By Cobi Calyx

It feels surreal now that about two months ago I was shaking hands, sharing food and squeezing into crowded rooms with peers at the Australian Science Communicators conference, hosted by the Monash Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI) in Melbourne in mid-February.

Had I known it would be the last physical conference I’d attend this year, I might have appreciated overloading my schedule with presentations each day. It was a whirlwind of participation, some of which I’m glad is now documented for sharing in digital webinars and collaborations going forward. My presentation about how the soon-to-be-launched Australian Social Progress Index can inform science communication evaluation was not recorded, but the interactive website is now live.

My highlight from that session was delving into discussion about air quality (specifically PM2.5) as an environmental indicator of social equity, following the disastrous bushfires during which people in major cities were told to stay indoors. This conversation about how public health messaging to stay indoors has tradeoffs with other public and environmental health policies was prescient for the looming pandemic and its implications.

Another highlight was the opportunity to bring together and amplify the voices of exceptional early career researchers I knew separately in a session about how researchers are achieving social impact. This session was recorded and supported by a Future Earth Australia bursary, as well as the Centre for Social Impact UNSW and MSDI staff. The recording isn’t yet available but will be, accompanied by annotation and visualisation of how the dialogue relates to the Sustainable Development Goals.

A fun session to present was with a political staffer I’ve known since childhood, about how a climate sceptic politician changed their mind. This case study is openly online, as a conference paper and slides from the session, in the hope it might help spark further change.

Speaking of sparking change, next week I delve into the world of digital conferences, presenting a webinar with the Australian Citizen Science Association and UNSW researchers as part of the Centre for Social Impact’s We explore how citizen science can have social impact, with a case study from the recent fires. I’m looking forward to delving more into research in this space – you’re welcome to join us in the webinar!

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