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Visions in Global Systems Science: Narratives as a Communication Tool for Scientists
March 13, 2013 8:00 am
March 14, 2013 5:00 pm
March 8, 2013
DG Connect
Avenue de Beaulieu 33, Bruxelles, Belgium

On 13-14 March 2013 Euclid Network, together with INSITE partners and the European Commission will hold a workshop in Brussels to understand how we can use narratives effectively to communicate scientific results to a large audience.

Traditional scientific narratives are effective for the scientific community but they are often failing in convening a message between the scientific community and the rest of society. At the same time new ICT enabled media enables us to communicate in new ways of using narratives in communication.

The workshop will explore how to position scientific narratives. The objectives are:

  • Share the expertise of practitioners from art, communication, ICT and science and discuss what role narratives can play to get the whole of society more engaged in science, how scientists can develop narratives for engagement, what role ICT can play to enhance such engagement.
  • Provide contributions that will feed into the chapter on ‘narratives’ of the White Paper on GSS

The second part will be a world cafe hosted by the European officials of Futurium. It will use stakeholders feedback to define long-term visions (around 2040-50) on ICT-related policies beyond 2020. It consists of parallel brainstorming sessions (tables) where all participants can intervene. The flow of the conversation is articulated around the following preliminary list of topics:

  • What role can narratives play to get all of society to understand the impact of science and adjust people’s behaviour consequently?
  • How can scientists develop improved narratives for engagement?
  • What role can ICT play to enhance such engagement?

The topics will be placed on Futurium upfront so that participants can start shaping questions and ideas ahead of the event, post background information, or even propose new topics.

Please find a preliminary list of participants attending the workshop here.

You can find the draft agenda here

As part of the preparation for the workshop we asked the participants to share their visions about how ICT can be used in the future to build narratives. Here’s what they said:

Narratives have been built, embodying ICT, on various occasions, in order to foster behavioural change. Usually ICT has not only been the tool for building narrative but has been an integral part of the process.

The examples below show, how ICT has been used in different ways to achieve a certain social goal. ICT there has not only been used to inform people, but also to empower them, giving them better control and enabling them to compare themselves with their peers.


Energy savings

Opower (http://opower.com/) is an American foundation that developed an integrated set of tools using smart meters and ICT to foster consumer’s control over energy expenses. It also lets them compete with their neighbours about their saving targets therefore introducing competition to reach the target.

On their website they state:

Energy efficiency experts around the country know that motivating customers to take action is one of the main challenges to achieving large scale energy savings. Participation rates in most energy-efficiency programs are typically less than 5%. By contrast, our flagship Home Energy Reporting program triggers energy-saving actions in up to 80% of targeted households, delivering unprecedented results.
The secret to our success? A patent-pending, customer-engagement approach that leverages cutting-edge behavioral science, customer data analytics and the latest software to engage millions of utilities customers.”

Here is an article on how it started and about the underlying philosophy:http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/the_efficient_planet/2013/03/opower_using_smiley_faces_and_peer_pressure_to_save_the_planet.html

Also the UK government has used competition elements in their energy saving policy for governmental buildings, using ICT as part of the process:

Social norms can be powerful motivators of behaviour change. The Cabinet Office and DECC drew upon this knowledge to encourage departments to take action.

Examples of ways in which social norms have been used to change behaviour include the following:

  • Publishing monthly performance league tables showing progress towards the pan-government target. These were discussed by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, at his meetings with Permanent Secretaries. This introduced a competitive element to departmental performance and a strong incentive for departments to avoid the reputational loss of being seen to perform poorly on the Prime Minister’s commitment.
  • Real-time displays were installed in 19 Whitehall HQ buildings, feeding online reports of energy use. Again, this has helped to ensure that awareness of the programme has been maintained, while also giving departments much richer data about their ongoing performance.
  • A competition was held in October 2010 to see which HQ building could save the most energy, relative to the previous month. Details of how the winning department achieved savings were circulated to departments to help to reinforce this behaviour as a social norm.



Health Care

Health care is another example where ICT was used to build narratives that foster positive behavioural change. In Uganda for example women tend to give birth at home (61%), when given access to information, actively using ICT it could be observed that only 12.1% of all women, using these new tools have been given birth at home:

ICT tools for BCC (Behavior Change Communication)
Health Child in addition utilizes ICT tools for Behavior Change Communication (BCC) that include short videos, recorded drama sessions, digital stories, Text messaging using mobile phones to reach out to the pregnant mothers.
The preliminary results have revealed an increase in honoring of antenatal appointments by the pregnant mothers, majority of which are testifying that they will give birth in a health facility. Data from one of the health facilities that Health Child is collaborating with reveals that out of 41 deliveries that have taken place so far, 87.9 percent took place in health facilities higher than the current national average of 39 percent.