Health science

WHO’s global conference on science communication during health emergencies attracts huge public interest

How to communicate scientific uncertainty? Does the use of humor,
serious games and the arts help us make science more understandable? What can we do to communicate science processes more transparently

These and other questions were discussed at the WHO global conference.
conference on scientific communication in health emergencies, which
took place virtually from June 7 to 25, 2021. In a world marked by
COVID-19 pandemic, everyone has become a science communicator – let them
be at work, at the table or on social networks. The conference brought together professional and daily science communicators from a wide range of
disciplines to identify the challenges they encountered during the
pandemic and find solutions to make science accessible and relevant to

The public opening of the conference featured five
speakers from academia and practice. Their presentations covered topics as diverse as conveying uncertainty and statistics to
public, using social media to promote protective measures and
advantages of interdisciplinary collaboration to translate
easily understandable visual messages. Over 3000 participants from 159 countries joined the opening and submitted nearly 500 questions
to the speakers.

The public closing featured two guest keynotes
speech highlighting the potential of using social media and
storytelling techniques to alleviate infodemia. The session too
presented three innovative concepts of science communication using
illustrations, a children’s book and a question-and-answer format to achieve various
target audiences. The examples were selected through a worldwide call
for the good practice cases launched by the WHO in April 2021. A panel of experts
also reported on thematic discussions during the closing
conference sessions. These were held with 61 guest researchers, media representatives, policy makers and professionals working in
health, education, tourism and culture from 26 countries.

To date, the opening and closing records of sessions have been viewed over 20,000 times on YouTube. These figures show a
great public interest in the subject of science communication
during the pandemic.

Lessons from expert discussions

The participants identified the key steps towards effective scientific translation:
need to rethink existing scientific processes to ensure that research is
being shared in a timely manner during health crises but is still subject to quality control and scientific debate. It also includes transparent communication of scientific processes to help people understand what
science can and cannot do. While the public often expects science
provide clear answers, the generation of scientific knowledge takes time, is
based on scientific debate and is in fact intrinsically linked to
uncertainty. Open communication of this uncertainty will prevent people
to lose faith in science when ever-changing evidence leads to changing public health recommendations.

Second, the concerns,
the beliefs and needs of target audiences need to be taken more into account
consideration when communicating science. There is no one size fits all
solution. Instead of “dumping” general information, a constant
dialogue with communities is necessary to ensure
the information is relevant, understandable and credible to them. the
continuous dialogue with different stakeholder groups will also help to
build confidence in science and encourage people to ask questions and speak up

Third, it takes innovation and creativity to
scientific translation. People consume information on different channels,
at different times of the day and in different formats. Science
communication should add to people’s lives in a meaningful way and
action-oriented and meet them where they are in terms of
preferences, values ​​and beliefs.

Next steps

WHO is committed to translating the lessons of the conference into action. Not only to improve scientific translation and manage the infodemic during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to prepare for the next health
emergency. Follow-up activities to the conference will include:

  • Build a global and multidisciplinary network of science communicators. A
    permanent dialogue with researchers, media representatives,
    decision-makers and professionals in health, education and culture
    and tourism will help identify and address challenges in a concerted and collaborative manner;
  • Develop capacity building resources
    science communicators to give them the means to judge the quality and
    independence of scientific research and share it with their
  • Strengthen science and health literacy for
    enable people to ask critical questions about the information they
    meet online and offline and make evidence-based decisions;
  • Analyze examples of existing good science communication practices to understand
    what works and what doesn’t, and develop more effectively,
    innovative concepts of science communication for the future.

The enormous interest generated by the world conference confirmed WHO’s mandate to
play a key role in scientific communication and infodemic management during health emergencies. Timely implementation of follow-up activities
will be crucial to support countries and multidisciplinary science
communication community to build confidence in science and make it accessible and understandable to all.

/ Public distribution. This material is from the original organization and may be ad hoc in nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View full here.