First steps taken by online-public-health-discussion-facilitator-legs

My online-public-health-discussion-facilitator-legs have now taken their first steps – and I survived it and would even call it succesful. It is definitely not a discussion that will stand out in history, but it was useful for me and I believe a good introduction of the potential of using social media at seminars, to the people who were exposed to it.

As I blogged about last week, I was asked by the Danish Alumni for Candidates in Public Health (FKFSV) to facilitate an attempt to do some online discussion at their annual meeting [in Danish].

The meeting was live-streamed and people outside the meeting room could therefore participate in the discussion via Facebook and Twitter (using #fkfsv).

I thought I’d share my experiences and reflections on the whole online event and my facilitation thoughts in bullets. So here we go:

Introducing social media to the Danish Public Health community

  • The meeting confirmed what I already expected: that the Danish Public Health Community is not well acquainted with using social media for professional purposes and therefore the number of actively participating online participants was very limited (in addition to me as facilitator 6 people took part).
  • Facebook is the main social media platform for the Danes. Twitter is still unexplored and thus very few have an account, and those who do hardly uses it. The discussion on Twitter was therefore very limited – which was a shame. Facebook was more active, despite the fact that it is not optimal for live discussion. Both because the discussion easily becomes fragmented (taking place as comments to different statuses etc.) and because it allows people to just type away resulting in very long questions. The 140 characters from Twitter is definitely not something people are used to.
  • Posing questions to the experts and politicians through Twitter and Facebook was very effectual. Making a point out the fact that the question came from someone following the discussion from outside the meeting room (at some point even questions from Berlin) was good. Both in terms of making people aware of what social media can be used for but also in interacting with the online participants and making them feel as part of the seminar.
  • Although the actual online discussion was very limited and perhaps could not even be characterised as a discussion but rather a channel for posing questions to the speakers and the political panel, I believe we made a good splash for social media. People participating in the meeting itself expressed that they found it ‘cool’ and useful. There were even people signing up for a Twitter account during the conference!

Facilitation requires participation

  • Having the discussion take place on two platforms is, as I expected, not optimal. However, in a situation where not that many people are present online and the objective primarily is to interact with the live seminar, it was essential to have both Facebook and Twitter going. The linkage between the two when using # on Facebook updates was helpful (although it doesn’t apply to comments on Facebook statuses). We could probably easily have had only Facebook going, but I found it important to introduce Twitter as a useful and appropriate alternative.
  • I had prior to the seminar decided that my role was to facilitate and not do live-tweeting of the discussion. This choice was based on two factors. 1) I thought it  was better not to both report of what was happening and be a facilitator; and 2) the meeting was being live-streamed so most people would be able to get the “full” content of the meeting, making live-tweeting a bit redundant. After the meeting I still think this was the right choice, especially if the discussion had been more lively. Live-tweeting is great, but should be assigned to someone other than the facilitator or just happen impulsively from the participants.
  • I didn’t participate much myself (mostly because there was not really a discussion going on), but it was clear to me, that it was important to have a clear distinction between Nina-the-facilitator and the public-health-Nina. This meant that using different accounts for the two identities was important.
  • The seminar took place on a Friday afternoon/evening . Starting at 4pm and ending around 8pm is perhaps not the best conditions for an active online discussion. It was clear that the most participation was between 4 and 5.30 after which it almost died out. Understandably I would say, so no critic there. Just a lessons learned that timing of the event if you want an active online environment too is important. It could be fun trying to establish some online event during working hours and see how that goes.
  • Introducing the possibility of sharing links via Twitter and Facebook was good. In this particular case it didn’t contribute much to the discussion, but as facilitator it was nice to be able guide and qualify the discussion by introducing that element of using social media for online discussions.


All in all I think it went well. The most important thing was for me to introduce social media as an element in seminars such as the annual meeting and hopefully also beyond the meeting room. It was my sense that some of the people who had never considered social media as something relevant for their work (and there are many of these if you ask me) were shown in a good way that social media may have a role to play. It is a small beginning and tiny first step, but perhaps people will be just a little bit more alert to it next time they come across cases of social media used as a tool in relation to practicing, discussing or researching public health. For me personally, it was fun trying to foster some communication, and especially keeping attention to how you make what happens in the meeting room and online come together. I look forward to trying it again sometime – hopefully with a few more active people online. My online-public-health-discussion-facilitator-legs can definitely take more steps before they are stable.

1 in 40 scholars has an active Twitter account – I wonder how many Public Health scholars are using Twitter

How many of your colleagues are on Twitter? If you are a scholar it would be around 1 in 40 – that is at least the conclusion made by Jason Priem, an investigater of new measures of scholarly impact on the social Web from University of North Carolina.

