Public Science Dialogue
Despite politicians' avowed commitment to the knowledge-based society, despite the promotion of knowhow as a commodity and despite the growing penetration of cutting-edge technology and science into all areas of life and work, the general public frequently displays a considerable remoteness from scientific topics. This discrepancy is not future-proof; a public science dialogue is called for, and in particular low-threshold science communication that can reach a majority of the population.
Knowledge-based society as a challenge
As a country poor in natural resources and with a small domestic market, Switzerland has always had to adopt a strategy of increasing production in the technology and service sectors. In this sense, Switzerland has already long since been well on the way toward becoming a knowledge-based society: this is where the teaching and research carried out at universities have a very special part to play. Both are largely tax-funded and form the basis for the creation of «knowledge» as a product.
At the same time, specialist knowledge is increasingly meeting with public suspicion and unease. What is called for is the effective communication of science with a view to involving the general public in shaping the future on the basis of knowledge. Key questions here are: What contribution does science make? What can society expect of science and what is society entitled to expect of science? Where do science's opportunities lie and where are its limits?
From the very outset, in the context of its grant-making activities Gebert Rüf Stiftung has attached significance to the topic «Wissenschaft und Öffentlichkeit» (public understanding of science) by repeatedly implementing new and promising approaches to communicating the message of science in and via areas of education, research and innovation.
Cultivating the relationship between science and the public is strictly rooted in the foundation's support strategy and is pursued by means of an integrated approach, i.e. a commitment applied to every project supported by Gebert Rüf Stiftung: In accordance with the support agreement (Art. 4 of the project-related agreements), the project management undertakes to regard non-scientific, i.e. public, communication as part of the scientific project work and to act accordingly. In addition to public relations work directed at the media and others, two clearly defined commitments are to be met: Conducting a «School in the laboratory» session (giving an upper secondary school class an opportunity to experience research work first-hand) and participating in a media training course (intensive two-day further training event; in cooperation with the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF, the Swiss School of Journalism in Lucerne MAZ and the «Maison de la communication» in Lausanne).
Thus, all participants in Gebert Rüf Stiftung support projects, most of whom are young scientists, will be faced with the demands of communicating scientific content in contemporary form. In this way, Gebert Rüf Stiftung contributes toward ensuring that instead of isolating themselves in government-financed ivory towers the younger generation of academics sees the need for communication as an integral part of their perception of themselves as scientists.
Two directions – two areas of activity
Under the label of «Scientainment», Gebert Rüf Stiftung has been focusing activities and project support on low-threshold science communication since 2013. The foundation also runs an academic training programme for young social scientists in South Causcasus. The key objective of the programme is not only to nurture young academics in the two transition countries of Georgia and Armenia for the purpose of developing an evidence-based policy, but also to initiate a public debate on the «efficacy» of the social sciences: