Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Science Communication in the Far North

We recently had the chance to hear a presentation by Andy Fyon, Nadine Trodel, and Lori Churchill of the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry (MNDMF), regarding communication methods for remote northern communities. The practices were initiated by, and are an established practice, of MNDMF’s Ontario Geological Survey. A major focus of the presentation was on building a relationship with Aboriginal communities as a foundation for communicating about science, especially geology, to help raise a community’s awareness and understanding about the application of geoscience and the options available to a community regarding socio-economic development related to mineral development.  Historically communication with these communities has not always been the best and it is important for us plucky young science communicators to understand the ins and outs of joint learning and effective science communication techniques geared towards remote First Nation communities.

The traditional lecture and learn approach does not always apply in cultures used to sharing knowledge through the whole community. It is important to understand that we must not approach these communities with the point of view that “I have something to say, and you should listen”, but rather “we both know something and together we can learn more”. Essentially this is what this terrific trio does; they fly in to remote communities, to build relationships with them. All along the way sharing knowledge of geoscience and mineral development and learning more about the people, the culture and the land where these communities exist. This is done with the intent of raising awareness and understanding about each other and about options available to the community so that all parties involved not only can operate in harmony but really gain from the relationship itself.

This method of knowledge sharing and mutual respect is one that for the purpose of the MNDMF is often associated with Aboriginal communities, but can certainly be applied to any public engagement in the field of science communication.

- James Baxter-Gilbert, B.Sc.

James will be working with Dave Pearson and Andy Fyon for his Graduate Research Assistantship on science outreach in Northern communities. We look forward to hearing how it goes.