Some of the conclusion from his research can be found on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog. It is definitely worth a quick read.

In an attempt to assess the presence of scholars on Twitter, Jason Priem and colleagues made a list of around 9,000 scholars from five US and UK universities and searched for their names on the Twitter API. After manually confirming all the matches, they downloaded all the tweets each scholar had made and coded the content of these. It is based on this research that they conclude that about 1 ind 40 scholars are actively using Twitter. They also conclude that the adaptation of Twitter is broad-based. Thus, scholars from different fields and career stages are taking to Twitter at about the same rate. And that the scholars are not there just for private reasons, but are actively using Twitter as a scholarly medium, making announcements, linking to articles, even engaging in discussions about methods and literature. That said, they also conclude that most scholars’ tweets are personal, underscoring Twitter as a space of context collapse, where users manage multiple identities (see more on the Twitter poster below).

Even though Jason Priem conclude that scholars from different fields and career stages are taking to Twitter at about the same rate I can’t help but wonder if public health scholars also are represented on Twitter by 1 in 40. And how about when you go outside UK and US? In a Danish context it will surely be less – but I guess that means that there is even more room for improvement. Regardless, it would be interesting to do a similar study in a Scandinavian context.

A facilitator of an online public health seminar discussion – me?

So, on Friday I will for the first time be trying out my online-public-health-discussion-facilitator-legs. I have never tried this before and must admit that I am still a little bit in the dark on how to go about it. I have a few times in real life and in informal manors facilitated discussions, but I am certain this will be somewhat different.

It is the Danish Alumni for Candidates in Public Health (FKFSV) that in connection with their annual meeting (in Danish) are hosting a discussion on new public health initiatives after the recent change of government. The meeting will proceed with three presentations by experts in public health and related disciplines and then a panel of four politicians. So far 75 people have confirmed their attendance. As the meeting will be live-streamed, it is the hope that more people will follow it from home. And this is where I come into the picture. In an attempt to give the people joining from home a chance to take part in the discussions, the wish is to let them share their opinions, reactions and questions via Facebook (which is the dominating kind of social media in Denmark) and Twitter (using hashtag #fkfsv).

Me? an expert?

One (or at least I myself) could wonder why I have been asked facilitate this discussion. This is unfortunately not because I am a powerhouse of knowledge and experience, but more an indication of how small a role social media still plays in the public health field in Denmark. Thus, it seem that I am the person in the Danish Public Health Community who has the most experience with using Twitter and other kinds of social media in relation to public health… This also means that what I expect will be the biggest challenge for this particular online discussion is that so few people are used to discuss professionally through social media. It does however also imply that part of the whole exercise and success criteria is not just a fruitful discussion but perhaps just as important, to introduce the use of social media in Danish public health related events.

Connecting the seminar discussion with the online discussion

In trying to prepare for my facilitator role I searched both online and asked through Twitter for some inputs. Colleen Young (@colleen_young) and Andrew Sponge (@andrewsponge), both from the world of #hcsms and facilitators of the weekly discussions on social media and health care, were so kind to share some tips via Twitter. Their main advice was to focus on, in as many ways as possible, to connect the online conversation with what happens in the actual seminar. This could include requesting questions in advance, polling opinions during sessions via Twitter and perhaps projecting a Tweetwall, so that it is visual in the room. They also suggested inviting speakers/panels to reflect on the Twitter discussions perhaps even with a separate session. Colleen Young also drew my attention to a #hcsmca discussion earlier this November on using online support during conferences & workshops. Reading the transcript was very useful. It confirmed some of the benefits of social media in seminars/conferences which I myself have found useful, eg.

  • the possibility of sharing links with each other
  • the possibility of broadening the scoop of audience
  • the dynamics of incorporating Twitter feeds in questions to panelists,
  • the possibility  to engage in conversations beyond the podium, in and outside the room.
  • the engagement of those who are not comfortable to stand at the microphone
  • the transcripts which can help shape future conferences if organizers listen

The role of an online facilitator – a guide, not an expert

Some inputs on what is specifically required from an online facilitator I also found online (however I’m surprised of how little I could find). Al though quite basic and, one could argue, obvious, som of the points from the Facilitating Online Discussions Tool from the Australian website are useful.

