Contemporary science communication for forestry, environmental and sustainability studies

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New research and development project at the University of Freiburg

Funded by the Eva Mayr-Stihl Foundation with over 1.6 million euros, the project "Bridging the Communication Gap" which aims to improve science communication in forestry, environmental and sustainability studies is now underway at the University of Freiburg. "We are very proud to be able to assist the Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Freiburg with this highly topical subject," says Michael von Winning , chair of the foundation. "We expect this project to reinforce the effect of valuable scientific work - particularly with regard to urgent issues relating to sustainability and climate change."

The recently-launched project arose from the concept that when dealing with scientific issues, communications and an interchange with society need to be incorporated from the start - and this is also the case for the topical and extremely-relevant issues of forestry, environmental and sustainability studies. "Science can’t simply end with the publication of results and leave their transformative potential to other stakeholders," says Heiner Schanz , dean of the Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Freiburg.

Social Media monitoring and AI system for contributions to the debate that are current and attuned to stakeholder groups

An AI system has been developed as part of the research and development project; this is based on monitoring social media for ongoing and above all emerging debates to which forestry, environmental and sustainability studies can make a contribution. At the same time, large quantities of existing contributions to debates are being systematically recorded at the faculty chairs and model new contributions are being developed. The AI system compiles suitable contributions on each issue that is being debated and edits them appropriately for different stakeholder groups on a website. The Science Media Center Germany is supporting the technical development of the project. "We’re very grateful to have enlisted the Science Media Center as a partner and the Eva Mayr-Stihl Foundation as a patron of this extremely promising and ambitious project," says Schanz. The results of the project will be published as a reference book.

Mini living labs in communications for direct exchange with stakeholder groups

In addition, the faculty’s scientists will exchange ideas with representatives of the stakeholder groups in mini living labs in communications, thereby adapting the offering to relevant needs and conditions from the start as it is developed. These living labs will also form the core of a range of qualifications in science communication for researchers. Supported by experts, the participants reflect on the communicative potential of their scientific activities and engage in a focused way with the effect of the communication on the stakeholder groups. In the end this will produce model new contributions for the new offering.

Science Communication rooted in university management

At the start of 2021 the University of Freiburg was the first university in Germany to take science communication from communications practice and establish it in university management, thereby linking it closely with the substantive and strategic orientation of the University. "The combination of the innovative ideas of the faculty, the science communication experts in the Office of University and Science Communications and the Science Media Center together with the environment at the University which is highly conducive to science communications form an ideal framework for this project," adds Julia Wandt , who is responsible for the Business unit Science Communications and Strategy in the university management team. "The results of the project will be published in the form of a reference book, so that scientific institutions can benefit from our experience."

About the Eva Mayr-Stihl Foundation

The Eva Mayr-Stihl Foundation was established in 1986 by Eva Mayr-Stihl and her husband Robert Mayr. One of the focuses of the work of the foundation is to fund science and research. Since the 1990s it has promoted the strategic development of what has become the strategic area Environment and Sustainability at the University of Freiburg - in particular with endowed chairs and named professorships, awards and research funding, initially at the Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources, later also at the Department of Sustainable Systems Engineering (INATECH) of the Faculty of Engineering. Besides this, the foundation supports the Young Academy for Sustainability Research, which brings together outstanding junior researchers to cooperate across disciplines. The University of Freiburg appointed Eva Mayr-Stihl and Robert Mayr as honorary senators for their exceptional contribution to the positive development of the University.