Challenges and Results

Technology Communication

Shaping technology: the role of the public

Automated driving, fracking, genetic engineering – whatever innovative technology we consider, it will not be successful unless the public is involved, ideally at an early stage of its development. Knowledge is the basis for an informed debate. But how to kindle this kind of interest if a technology will clearly not be ready for use for a long time to come? How to impart the necessary knowledge to the general public? And how to include the perspective of the public into the development processes of a technology? acatech addresses these issues with a critical eye – both from the theoretical point of view, viz. regarding technology and science communication, and in the practical development of new dialogue formats.

Laboratory for technology communication: Understanding the other's perspective from the start

There is no magic formula how to involve the public. acatech trials new dialogue formats and tests hands-on how and when the public should best be included into the design of a technology. The project group "Artificial Fotosynthesis" approached the public with a Comic Workshop, successfully engaging young people in discussions about a technology at a very early stage of its development. Pictures are worth a thousand words – this motto in mind, the young participants, having received an introduction to the technology, outlined their visions for the future of artificial fotosynthesis with pen and paper. The project group considers this artistic approach a promising door opener for a public debate on the opportunities and risks of the technology.

A technology that has, for some time, been the subject of highly controversial discussions in the public, is fracking, a method for extracting oil, gas and geothermal energy from deep rock strata. Opponents fear risks for the environment and human health while advocates consider fracking an important option for securing our energy supply.

In October 2015, acatech, the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina invited citizens to a Fishbowl-event on fracking. The discussion fostered the mutual understanding of different perspectives and interests. Appreciating the other person’s perspective is important in order to handle controversies constructively.

Another joint project with the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities was the Science Slam „City of the Future”, which took place in Munich in November 2015. In entertaining short lectures, seven young academics presented their research foci to the audience.

Communication processes in transition: Science and research in the light of social media

The joint statement of the Academies “On Designing Communication between the Scientific Community, the Public and the Media” served as basis for a public debate on science communication in the German Bundestag’s Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment in October 2015. acatech had already contributed its expertise to a policy paper on science communication, with which committee member Daniela de Ridder attempts to trigger a political discourse on the subject.

Under the direction of Peter Weingart, the second phase of the Academies' project was launched in April 2015. Its focus is the so-called social media: Information spread by mass media channels can now be passed on and indeed changed and commented via Facebook, Twitter or in blogs. The project focusses on the question of how the special properties of social media affect the communication of scientific content. The approach it has chosen links theory and practice: The working group has started its own blog “Wissenschaftskommunikation hoch drei” on Scilogs, posting its results and experiences for general discussion.

Training Workshop Technology Communication: Science meets practice

In order to share the experiences and research results regarding successful technology communication with young science communicators, the Academy and the initiative Science in Dialogue (Wissenschaft im Dialog ) have jointly established a Training Workshop Technology Communication. This format is specifically aimed at young professionals from science communication and journalism. The likewise jointly organised annual exchange of experiences further serves to bring technology communication into focus: as yet, its significance and role in the larger field of science communication has rarely been the object of a separate analysis. During the four-day Training Workshop in November 2015 in Munich, the 18 participants discussed such issues as participation processes and social media.

SHAPING TECHNOLOGY TOGETHER: ORGANISING DIALOGUE – THE EXAMPLE OF ARTIFICIAL FOTOSYNTHESIS. In the interdisciplinary project "Artificial Fotosynthesis – Development of Technology Futures" experts examine the different technology futures artificial fotosynthesis can enable, and analyse how best to engage in early dialogues on this technology of the future. Artificial fotosynthesis is a visionary technology apt to constitute a significant contribution to the future energy mix. Imitating the chemical processes in plants, the technology uses sunlight to produce highly energetic substances from water and carbon dioxide. Four dialogue sessions were organised, providing basic information on artificial fotosynthesis and giving interested citizens the opportunity to actively join in and contribute to the discussion. In order to make artificial fotosynthesis comprehensible, the project team outlined different technology futures as a basis for discussion in the respective dialogue sessions. The experiences made with the different dialogue formats were documented in the acatech POSITION PAPER "Shaping Technology together. Early public involvement based on the example of artificial fotosynthesis", published in early 2016.

"We approve of the participatory approach acatech has chosen to develop technology futures. However, we are still at the very beginning. As yet, we are lacking a comprehensible, overarching concept of how such a transdisciplinary approach should be designed. In this respect, I am looking forward to a further interesting exchange."

Steffi Ober, Director of the Civil Society Platform Research Transition (Zivilgesellschaftliche Plattform Forschungswende) and research consultant for sustainable research and innovation for the German Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union NABU, on the dialogue with the public established by the acatech project "Artificial Fotosynthesis".

Basic questions in Science and Engineering

acatech also concerns itself with the basic theoretical and practical questions in science and engineering. In an attempt to enhance the identity and self-perception of engineering and the technological sciences, the conference "Technological Sciences – Engineering Sciences – Natural Sciences" organised in October 2015 in Berlin addressed the interaction of technical sciences and engineering with the natural sciences and with the engineering practice outside academia.

Overview of acatech's projects in the thematic field Technology Communication in 2015

Symposium Industry – Infrastructure – Society June 2015 - Feb. 2016
Artificial Fotosynthesis – Development of Technology Futures Oct. 2013 - Feb. 2016
Communication between Science, the Public and the Media II (in partnership with the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities, lead institution: acatech) April 2015 - Dec. 2016
Training Workshop Technology Communication Jan. 2014 - Dec. 2016
Event series Technology Communication (in partnership with the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities) Jan. 2014 - Dec. 2016