The Why’s of Science Communication

“As scientists, our job does not end with making science; it ends with making science available and accessible to the common person.”
 

Since school days, I was always interested in public speaking – be it debates, hosting events, or even theatre. Apart from that, I found my passion for applied research, in water and sanitation, where I saw the potential to have an impact in the real world. Bridging these two interests of mine, was “Science Communication”; unsurprisingly, I turned out to have a natural inclination towards it. The more I looked into why it was not already a part of ‘science’ itself, the more compelled I felt in not falling into this silo. For it was the many incredible teachers and scientists that I had, who inspired me to take up the path in striving to become a good scientist. 

Climate Change – our biggest existential threat and arguably, one of the most well researched fields, suffers from the lack of clear translation of scholarly information. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gathers some of the best minds in the field and produces three volumes of reports every six to seven years. These reports are packed with cutting edge research and scientifically robust data, all for public use. Yet, most scholarly people within the related fields hardly go through it, let alone people from other fields. The focus on maintaining scientific accuracy means that the accessibility of its contents are lost to the general public.

Most of our research contributes to either or both of these: (i) increasing the body of scientific knowledge, and (ii) contributing to the economy and/or environment. These twin goals would greatly benefit from a wider reach to the public. So, science communication is not a deviation, but rather is essential. 

First-hand evidence 

In my own PhD research, I have witnessed this first hand. My first PhD paper, that I wrote “Decentralised Sanitation in India – using Social Network Analysis” was downloaded 355 times from the publisher’s website (more people could have visited the site, or downloaded it from elsewhere, and many who downloaded the article, might not have even read it). It took me over six months, from starting to write the article to publishing it. A related blog article based on the same research, which I wrote on “Urban Sanitation Planning in India” in a newly started website called Water Science and Policy, has been viewed 5500 times. It took me two hours to write and one week for it to be ‘reviewed’ and published.  

In no way am I suggesting that one is better than the other. Each have their own merits and limitations. In fact, the value, rigor and life-time contribution of a peer-reviewed article in a decent journal is much higher than any blog or newspaper article. Nevertheless, the combination of an easily readable format based on the rigorous research article is a valuable effort, especially if scientists want to make our work more accessible. Publishing in open-source only makes our work available to the scientific community, but not necessarily accessible to everyone. Having the general public support and appreciate our work can have many tangible outcomes, such as increased awareness of our research fields, to increased budgets for scientific research.  
 

Now, that I have made my point of Why science communication is critical part of science itself, let’s look at the How’s.


Click here for the article on How to communicate science ! 

 

 

