Why has INRAE developed an institutional charter on public expression?
Support designed to enhance the quality of the dialogue between scientists and their fellow citizens
With a community of nearly 12,000, the Institute is the leading international research organisation specialising in the "agriculture-food-environment" sphere. So, society recognises, looks to and listens to INRAE and our staff, whether researchers, engineers or technicians, on those topics we deal with in order to address the major issues of society. This audience has actually grown since the Covid-19 crisis, a period in which science and scientists were pushed to the forefront of the media arena, something that lead to both debate and controversy. The foundations of the scientific approach, such as rigour, honesty, reliability and transparency of the methods used, the absence of conflicts of interest, and critical peer evaluation were sometimes severely tested. That is why we wanted to address this area by developing a formal charter on public expression to recall the challenges of public speaking by scientists and, more broadly, by all INRAE staff in regards to professional conduct, ethics and scientific integrity while respecting the freedom of expression of all parties. The idea is then to offer some guidelines to ensure those values are upheld under all circumstances. Given the vast increase in the means of communication and the almost instantaneous spread of information, every INRAE staff member will, then, be equipped and prepared to deal with a wide range of situations.
How are these recommendations laid out and who are they intended for?
Offering guidelines and best practices
Starting in spring 2021, a working group headed by the Head of Ethics, Research Integrity and Code of Conduct for Research Projects and the Director of Communications developed a work method and deliverables. Consultations were then held to allow discussions with staff members whose participation reflected the various issues and expectations that exist within the Institute.
Two types of support have now been made available to INRAE staff.
- First, a charter on public expression. Our charter was drafted in connection with the French National Charter of Ethics for Research Professions and INRAE's own Ethics, Scientific Integrity and Code of Conduct Charter. It provides a common framework and guidelines that we can all share in terms of problems related to public expression on scientific topics, the principles to be followed and their rationale.
- In addition to the charter, there is a series of factsheets, available to all INRAE staff, dealing with the most frequent types of public expression situation. Depending on the problems a staff member may encounter, the factsheets allow them access to tips and illustrated examples of practical cases as well as to source documents and benchmark definitions. The goal is to help our staff ask themselves the right questions before expressing their views. If they decide to proceed, they should feel well equipped to take part in public speaking, whether it involves responding to an interview request from one of the media, giving their views on social media, taking part in a public debate or even responding to the invitation of a partner or stakeholder. As not every situation is covered, additional factsheets can gradually be added, and their interactive version should help with that.
Such resources provide every staff member with the basic elements needed to understand the issues, promote careful thought and offer best practice guidelines. But INRAE is going even further. Targeted training initiatives for scientists (media training, public speaking support, etc.) are, in fact, already offered in-house in order to build analysis skills and capacities, and such training will increase in scope. INRAE is continuing to expand its possibilities in conjunction with the French national on-going training service to broaden such courses and adapt them to the expectations of the widest audience possible.
With such a comprehensive offer, INRAE is making a firm commitment to support, assist and protect all our staff – not just researchers – with a view to promoting their public expression efforts to reflect the quality of the work they are doing and the issues of society they are dealing with.
We are hopeful that this support will enhance the dialogue between scientists and their fellow citizens and further build confidence in scientific views and, more broadly, in INRAE's ability to take part in addressing the major challenges our societies face in the fields of agriculture, food and the environment.