A letter of public expression in the service of the dialogue between science and society

Why did INRAE ​​undertake to draw up an institutional charter of public expression?

Support to promote the quality of dialogue between scientists and citizens

With a community of about 12,000 people, the Institute is positioned as the world’s leading research organization specializing in “agriculture-food-environment.” Likewise, the Institute and its staff, whether researchers, engineers or technicians, are recognized, expected and heard by society on the issues we deal with to respond to the great challenges of society. This audience has been even more important since the Covid-19 crisis, a period in which science and the figure of the scientist took the lead in the media scene. Debates and controversy may have arisen on this occasion. The foundations of the scientific approach, which are rigor, honesty, reliability and transparency of the methods used, the absence of conflict of interest and critical peer evaluation, have been undermined by times. That is why we wanted to address the issue with the formalization of a letter of public expression to recall the challenges of public speaking by scientists and, more generally, INRAE ​​staff on professional conduct, ethics and integrity, this with respect to the freedom of expression of each and every one. It is therefore a matter of proposing benchmarks that guarantee compliance with these values ​​in all circumstances. Thus, in the face of the multiplication of modes of communication and the instantaneous dissemination of information, each agent of the institute will be equipped and prepared to deal with these multiple situations.

How are these recommendations broken down and to whom are they addressed?

Propose reference points and good practices

Since the spring of 2021 there has been a working group around the Ethics Delegate and the Director of Communication in order to develop a working method and results. In this way, consultations have been held which have allowed us to discuss with the stakeholders, reflecting the different questions and expectations that exist in the institute.

Thus, two types of support are made available to INRAE ​​agents.

  • First of all, a letter of public expression. This is constructed in relation to the national charter of ethics of the research professions and the charter of ethics, ethics and scientific integrity of the INRAE. It provides a framework and benchmarks shared by all with regard to issues related to public scientific expression, the principles to be respected in this field and its foundations.
  • This letter is complemented by a series of tokens which deal with the most common types of situations of public expression. They allow, depending on the problem encountered by the agent, to have illustrated advice with case studies, and access to source documents and reference definitions. The goal is to help our agents ask themselves the right questions before they speak. If they decide to start, they must feel armed in the exercise of public expression, either to respond to a request for a media interview, to express themselves on social media, to intervene in a public debate or to respond to an invitation from a partner or interested party. The situations covered are probably not exhaustive, so these fact sheets can be supplemented when and where, their interactive version should help us.

These resources give each agent a first level of knowledge of the problems, encourage reflexivity and offer benchmarks of good practice. But the institute goes further. Training actions for scientists (training in the media, support for oral expression, etc.) are already being offered internally, in order to develop analytical skills and abilities, and are intended to be taken into account. The institute develops its offer in relation to the National Continuing Education to generalize these trainings and to adapt them to the expectations of the greater number.

With this range of resources, INRAE ​​is very specifically committed to providing support, accompaniment and protection to the entire community of agents – not just researchers – to promote their public expression in the service of the quality of the work they carry out and of social issues. to which they respond.

We hope that this support will promote the quality of dialogue between scientists and citizens, and strengthen confidence in the scientific discourse and, in general, in the capacity of INRAE ​​to respond to the great challenges of our societies in the fields of agriculture, food and the environment.

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