and forms of dialogue

What is also evident in many of the YouTube videos is the increasing social embeddedness of knowledge production and its mediation. In her recently published book, Getting to the Heart of Science Communication: A Guide to Effective Engagement climate researcher Faith Kearns tells a dicey story in two senses: At a community firefighters’ day in a northern Californian city, the author gave a talk on building fire-safe houses that can withstand the increasingly frequent forest fires. She was confronted by an audience member whose house had recently burned down. Like Kearns, scientists working on controversial issues – from climate change to drought to COVID-19 – increasingly find themselves in the midst of deeply traumatising or polarising conflicts. They need to be experts not only in their field, but also in dealing with the thoughts, feelings and opinions of the public they are dealing with. Their tools for communication: listening, working with conflict and understanding trauma, loss and healing. She concludes the book with a discussion of diversity, equality and inclusion in science communication.

A look at the past helps to develop perspectives for the future: in his contribution “Science as Instruction” the Austrian biologist and social scientist Franz Seifert explores the question of what changes the understanding of science communication has undergone in recent decades. He traces the arc from the influential “Bodmer Report” (“The Public Understanding of Science”), published by the venerable Royal Society in the mid-1980s in Great Britain, which for the first time declared the decline of scientific authority lamented by the research elites to be a socio-political problem, to the deficit model – people not knowing enough in the sense of lacking information – to the metaphor of “dialogue at eye level”, which in the 2000s brought with it new rules of etiquette for science: Namely, to put aside know-it-all attitude and arrogance of superiority and not only to speak honestly, but also to listen honestly. Conclusion: A lack of information is not the problem; it will be more a matter of strengthening the ability to reflect and judge.

In the future, science communicators will have to do much more than inform, advise and market. For the new challenges, a supportive institutional environment is needed – or, as the German think tank #FactoryWisskomm puts it, a supportive institutional environment.

Over the last few months, 150 participants have been working on how to build this culture and have developed new ideas and tools. The recommendations will be presented to the public on 23 June 2021. The event from the Sauriersaal of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin will be livestreamed.

From our projects

A key message from the ArcheoDanube project, in which Oikoplus is involved together with the Sustainication e.V. association, is to integrate local people in the development of archaeological sites. After a successful conference with participants from 12 countries, the project’s innovative approaches are now being implemented. More information and an overview of the participating archaeological sites can be found in the current project newsletter.

In the SYNCITY project, the toolbox “Transform – Urban Governance in Action“ with many hands-On ideas and inspiration for participatory and sustainable urban regeneration is now ready. We managed the production process, did editorial work and contributed texts and visuals. Find out more about the publication here.  

On 21 June, in cooperation with Oikodrom – The Vienna Institute for Urban Sustainability, we are organisin6g an Online Exchange Conference around the Toolbox. The detailed programme can be found here. We are looking forward to exchange and inspiration!

The Horizon 2020 project EnergyMEASURES, in which we help affected households to escape from ‘energy poverty’, also has news. On the project’s website and social media channels, which are managed by Oikoplus, we provide regular updates on the topic of energy consumption in the household. In interviews with experts, we explore ways to help households in Europe use energy more efficiently. News can be found at


Reading List EN

RL #007: Too complex vs. too banal – How to communicate science in an understandable way?

This issue of the Oikoplus Reading List is about how easy it is to communicate science. Unfortunately, the links are almost all in German. We promise that the next Reading List will be a bit more English again.

Foto von Sarah Dorweiler, Aesence
Photo from Sarah Dorweiler, Aesence

In the obituary of an arts & culture journalist, I once read that the recently deceased had the task of reviewing a philosophical work as a young author. At that time, his editor had read the finished review and said: “Wonderful. But please write it in a way that everyone understands these philosophical thoughts.” To which the young journalist is said to have replied, “I can do that. But then they are no longer philosophical thoughts.” A nice episode. For some, it illustrates the educational arrogance of young humanities scholars; for others, it sums up exactly what is so difficult about communicating complex content: Namely, that they cannot always be made understandable to everyone without trivializing them. This problem arises constantly, especially in science communication – but also in other areas.

Many journalists, copywriters and press workers are familiar with this problem. Striking a balance between technical complexity, factual appropriateness and readability is not easy. When it comes to conveying complex content, clear statements can be wonderfully hidden behind complex sentences and foreign words. And sometimes complex formulations are also used to disguise the fact that it is actually about platitudes – just in a scientific context. “And yet nothing is easier than to write in such a way that no one understands it; on the other hand, nothing is more difficult than to express important thoughts in such a way that everyone has to understand them,” German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said about writing and style.

Today, a century and a half later, a number of YouTube channels dedicated to communicating complex, scientific content show how this can succeed. The German magazine Forschung & Lehre has compiled some of the best German-language YouTube channels for science communication: “In a fact-based, entertaining and easy-to-understand way, various YouTubers successfully work through serious science topics for the general public.”

