By Katherine Mathieson, Chief Executive of the British Science Association 

For a significant section of our society here in the UK, the next month will be a time of reflection, self-improvement and understanding.  

It is the start of Ramadan, and this year it falls against a backdrop of an increasingly uncertain time throughout the world. 

Earlier this week we published an interview with one of our incredible Community Leaders, Zaffer Khan, about the significance of Ramadan and how the Muslim and South Asian communities in Blackburn are responding to this time, and it got me thinking. How can we ensure that the voice of not only Zaffer’s community in Blackburn are heard, but the rest of our local communities are included in this crisis too? 

Over the last month or so, we have seen increased visibility of science’s role in our everyday lives in the context of public health. All of us have had conversations with loved ones and friends about the impact that this virus is having on us in recent weeks, and many of us are more engaged in science and public health than we were before.  

Over the last three years, the BSA has been seeking to expand its reach amongst people and communities who have an ‘inactive’ science identity – that is they are open to science but don’t actively seek out science news or events – and the 25% of the population who say “science is not for me”. We know that this group of people are likely to be older, or have few/no formal qualifications; they are less likely to be in a higher income bracket and less likely to be actively engaged in arts and culture. 

The next stage of this project for us is to better understand the values and meanings that these ‘inactive’ people have, and what ways they interact with their world, so that we can find solutions that could enable them to engage more with science and feel like they have a place in our science community. We look forward to sharing the results of that research soon. 

There are emerging concerns around the over-representation of BAME groups in the COVID-19 case load. BAME groups may be particularly affected because they are over-represented in public service roles which have increased exposure to the disease; there has also been a consistent lack of targeted communications to key communities around health and wellbeing, which goes much further back than the current crisis, but has been highlighted again in recent weeks.  

Additionally, it is important that this issue doesn’t become just a statistic. We need to represent the lived experience of people across the UK, and currently one of the most affected groups are barely being featured in mainstream reporting. 

In his interview, Zaffer spoke about the need for more inclusivity at all levels and, more importantly, more proactive consideration of different communities. This is incredibly vital, and something the BSA firmly supports in how it engages with communities across the UK. 

While we can clearly see that some communities are still under-represented in the current communication, engagement and decision-making around COVID-19, I hope that this current crisis has started to give those in positions of power more of a shared understanding and awareness of equality, diversity & inclusion (EDI).

For instance, disabled people who require close contact with carers, large multi-generational families sharing relatively small living spaces, older people facing social isolation and women at increased risk of domestic violence cases – the lockdown has shone a light on how different people live their lives and the challenges they face. Hopefully people who wouldn't usually think about fairness & equity in society have updated their views over the past few weeks.  

This time of change comes at a crucial moment for all communities. We know we can do things differently, as can the science sector more widely. Effective science communication during this period in history has never been more essential.  

The number of people who follow government advice about coronavirus measures will directly correlate with what they are told by our scientists and researchers – and whether that advice is practical, easy to understand and trustworthy.  

While it is a really challenging time in which to make changes, we have to start now because it is too urgent to wait. With thorough research, strong relationships, open communication, and well-trained champions, the BSA will continue to ensure that science is for everybody, not just for scientists.