The power of conversation

  • 2 February 2024
  • General
  • Charlotte Raynsford - Communications Officer at The Foundation for Science and Technology

The world is always changing, and in the digital era, it’s changing fast. It's a world soon to be led by digital natives; the GenZ’s and Gen- Alphas, and technology often drives our daily tasks. We are more efficient and more connected than ever, but also ever far apart.

On one hand, we have access to swathes of knowledge, on the other we are seeing a rise in polarized global views. In many ways, social media empowers and elevates voices, but its algorithms also encourage echo chambers. The rise of artificial intelligence stirs excitement but also causes concern around ethics and fairness. And then there are the big global issues which technology alone certainly cannot solve such as the climate and biodiversity crises.

The outlook for the future seems turbulent at best and recent studies reveal that so many intersecting big issues are causing a rise in anxiety, particularly among young people. As history shows, there is no silver bullet to such large and complex issues, and old, closed door ways and societal barriers to decision making still remain, but one thing that we can do is keep talking. There is a quiet power in sharing knowledge. It is a tonic to silos- whether it be in work, or socially. Rather than beaver away in quiet corners and miss key opportunities to cooperate, championing the art of conversation can support the foundations of change and progress.

At the Foundation for Science and Technology, we believe that providing an impartial platform for experts to discuss and debate science, innovation and policy with decision makers, is a small but key way to help influence informed decision making down the line.

According to an article published on the American Psychology Association’s website, ‘some of the hardest conversations can also be some of the most important, including talking with people who have different points of view’. “Disagreement is inevitable, and our success or failure in relationships is often based on whether we can navigate that disagreement successfully, and build trust in spite of it,” said Michael Yeomans, PhD, an assistant professor of strategy and organizational behaviour at Imperial College London.

Back in January 1974, our founders got together with a vision of a neutral space for science policy to be discussed. The  ‘London Science Centre’ for learned and professional societies was born a few years later. Although the Foundation looks quite different now, the principal vision remains that we are an independent and impartial organisation which provides an open platform for expressing views.

Since those humble beginnings, we have held hundreds of regular open discussions. More recently we have brought together thought leaders across academia, industry and parliament for topical discussion on everything from climate policy and Net Zero to Artificial Intelligence, Equity, Inclusion and Diversity to healthcare, nuclear, UK R&D and more. Since 2020, these have all been accessible online and we still encourage an inclusive Q&A and debate at the end of each session.

Supporting the theory that getting people talking is a positive thing, the Foundation has been running its Foundation Future Leaders Programme since 2019, which brings together a group of roughly 30 mid-career professionals with representatives from the research community, industry, civil service and wider public sector. The purpose of this group is to learn and make lasting professional connections with one another as well as gain knowledge of the science policy sphere through talks and trips to places of interest. These have included Parliament, various universities and even CERN in the past.

If you’re interested in joining the conversation, come along or log on to one of our monthly events which are held at The Royal Society in London. Information on our upcoming events can be found here.