The fact that science is required to communicate its content in a comprehensible way is not a matter of course and, historically speaking, a rather recent phenomenon. It is only since the turn of the millennium that the public sphere of science has been increasingly discussed, writes Stefan Bauernschmidt in an article Zur Kartierung zentraler Begriffe in der Wissenschaftskommunikationswissenschaft. “This roughly parallels the large-scale shift from a Public Understanding of Science (PUS) to a Public Engagement in Science (PES). It is a socialization of science that goes hand in hand with the notion of Public Science . With this, reference is made to actively involving citizens in debates about controversial research and mechanization projects or even in the research process itself .” Communicating science then becomes a task relevant to democracy.

The relationship between democracy and science is described by Michael Hagner, professor of science studies at ETH Zurich, as “complementary” in a (German language) article for Forschung & Lehre. “Much will be gained for the relationship between science and democracy if the realization prevails in the sciences that there is not only esoteric and exoteric communication, but that there are also different roles in public communication. If you want to know more about esoteric and exoteric science communication, you can find the article here.

For those who prefer a more practical approach, an article from National Geographic may provide some inspiration for adding humor to science communication. It reports on a study that shows that jokes in American late-night shows can certainly help spread knowledge about topics such as the effects of vaccinations or climate change. However, even the best jokes can’t unravel the complexity of science. “Science is complex. Getting that across in a few minutes while cracking jokes can be a challenge. At its best, satire encourages viewers not only to engage with scientific issues, but also to think critically about them.”

In order for as many interested people as possible to be able to deal with science at all, science does not have to be stripped of its complexity. However, the language used to talk about science can be made as less complex as possible. The Netzwerk Leichte Sprache addresses this issue and has created a useful collection of rules for easy language.

Reading List EN

RL #006: How to Measure the Impact of Social Science

Research is funded when it is socially relevant. This is the zeitgeist. Even before the first calls for research funding in the context of the EU’s HorizonEurope framework programme were published, it is clear that the research projects put forward by scientists had to be effective. The research funded by the EU should have social and economic impact and be scientifically excellent. The egg-laying woolly-milk-sow.

The contributions in this Reading List deal with how qualitative social science methods become demonstrably effective. Because they are interested in depth and not width, it is for them particularly difficult to quantify results and impact. 

Impact initially denotes a push or impulse. The focus, however, goes with the consequence of the impulse that occurs during social science research and has become part of the self-understanding in the field. Thus, the editors of the SOWI Impact Blog at the University of Vienna argue that social science research not only produces knowledge about society, but above all for and with society. Participatory methods, research at eye level and reflexivity are frequently used keywords in the community. On the SOWI Impact Blog, you will find several best practice examples that demonstrate impact without focusing on immediate measurability.

Measuring what Happens: Interaction and Encounter

Contrary to the approach of the University of Vienna, Wiljan van den Acker and Jack Sapper focus on the measurability of social impact for social science research.  In Productive Interactions: Societal Impact of Academic Research in the Knowledge Society, the authors argue that impact is the result of dynamic and open network processes with engagement. With the openness of the networks, they reject the linear effectiveness known from economics, but suggest counting meetings and their participants as a proxy for network nodes. Is this the final answer, though?

Twelve Paths to Impact

Counting meetings and interactions to illustrate the impact of research does not convince Reetta Muhonen and her colleagues. In the recently published paper “From Productive Interactions to Impact Pathways”, the authors therefore develop twelve typologies of impact pathways, which emphasise the prerequisites for and the nature of the interactions in a way the impact itself has a goal. The interaction becomes the starting point, the social added value the goal. New production processes, behavioural change or lines of argumentation are goals that, moreover, are not achieved only at the end of the research. Realising that impact is concrete and purposeful helps in writing research proposals and formulating intended (intermediate) outcomes.

Indicators of Effectiveness? Phu…

More applied, Elena Louder and her colleagues ask which indicators make sense for measuring impact in the social sciences. In their blogpost published on the Impact Blog of the London School of Economics, the authors give four principles for choosing frameworks and indicators to determine the impact of social science research: the relevance of change in the research context, the temporal dimension and nature of impact during research, the capacity to accommodate unexpected effects of research, and the level of detail of perceived impact. These and other aspects should certainly feature your chapters on expected impact and measures to increase impact.

Impact yes – but not at any price!

Ultimately, however, there are also a whole range of reasons not to bother with the topic at all. Mary K. Gugerty and Dean Karlan on the Open Access Blog of Northwestern University argue that most (social innovation) projects lack tools and resources to adequatly assess their impact. A rather fatalistic approach that challenges the meaning and benefit of immediate impact in social innovation projects. What may we learn from this contribution? Do not underestimate time and effort needed to conduct an appropriate assessment of your projects’ impact!

From our projects

In the ArcheoDanube project, in which Oikoplus is involved together with the Sustainication e.V. association, we are currently working on recommendations for the design of archaeological parks. More information here.

