|The Stem Cell NetWork is not just a communication project - it is also a research project. The objective is to contribute to academic knowledge about research communication through a systematic collection of experiences with the creation of the installation and qualitative studies of audience reception.
- The collection of experiences is based on a number of different sources, which document the collaboration between designer and researcher. These include log books about problems, decisions and reflections on the process. The collection of this material is designed to answer questions such as: How is complex and linguistically-based research translated into spatial concepts and messages? How does the collaboration between designer and researcher create synergy?
- The analysis of the audience reception is based on observation studies, web-cam surveillance of the installation and discussions with visitors. It is important to develop methods which combine these three methods of data collection in order to take into account that many of the messages in the installation are not expressed in language. The reception studies will focus on questions such as: What happens in the encounter between visitor and installation, and what actions does this encounter produce? How do visitors experience the installation? How can spatial communication be used in connection with public deliberation on controversial technology?
The collection of experiences is carried out during the whole process of working with the installation. Data collection for the reception studies is conducted in 2007.
Internationally, the academic fields of Science Communication and Public Understanding of Science have witnessed a growing criticism of the traditional form of science communication (Irwin & Wynne 1996, Michael 1998, Gregory & Miller 1998, Lewenstein 2002, Wynne 1995, Horst 2003). The form has been criticised for being based on a deficit model in which one-way communication from ‘the knowledgeable’ (researchers) is supposed to fill the deficit of knowledge found in lay people. In addition, it can be argued that much research communication is based on language and text and that it is too concerned with communicating scientific results. This means that research communication primarily reaches very specific audiences, which are already quite familiar with research-based knowledge production. Furthermore, audiences are treated as passive, and they are only presented with very stable and indisputable aspects of research activity (the results).
On this basis it has become commonplace to advocate a more dialogical form of research communication (in a Danish context, see Videnskabsministeriet 2005). This focus on dialogue has been stimulated through the growing number of public controversies over science and technology in the last decades (Joss 1999, Hagendijk et al 2005, Rowe & Frewer 2005, Irwin 2006). Some researchers have argued that it is no longer sufficient for scientific knowledge to be true – it also has to be socially robust (Nowotny et al 2001). It is claimed that only if knowledge is seen as legitimate by the public will it be possible to develop new knowledge into tangible and usable products. Based on this type of argument, dialogical research communication can be seen as a central element of the social shaping process through which research-based knowledge and technological possibilities can be translated into tangible products (Mackenzie & Wajcman 1999, Bijker & Law 2000, Latour 1996).
The Stem Cell Network takes its point of departure in these ideas, but it is also making new contributions to the international field of research. The effort to create spatial communication transcends a common focus on texts by making the communication sensory. The audience is made physically active in the installation and will be influenced both cognitively and emotionally. The installation is also expanding the area of research communication from a primary focus on science to include also social science.
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