06.10.2019 change 06.10.2019

Sociologist: Engineers should talk to laymen about technology

Photo: Fotolia Photo: Fotolia

Public dialogue is an important form of promoting science and involving the public in the decision-making process, believes sociologist Dr. Piotr Stankiewicz, who runs campaigns that introduce scientific and technological innovations.

Dr. Piotr Stankiewicz is the director of the Educational Research Institute (a state institution that conducts interdisciplinary research on the functioning and effectiveness of the education system in Poland). He also works as a professor at the Institute of Sociology of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. At this university, he ran the international TEACHENER project devoted to combining social and humanistic competences with engineering competences. The undertaking was implemented in cooperation with several universities of technology.

"We are trying to introduce elements of social sciences and humanities to the curricula of universities of technology. Engineers are technology experts, we would like them to be able to talk to lay people about it", says Piotr Stankiewicz.

In his opinion, social research should be subordinated to the idea of utility in public life. "In my work, I dealt with a dispute over genetically modified food. At that time, it was considered whether or not cultivating plants of this type was harmful to the environment and people. Later, I focussed on the discussion concerning nuclear energy. It was a pressing issue, because in 2009 the Polish government decided to build a nuclear power plant", he says.

He emphasizes that he has always combined work at the university with involvement in the Pomeranian Special Economic Zone (Żarnowiec is located there) and cooperation with the Marshal`s Office. He promoted knowledge about nuclear power and shale gas in the form of public dialogue.

"We organized meetings of working groups and local dialogue committees in poviats over the course of several months. They were attended by selected representatives of residents and, of course, the first meetings required emotional discharge, but subsequent ones concerned specific issues. The local community was concerned about groundwater poisoning and environmental pollution. We talked about this with hydrologists, geologists, environmental experts - whether these threats actually existed, and if they did, whether they could be minimized", he explains.

In his opinion, public dialogue enables people to engage in discussion on controversial problems. "Instead of decision-makers who impose a solution, we have experts listening to the concerns of local communities, entrepreneurs and public administration employees", says Dr. Stankiewicz.

His habilitation dissertation entitled "Playing the atom. Social technology management in the development of nuclear energy in Poland" on information and educational activities and social communication was published in 2017.

At the Educational Research Institute, Dr. Stankiewicz initiates another project that combines participatory approach with public dialogue. It focuses on using the latest technologies and digitising education.

"Smartphones are the best example of the paradox of modern technologies at school. Today, each student carries in their pocket a computer more powerful than the one responsible for sending the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon. And at the same time we don’t have any ideas for using smartphones in schools. Digitisation of education is not only an opportunity, but also a big challenge. We should approach it in a socially responsible manner", he adds.

PAP - Science in Poland, Karolina Duszczyk

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