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' (327 chars) aboutme => protected'<p>My research is on water and sanitation for development. I work in the int
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             Basic Services (WABES) </span></p><p><span style="font-style: italic;">Wate
            r, Sanitation and Solid Waste are inherently similar and have many interacti
            ons between their physical value chains. Integrating these offer a possibili
            ty to reap co-benefits. In two small towns in Uganda, we are testing if and
            how this could be done. This work is done with the support of SDC. </span></
            p><p><span style="font-style: italic;"><br></span></p><p><span style="font-s
            tyle: italic;">2. Decentralised Wastewater Treatment and Reuse (WaterReuseLa
            b)</span><br></p><p>There is a paradigm shift in the WASH sector towards dec
            entralisation and resource recovery. Over the last five years, I have explor
            ed off-grid and semi-grid water and sanitation systems from a technical and
            social perspective. In this new project, we are researching the governance o
            f water reuse in Bangalore, India. This research is in collaboration with WE
            LL Labs.&nbsp;</p><p><br></p><p>3. <span style="font-style: italic;">Citywid
            e Inclusive Sanitation (CWIS)</span><br></p><p> </p><p>This research contrib
            utes to the conceptualisation of CWIS and the development of a planning appr
            oach to implement it. I collaborate with the many partners including World B
            ank, Gates Foundation, Asian Development Bank, and GIZ among others.</p><p><
            br><br>4. <span style="font-style: italic;">Scaling up WASH innovations (Lab
             to Land)</span></p><p>A number of technological innovations in the WASH sec
            tor already exist, but have failed to scale up and solve real world challeng
            es. I ask: What should we do to bring such innovations from lab to the land.
             This research is done in collaboration with TU Munich.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p><
            br></p><p><span style="font-style: italic;">5. Climate Resilient Sanitation&
            nbsp;</span></p><p>The l...
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            ative","text":"<p>5 cities across Asia and Africa showcasing CWIS approach?
            <a href=\"https:\/\/www.eawag.ch\/en\/department\/sandec\/e-learning\/spotli
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            Videos<\/a><\/p><p><br><...
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                  ng framework
' (88 chars) journal => protected'Journal of Water Sanitation and Hygiene for Development' (55 chars) year => protected2021 (integer) volume => protected11 (integer) issue => protected'6' (1 chars) startpage => protected'1036' (4 chars) otherpage => protected'1047' (4 chars) categories => protected'Citywide Inclusive Sanitation; CWIS planning framework; India; sanitation pl
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' (105 chars) description => protected'Sanitation in India has received national attention for over a decade, espec
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                  have been little long-term gains made in urban sanitation beyond the ending
                  of open defaecation. In this paper, we analyse the key barriers to sanitatio
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                  clusive Sanitation (CWIS). A mixed method approach of shit flow diagrams, so
                  cial network analysis, policy analysis, interviews and workshops at the nati
                  onal, state (2) and city (4) levels was conducted. Eight factors were identi
                  fied as important barriers for planning including inadequate planning capaci
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                   political and financial support, overlapping jurisdictions, and scheme-base
                  d funding. The paper also proposes the CWIS Planning Framework which offers
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                   for it. Therefore, this framework provides the theoretical basis for planni
                  ng with the CWIS approach.
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                  de,&nbsp;L.; Tilley,&nbsp;E.; Zurbrügg,&nbsp;C.; Lüthi,&nbsp;C.
' (141 chars) title => protected'Advancements in and integration of water, sanitation, and solid waste for lo
                  w- and middle-income countries
' (106 chars) journal => protected'Annual Review of Environment and Resources' (42 chars) year => protected2021 (integer) volume => protected46 (integer) issue => protected'' (0 chars) startpage => protected'193' (3 chars) otherpage => protected'219' (3 chars) categories => protected'water; sanitation; solid waste; integrated approach; Sustainable Development
                   Goals
' (82 chars) description => protected'The water, sanitation, and solid waste sectors are closely related and have
                  many interactions between their respective service chains in low-and middle-
                  income countries. Currently, these interactions mostly lead to cross-contami
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                  in the past two decades. We identify numerous similarities such as decentral
                  ization, resource recovery, community involved planning, and digitalization.
                   Despite the potential for synergies and the opportunities to maximize posit
                  ive interactions, there have been few attempts to break the existing sectora
                  l silos in order to integrate these three service chains. We argue that, wit
                  h the right enabling environment, an integrated approach to holistically pla
                  nning and implementing water supply, sanitation, and solid waste management
                  can create positive interactions resulting in co-benefits among complementar
                  y development goals.
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                  on in governance of decentralized wastewater treatment in India using a nove
                  l validation methodology
' (176 chars) journal => protected'Frontiers in Environmental Science' (34 chars) year => protected2020 (integer) volume => protected7 (integer) issue => protected'' (0 chars) startpage => protected'198 (18 pp.)' (12 chars) otherpage => protected'' (0 chars) categories => protected'social network analysis; validation methodology; decentralized wastewater tr
                  eatment; mega and secondary cities; citywide inclusive sanitation
' (141 chars) description => protected'Social network analysis (SNA) is a versatile and increasingly popular method
                  ological tool to understand structures of relationships between actors invol
                  ved in governance situations. Given the complexity of the set of stakeholder
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                   diversity of their interests, this article proposes SNA to the WASH sector.
                   The use of SNA as an appropriate diagnostic tool for planning Citywide Incl
                  usive Sanitation is explored. Missing data is a major problem for SNA in the
                   studies of governance situations, especially in low- and middle-income coun
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                   the validation method is then applied to study the governance of decentrali
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                   Kapur,&nbsp;D.; Sankara Narayan,&nbsp;A.; Pres,&nbsp;A.; Salian,&nbsp;P.; S
                  puhler,&nbsp;D.; Tempel,&nbsp;A.
' (184 chars) title => protected'A sanitation journey. Principles, approaches &amp; tools for urban sanitatio
                  n
' (77 chars) journal => protected'' (0 chars) year => protected2021 (integer) volume => protected0 (integer) issue => protected'' (0 chars) startpage => protected'79&nbsp;p' (9 chars) otherpage => protected'' (0 chars) categories => protected'' (0 chars) description => protected'Although the number of urban dwellers in the Global South with access to imp
                  roved sanitation increased significantly over the last three decades, progre
                  ss has been outpaced by rapid urban growth. The number of people in urban ar
                  eas lacking improved sanitation has steadily increased and today over 1.8 bi
                  llion urban dwellers do not use safely managed services. Progress has not on
                  ly been slow, but also uneven between different segments of the population.
                  The focus of ministries, urban authorities and financing agencies has been m
                  ostly on incremental expansion of sewers, benefitting non-poor segments of t
                  he population, and in most places, utilities have failed to provide citywide
                   services mainly because they have stayed within the sewer paradigm. [...]
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                  s (SDGs). <em>Abishek S. Narayan</em> and <em>Christoph Lüthi</em> at the D
                  epartment of Sanitation, Water and Solid Waste for Development (Sandec) at t
                  he Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) in Zuri
                  ch, Switzerland, explain the concept and its implementation through current
                  projects.
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                  sp;R.; Tsakanika,&nbsp;A.; Wotton,&nbsp;S. (Eds.), Urban waters - How does w
                  ater impact and is impacted by cities and human settlements?
' (212 chars) year => protected2018 (integer) volume => protected0 (integer) issue => protected'' (0 chars) startpage => protected'11' (2 chars) otherpage => protected'13' (2 chars) categories => protected'' (0 chars) description => protected'' (0 chars) serialnumber => protected'' (0 chars) doi => protected'' (0 chars) uid => protected18323 (integer) _localizedUid => protected18323 (integer)modified _languageUid => protectedNULL _versionedUid => protected18323 (integer)modified pid => protected124 (integer)
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                  ; Reynaud,&nbsp;N.; Narayan,&nbsp;A.&nbsp;S.; Siemsen,&nbsp;P.; Lüthi,&nbsp
                  ;C.; Philip,&nbsp;L.
' (172 chars) title => protected'Technology, implementation and operation of small‐scale sanitation in Indi
                  a. Performance analysis and policy recommendations. Small‐scale sanitation
                   scaling‐up (4S) - project report vol. I
' (194 chars) journal => protected'' (0 chars) year => protected2020 (integer) volume => protected0 (integer) issue => protected'' (0 chars) startpage => protected'127&nbsp;p' (10 chars) otherpage => protected'' (0 chars) categories => protected'' (0 chars) description => protected'<em>Introduction</em> – In addition to underground drainage and large‐sc
                  ale sewage treatment plants (STPs) and the management of faecal sludge and s
                  eptage from non‐sewered on‐site systems, small‐scale sanitation (SSS)
                  
