Photo: Jasmina Magliari (WiD)

Technology Communication

Promoting receptiveness to new technologies

Innovations in fields such as artificial intelligence, mobility and medicine promise major improvements for individuals and society as a whole. However, their implementation in the form of products, services or processes requires people to have a receptive attitude towards technology. This is not something that can be imposed on society from above. Instead, it is necessary to provide easy-to-understand and objective information about new technologies, address people’s fears – regardless of whether or not they are justified – and carefully analyse their risks, areas of application and limits.

Genome editing is one new technology that has been a source of public controversy during the past year – while it undoubtedly has the potential to revolutionise molecular biology research, its critics see it as meddling with evolution on a massive scale. Another question that was in the spotlight was the extent to which an informed public can and should participate in science and science policy. Through its expert studies and a variety of dialogue formats, acatech works to promote constructive engagement between science and the public on topical technology issues. 

Social media: Opportunities and risks for science communication

Science and journalism are two of the pillars of a democratic society. However, the way that science is communicated is changing due to the growing popularity of social media. Social media make it easier for the public to access research results and communicate directly with scientists. However, they also entail risks such as inadequate quality control of publicly available scientific information or even deliberate misinformation. The ongoing second phase of the joint academy project “Science, the Public and the Media” has been analysing the importance of social media in science communication. The scientific reports commissioned by the working group were discussed at a public workshop with guests from science, the media and government. The working group used its blog, the workshop and Livestream to invite comments from anyone with an interest in science communication. The final project report will be published in the summer of 2017. 

Continuous communication: Innovative formats

acatech is experimenting with a variety of innovative, interactive dialogue formats in order to ensure that different target groups engage as continuously as possible in the debate about technological developments. Together with the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, acatech ran a Science Slam at Munich’s “Münchner Wissenschaftstage” science festival in November 2016. Each scientist had ten minutes to give a brief presentation of their research and visionary ideas on the topic of water. In September, acatech also hosted two Science & Technology Cafés at the congress of the German Association for the Advancement of Science and Medicine in Greifswald. Visitors had the chance to discuss artificial photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation with the experts.

Another opportunity for face-to-face discussion was provided by the fishbowl event in Munich organised by acatech, the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities and Leopoldina in October 2016. In this format, guest experts are seated in the middle of the room, as if in a goldfish bowl. Two empty chairs are provided next to them for any participants who wish to come forward and engage them in a public discussion. On this occasion, the topic was the medical opportunities and ethical limits of genome editing.

In June 2016, the Academy launched a new event format called the acatech am Dienstag (acatech on Tuesday) series. Once a month, interested members of the public are invited to the acatech Forum on Munich’s Karolinenplatz to discuss topical technology issues with guests from government, academia and industry. The themes covered included everything from big data and human-machine interaction to nanotechnology and the role of art in communicating about new technologies.

Early engagement with the public: The example of artificial photosynthesis

acatech places particular emphasis on the development of discussion-based communication formats that facilitate early public information and participation. This issue was analysed using the example of experiences in the research field of artificial photosynthesis, with the findings being documented in a report published in 2016. To wrap up the project, students and other interested parties attended a workshop organised by acatech and the Evangelische Akademie Tutzing where they discussed future scenarios for technologies such as algal biotechnology, catalytic fixation of CO2 and alternative photovoltaics. Experts from academia and industry had the opportunity to present their research initiatives. Following on from this public discussion of the opportunities and risks, acatech is participating in a new joint academy project on the current state of research into artificial photosynthesis and the specific scientific and technological challenges.

“Early engagement with the public is very important with new technological developments. As we all found out with GM crops, trying to create acceptance after a technology has already been introduced simply doesn’t work. Consequently, we very much welcome the approach that acatech is taking towards artificial photosynthesis by ensuring public involvement from very early on in the technology’s development.”

Dr. Stephan Schleissing, head of Ethics in Technology and the Natural Sciences at LMU Munich’s Institute Technology-Theology-Natural Sciences and freelance associate of the Evangelische Akademie Tutzing.

Making technology communication exciting: Initiatives for the young generation

acatech and Wissenschaft im Dialog (Science in Dialogue – WiD) ran their third three-day training workshop on technology communication at the Deutsches Museum in Munich in July 2016. 18 young professionals from the fields of journalism, PR and science communication worked with experts to produce new technology communication concepts. The workshops addressed how to communicate information about technology in a way that can be easily understood and how to involve the public in the development of new technologies.

During the 2015/16 school year, acatech and the Zeidler-Forschungs-Stiftung ran the first TECHNIKENTDECKER schools competition. Pupils from years 5 to 10 in Bavaria were asked to make a short film about a technological device or piece of equipment, a location that played an important part in the history of technology or an example of modern technology in the area where they live. Prizes were awarded to the ten entries that tackled their subject in a particularly creative manner. The competition is designed to promote STEM education and media skills in children and young adults. The 2016/17 competition is currently underway.

AN INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH: acatech has its own working group on basic questions in science and engineering. This interdisciplinary group brings together the expertise of engineers, scientists, technology and science philosophers, technology sociologists, technology historians and economists. It is currently working on a project investigating assessment criteria for the technological sciences and appointments in the technological sciences.

acatech projects in the thematic field of Technology Communication in 2016

Completed projects  
Symposium Industry – Infrastructure – Society June 2015 - Feb. 2016
Ongoing projects  
Communication between Science, the Public and the Media (Phase 2): Importance, Chances and Risks of Social Media (with the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina) April 2015 - June 2017
Artificial Photosynthesis: Current State of Research, Scientific and Technological Challenges and Technology Futures Jan. 2016 - Sep. 2017
Assessment Criteria for the Technological Sciences and Appointments in the Technological Sciences July 2016 - Dec. 2017
Technology Communication – Activities in Bavaria Jan. 2014 - Dec. 2018
Training Workshop on Technology Communication Jan. 2014 - Dec. 2018