A number of general working principles underpin effective interactions among scientist and between scientists and societal stakeholders. We call these the building blocks for effective conversations that are part of science-society interactions.
A key principle is the belief that everyone has a valid viewpoint and should therefore be respected. Ensuring mutual respect is a precondition for stakeholders to open up and share thoughts and vision. Mutual respect also contributes to a safe space.
Inclusivity, diversity and fairness
Participants should feel that they are being treated fairly and have an equal right to express their view. This requires equal access to definitions, terms, concepts and knowledge. This general principle is often violated. For instance, equality may be violated by implicit hierarchy between scientist and laymen, because the latter may have a low self-esteem to speak freely.
Critical reflection and responsiveness
Effective conversation contributes to improving research questions, problem definitions of policy change. This requires the inclusion of relevant stakeholders with different views, interests, expertise and positions. It can also create a strong support base for change directions or decisions. In general, inclusivity and diversity increase creativity and innovativeness. Keep in mind that inclusive decision making is time consuming and resource intensive.
Openness and transparency about the nature and purpose of the conversation leads to clear expectations among participants. Who is part of the dialogue, who is excluded and why was this decided? Additionally: how does the decision-making process work and what are the underlying assumptions and uncertainties? Openness and transparency will increase trust and clarify expectations.
Reflexivity and willingness to learn
A dialogue can only be effective when participants are willing and able to critically reflect on their assumptions, motives, commitments. This also applies to their role in society and their perspective and position towards the central theme of the dialogue. Reflection is inextricably linked to willingness to learn and to be open to the viewpoints of others.
Dealing with conflict
The ability to deal with conflict is especially applicable in conversations that are part of larger trajectories with science-society interactions. Examples are the protein transition or the transition to circular agriculture. In these kinds of trajectories, unpredictable situations are a daily reality. It helps if participants in the conversation find ways to manage this reality responsibly. Being responsive and adaptive is especially useful for complicated, constantly changing problems.