                  
                  xible implementation. Therefore, they have significant potential for cost‐
                  effective local wastewater treatment and reuse. In order to improve public h
                  ealth, relieve water stress and protect the environment in urban India, SSS
                  systems have a key role to play.<br /> Since a policy drive for small sewage
                   treatment plants (SSTPs) in India beginning in 2006, there has been a remar
                  kable growth in the number of installations in the country’s rapidly expan
                  ding urban areas, especially in big cities. However, it is known that many o
                  f the existing systems are underperforming or have failed for various reason
                  s.<br /> Thus far, SSS sector developments in India have not been informed b
                  y a systematic assessment of lessons learned, and there has been very little
                   research on the enabling conditions and implications for the successful lon
                  g‐term operation and management of SSS systems at scale. The main goal of
                  the "Technology, Implementation and Operation" component of the 4S Project i
                  s to evaluate present experience with SSS systems and to develop evidence‐
                  based policy recommendations for their successful design, implementation, op
                  eration and maintenance at scale.
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Author

Abishek S Narayan
(Dr. Sc. ETH) Project Manager / Researcher
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5 Comments

  • Gioia

    at 28.10.2020
    Dear Abishek - Thank you.
    Since I have a scientifically curious mind without the scientific background, I appreciate your efforts very much.
  • riu

    at 02.11.2020
    Good post and point, Abishek. I agree: "... easily readable (or watchable ;-) formats based on the rigorous research article is a valuable effort, especially if scientists want to make our work more accessible". Keep up the great work!
  • Pavan

    at 04.11.2020
    Good one Abishek !
  • Pavan

    at 04.11.2020
    Dear Abishek,

    This article and your speech are very comprehensive and yet very crip, this sort of scientific communication/ information shared, for surely will attract practitioners at least more than common people, can already be called success. Appreciate the move of promoting scientists and research to be proactive to ensure their findings reach the last mile, VOICES a good initiative hope many other scientists and other organizations will follow.
    All the best and look forward to seeing more of your work.
  • Sauradeep Majumdar

    at 07.11.2020
    Very well written Abhishek...
    I hope many researchers are inspired by this and participate in science communication !!!