“Communicating the results of I+D+i in an efficient and attractive way is totally necessary”


Interview with MARÍA LAPETRA


María Lapetra is a popularizer, an expert in institutional and company communications. From BASF, one of the biggest chemical companies in Europe, she has to fight against prejudices such as “chemophobia”. She supports efficient and sensitive communication of the results of scientific research and is present at the “100xCIENCIA” forum to provide an industrial viewpoint. 


- As an expert in institutional communication, what do you think of the way scientific institutions organize the broadcasting of  their knowledge to society?

 “One of the basic elements in communication, but one which is often neglected for various reasons, is the segmentation of communications. ‘Something for everyone’ doesn’t work.  We want to communicate too much, to reach the whole world, and among such a lot of information and data the messages and the key ideas can get lost. Interaction (touch, smell, see, hear…) and the telling of stories are fundamental for outreach”

- Do you think that in Spain we need leaders of opinion who originate from the field of science? What should they be like?

“In my opinion Spanish society is suffering from a major leadership crisis,  apart from the fields of commerce and sport. Many of the values shown by the leaders in those fields (tenacity, effort, perseverance) are fully shared in the field of science, but I don’t think that science can make its achievements tangible in the same way. Intrinsically I think that the mechanisms of communication and marketing can make the difference here”.

- What role do communication and marketing play in the “ecosystem” of Spanish I+D+i?

 “In the information society, communicating the results of I+D+i in an efficient and sensitive way is absolutely essential. We must be able to explain in an attractive way, one which arouses curiosity, just what science can give to the individual and to society”.

- How do you rate scientific outreach in Spain?

 “I think that the the ‘socialization of science’ is moving in a positive direction because science forms an increasing part of our daily lives and of our domestic surroundings, it no longer is only of interest to the scientists, nor should it be understandable only for them. But as everything in this life, there is room for improvement, of course…”. 


“Rewarding excellence is always a good decision”


- You work in industry, in BASF, one of the industries most affected by social “chemophobia”, which has made it fashionable to reject anything chemical. How do you react to this?

“It is a fashion which is not at all new: we know that we start from a perception which is not positive and which forces us to do more than other sectors. We confront this with responsibility, with rigour and with professionalism. Our outreach efforts are aimed at bringing chemistry close to people’s daily lives to show, using specific day to day examples, how chemistry contributes to the improvement of the quality of our lives, and to solve specific problems.

We do this via educational programmes such as “Kids Lab” or “Teens Lab”  aimed respectively at children and adolescents, by dialogue and opening our doors to our neighbours, to institutions, associations, universities etc. to show what we do and how we do it, and of course we are able to count on our best ambassadors, our collaborators, for doing this”.

- What is Creator Space?

“BASF celebrates its 150th anniversary this year and we wanted to do this in a special and different way. It is a milestone to achieve 150 years of success, and of course we have looked back historically to record and celebrate this. But our wish has been that the programme of celebrations should give us an opportunity to look to the future, to start something new. To celebrate and ‘co-create’.  With our programme “Creator Space” we are exploring and trying out new ways of collaboration and of working together (“co-creation”) connecting people and ideas across the whole planet.  We are debating, together with scientists, clients, collaborators and society in general, in order to find answers to the big challenges which we face in the field of food, intelligent energy, and urban life.

Problems such as food waste, mobility in the big cities, and energy consumption affect all of us, and their solutions demand a variety of approaches. One single actor, whatever it may be, cannot tackle challenges of such magnitude. It is necessary to listen to complaints and viewpoints of all kinds. What results have we achieved? It is still too early to analyze the results because the programme remains active until the end of this year. Even so, the feedback we are receiving from people, both within the company and outside, who are participating in the various activities of the programme, both on line and off line, is very positive. This is an important cultural change, which help us to produce a strategy with the slogan “we are creating chemistry for a sustainable future”.

- How can we fight falsehoods and pseudosciences so that these don’t reach the media or society?
“I believe that, unfortunately, these matters penetrate society all too easily, so that rather than fight to eradicate them, I would prefer to see science become more digestible and more agile, both for the media and for society in general, so that it can act as a counter weight. Making science digestible means that not only scientists can popularize it, but that anyone who understands it can act as a multiplying factor”.

- What do you think of the “100xCIENCIA” forum? What did you expect of it?

“Anything which can bring different fields together and bridge the gaps between them, in this case between science and communications, is always good news. The interchange of ideas and experiences must be interesting and I expect that useful initiatives and activities will emerge between the two, because after all there is much more that unites us than that separates us”.

- This year the first edition of the Severo Ochoa awards, which qualify some Spanish centres as “excellent” comes to an end. Do you think that this has been good policy? Should it be repeated?

“Of course yes. Rewarding excellence is always a good decision!”


Coordination of interviews: Verónica Martín


Contact: info@100xciencia.com       Phone: +34 922605336; +34 660507549
100xCIENCIA Communicating Frontier Science. La Palma (Canary Islands, Spain), October 2015
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