scicommunity: A Web-based Platform for Community and Communication in Science

The following article appeared in Scope, the e-zine of the Australian Science Communicators (December 16 2010)

Who are the people in your community?

From my own childhood, and reinforced by more recent viewing with my own children, I recall a Sesame Street ditty showing the value of community:

‘Oh, who are the people in your neighbourhood,
In your neighbourhood, in your neighbourhood;
Say who are the people in your neighbourhood–
The people that you meet each day?’

The melodic answers included familiar faces such as the postman and the firemen; those you could count on to be around each day for a friendly conversation and to discuss issues that affect the community.

As science communicators it can sometimes be difficult to work out who your neighbours are, what your community is. Many of us work in relative isolation on small projects with limited budgets and under time constraints. Heads down and bottoms up, we find little time or opportunity to touch base with each other.

However the launch of the Inspiring Australia strategy in February 2010 provides plenty of incentive for us to forge community. Recommendations from the report refer to the need to conduct community-based activities, to generate collaborative projects, to share information, to raise awareness in youth and under-served groups of opportunities in science and research.

Recently, we have been working on a new online resource, dubbed scicommunity, aimed at bringing together these recommendations for Australians conducting science communication and engagement activities.

Inspiring community in science communicators

The goal of scicommunity then is to provide a free online meeting place for Australian science communicators who create a log-in profile, through which a sense of community may be created. By providing a space for people to share their initiatives, scicommunity will open up new collaborations and identify opportunities for outreach and engagement. To this end, and with support from the Inspiring Australia initiative, we recently developed a test site for scicommunity and submitted it to a pilot run. Our current focus is to develop it further and optimise functionality to achieve the following outcomes:

  • easy login and intuitive navigation;
  • facilitate pathways for communication;
  • provide mechanisms to keep informed of community activities;
  • encourage the identification of opportunities for collaboration and mentorship; and
  • allow the identification of gaps in the material and audiences being targeted by science communication.

A role for social media in scicommunity

An additional feature of scicommunity which we are exploring is the use of social media as a community builder.

It’s hard to ignore the presence of social media tools such as Twitter. Whilst Twitter can be a forum for banal chit chat if you allow it to be so, it has emerged as a powerful communication tool for professionals in many fields. In the 2010 Andrew Olle lecture, Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger listed 15 characteristics of Twitter which make it an effective tool for communication and information sharing. Of interest to science communicators may be the following:

  • Twitter creates communities;
  • Twitter is a series of common conversations;
  • Twitter changes the tone of writing;
  • As a search engine, Twitter rivals Google;
  • Twitter is a formidable aggregation tool;
  • Twitter is a great reporting tool;
  • Twitter is a fantastic form of marketing; and
  • Twitter has different news values.
A more detailed discussion of these issues and other features of twitter can be found in this Guardian newspaper article: Why Twitter Matters for Media Organisations (Alan Rusbridger).

You might imagine then, that scicommunity users could create conversations and communities using Twitter as a platform. Capturing these conversations using a hashtag like #scicommunity and supplementing them with further information about our interests and initiatives through the scicommunity website will enable further relationships, collaborations and projects to occur.

Welcome to the community!
Over the Christmas break you’ll no doubt be spending time in your own personal communities and neighbourhoods just like the gang at Sesame Street.  As you start 2011, we invite you to keep your eyes and ears open for the launch of scicommunity, and we hope that it provides you with new ways to connect with each other as a community of science communicators.

scicommunity (www.scicommunity.net.au) is being developed by Kristin Alford, Sarah Keenihan and James Hutson at Bridge8 Pty Ltd, www.bridge8.com.au.

Follow us on twitter: @kristinalford @sciencesarah @jameshutson @scicommunity

Comments

  1. Rodney McDonell says:

    I’m not yet sure if there is a need for another network tool. There’s no doubt in my mind that a place where scientists can come together and review each others work or just spit ideas at each other is a great idea… but the engineer in me wonders if we’re really just reinventing the wheel. I’m sure there are already many communities for scientists to congregate and discuss their work. Is adding another one fragmenting the science community even more?

    I will add though, that with any new social networking site, it should be pretty easy to link it to others such as twitter, facebook or other science like networking tools using their respective APIs so that the community within this new social network aren’t over protecting or erecting boundaries around their members.

    I will watch with interest and I’ll also sign up as soon as I’m allowed. I hope it goes well, despite my critical view😉

  2. You raise good questions Rodney that we’ve been grappling with ourselves. We totally agree about integrating it into existing tools rather than reinventing something new. And our philosophy is very much about open access.

    A clarification – we are not building a place for scientists to discuss their work. scicommunity is specifically for professional science communicators. It will be a targeted space for us to build capability and share ideas and initiatives about why and how we are communicating science with a range of audiences. The focus is on building a knowledge base so that by sharing these activities we can we can map existing initiatives, make new connections and develop new projects.

    We’re not there yet, but what we know for sure is that we are building something we would like to use, and that we expect it to evolve as we use it.

  3. Have updated the post to include a link to this previous post we wrote on scicomunity. Lots of good comments there as well!

Trackbacks

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sarah Keenihan and scicommunity online, Bridge8. Bridge8 said: scicommunity: A Web-based Platform for Community and Communication in Science via Bridge8 – The following … http://tinyurl.com/2cq38sc […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kristin Alford, SaCrIt Science & Art. SaCrIt Science & Art said: @kristinalford @scicommunity sounds good, when do you think it'll be open to public ? http://bit.ly/hel7Mv […]

  3. […] Comments Tweets that mention … on TEDxAdelaide RevisitedTweets that mention … on scicommunity: A Web-based Plat…Rodney McDonell on scicommunity: A Web-based Plat… Tags#asc2010 #tedxadelaide AccessNano anbf […]

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