In the SYNCITY project, our Urban Innovation Toolbox goes into production. You can find more information about the project on our project website and the Cureghem Tales.

In the EnergyMEASURES project, the pandemic-related obstacles to contacting households have been overcome. Partners started to collect data and communication work has gained momentum. Read more about the project here.

Reading List EN

RL #005: Science Fiction, Ficta, Science-in-Fiction: Does Fictionalization Benefit Science Communication?

Can fictionalization help communicate science? To abbreviate the answer we provide here: Yes, fictionalization can help science communicate its content and results to society. However, using fiction to do so in a meaningful way is not straightforward.

Fictionalization actually has a firm place in science: the example. The Allegory of the Cave, Schrödinger’s cat, Newton’s apple – they’re all fictionalizations of scientific thinking. Examples help to understand – by making abstract things concrete and theoretical things practical. A well-chosen example that breaks down a complex scientific theory helps increase understanding. And it confirms the reader’s understanding of the text. Or not. In any case, examples help to make science understandable. And thus they serve science communication.

Why do science communication again? David M. Eagleman, a neuroscientist, compiled the reasons to do science communication in a manifesto years ago. Six reasons Eagleman identifies. Entertaining the public through exciting, science-related fiction is not one of them. And yet fiction can help get a broad audience excited about science.

Antje Boetius, a marine biologist, is convinced of this. In January, in the often very listenable (German-language) podcast “Das Interview” by Philip Banse, a Berlin based journalist, she explained the importance that fictional entertainment literature can have for communicating science. In concrete terms, she made this clear for her field of expertise, the gas hydrates of the deep sea, using the example of the 2004 global bestseller “The Swarm” by German author Frank Schätzing: “I don’t even know if there has ever been a second bestseller that has familiarized people with the principles of the ocean and gas hydrates in such a way. Of course, there was a lot of action and novelistic stuff in it. But Frank Schätzing, whom I know well, put an incredible amount of work into research and tied together many little stories that were true, that is, ocean processes. In the process, of course, some untruths emerged, for example, that there are intelligent, slimy, blue-glowing single-celled creatures that rule the world and can get whales to mow people down. But nonetheless, many individual observations are genuine. What the novel generated was a broad understanding of gas hydrates in the ocean. In fact, that really led to people being saved from the tsunami wave back in Southeast Asia because they had read the novel and knew what it looked like when a tsunami came. That’s just terrific. As a scientist, I would never look down on fictional literature or films; on the contrary, we scientists often find it really difficult to generate broad knowledge. An adventure novel like this – if it makes an effort and assembles the facts well – can generate that.” [Translated from German by the author.]

Science Fiction

For those who would like to approach the question of the relationship between society, science and fiction in a more fundamental way, we recommend a text by Jan Arendt Fuhse, which deals with science fiction as critical theory. [German]


In 2006, Søren Brier, a Danish biologist, sociocyberneticist, and cybersemiotician, extensively explored the use of fictionalization in popular science communication as a response to the changing demands of science communication in the mass media. He examined fictional literature with a scientific core using Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park as an example, and immediately coined his own term for popular literature that is about science: ficta. However, the term has not really caught on.

The crime series CSI, which is about the work of crime scene forensics, could also fall into this genre. Michael Saks and Nickolas Schweizer, both psychologists, studied the effects of the reception of the portrayal of forensic science in the series on the reception of the scientific subject of forensic science: They found that popular fiction about forensic science influences the public’s expectations of real forensic science. They named this relationship the CSI effect. 


Now, The Swarm, Jurassic Park, CSI, and many other works of classic science fiction are not formats of science communication that use entertaining fictionalization, but entertaining fictions that use scientific motifs. However, there are also fictions that quite specifically aim to communicate science. Carl Djerassi was a highly decorated chemist before he became a novelist. He describes his path from scientist to novelist and the difference between science fiction and science-in-fiction on “I decided to do something to bring the culture of science to a broader audience, with a genre that I soon named science-in-fiction. For me, a literary text only falls into this genre if the processes described in it are all plausible. These restrictions do not apply to science fiction. In saying this, I am in no way suggesting that scientific fantasy products are inappropriate in science fiction. But, if free invention is really to be used to bring unnoticed scientific facts to the attention of a scientifically unsophisticated public – a kind of smuggling that I consider intellectually and socially useful – then it is crucial to accurately reflect the underlying scientific facts.” [Translated from German by the author.]

The project “Fiction meets Science” by the Volkswagen Foundation, the University of Bremen, the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg, and the University of Oldenburg also strives to deliberately create encounters between science and fiction. And it is also worth taking a look at the archives of the annual Berlin digital festival re:publica when it comes to exploring the boundaries between science and fiction, between different forms of perception. In 2017, Joachim Haupt and Wenzel Mehnert from the University of Fine Arts Berlin spoke about Business Science – Fictionalized. The lecture can be seen on Youtube.