They describe online facilitation as “the act of managing a discussion through an online medium, such as a chat room or online forums that can be hosted on your own site or one that is external to yours” and point out that as in any other kind of discussion facilitation, an online facilitator is a guide and not an expert. The role of the facilitator is to engage the participants, know when to let discussion flow and when to step in and moderate, create a positive atmosphere and keep people motivated to participate. Some of the tips include:

  • Be clear about your expectations to the discussion and don’t be afraid to put rules in place to keep the online discussion a safe and positive space for all involved. Moderation makes people feel safe, so be willing to do so if things get out of hand.
  • Have specific questions ready to ask your participants throughout the session, however don’t dominate the discussion. You want people to keep the conversation flowing, and for them to ask questions amongst themselves, so be open to this.
  • Give people notice that the discussion will be occurring, so that you can get the maximum number of attendees possible at the time.
  • Be aware of talking in the language that your participants are using. Language is something that can help build trust and rapport amongst your participants, so be flexible in the language you use when facilitating a discussion online. 
  • Give your participants a chance to give feedback about how the online discussion went after it has been completed. This allows for you to find out where things can be improved for the next time, so make sure you allow some time for this to occur.

Expectation to the discussion

As said, my expectation to and hope for the discussions on Friday can be divided into two parts. Naturally, I hope that there will actually be people present online and that it will be possible to engage them in the discussions. However, more importantly, I hope that this first attempt from FKFSV to introduce online discussion, will not scare of people from using social media at future public health seminars/conferences/meetings, but rather open up people’s eyes to the media and its possibilities. I look forward to trying out my online-public-health-discussion-facilitator-legs and welcome all your advice on how to best go about the facilitating role!

Sweden have expanded the Twitter discussions on Health Care Social Media (#hcsm) family with #hcsmse

On the 11.11.11 from 12-13 (CET) a Swedish initiated pilot tweet chat will take off. It is part of the #hcsm discussions on Health Care and Social Media. #hcsmse is now a Swedish addition to the family – or at least a trial to see if there is interest in a discussion in Swedish on different aspects of health care and the health industry and the use of social media.

The first pilot tweet chat #hcsmse has been arranged by Physician and post doctoral fellow Pär Höglund from Jönköping Academy and PhD in biotechnology and journalist Ulla Rudsander from Stockholm Science City Foundation.

The topics to be discussed today are:

  1. What are the origins of patient participation?
  2. Why is 1177 (vårdguiden) not to be found on twitter?

The questions raised will as far as I understand be in Swedish, but comments in English are welcome too. Thus, this particular chat is of course primarily of interest to people from Sweden, but I do hope that Danes, Norwegians and Fins will participate too. It would be interesting with a Nordic perspective on the discussions. Especially the similarities in Nordic health care systems taken into consideration.

You can here read more about to follow the chat and bit more on the background (in English and in Swedish)

Follow and participate here: or #hcsmse

Best of luck to #hcsmse!

ScienceNordic – Spreading the news of nordic science beyond the north

Is Danish research being spread effectively enough to the world? Do researchers in the US, India and Australia know of the findings researcher in Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Denmark are making? If not, a new online initiative called ScienceNordic is hoping to change that – or at least add an additional and lighter component to the peer-reviewed journals.

At a seminar hosted by the Danish scientific news portal,, on the visibility of Danish research, a sneak preview of ScienceNordic was given by editor-in-chief, Vibeke Hjortlund.

ScienceNordic is an English language news site for scientific news from the Nordic countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland). The website is independent and the purpose is to take the results of the scientists and disseminate it in a news orientated journalistic manner. It will be launched 15 November 2011.

Objectives and content

Vibeke Hjortlund presented the objectives of ScienceNordic:

  • Give research from the nordic countries a place on the world map
  • Be a communication channel between researchers in different countries
  • Promote the high quality of research from the Nordic countries

The targeted audience is quite broad ranging from the international media over the academic environment to students, businesses, policymakers and the general public.

According to Vibeke Hjortlund, there will be 2-3 news stories per day and news contributed from partners (such as universities and other research organisations). The website will be divided into six sections (Health, Society & Culture, Environment, Technology, Agriculture & Fishery, and Natural Sciences). . I’m happy to see that health is a separate section. It would be cool if public health researchers would actually think in terms of my wide-spread communication of their research other than peer-reviewed journals, but perhaps also share their research as it happens. ScienceNordic could be an opportunity for that.

In addition, there will be a newsletter to which you can subscribe (if prefered, just to subsections)

Interactiveness will come later

Since the news portal has not been launched yet, it is hard to tell how much interactivity there will be. Initially, it will not be possible to comment on the articles, but it is the plan to implement that. Just as, there are also plans of blogs and debates in the pipeline. Hopefully it will a lively website that can inspire researchers to become interactive also in other web2.0 fora.

There is already a ScienceNordic Twitter and Facebook page. Naturally, both a so far low on tweets and followers but I look forward to see what happens there.

Who is behind ScienceNordic?

The initiative for the site comes from Denmark and Norway where the scientific news portals, of Denmark and of Norway, have joined forces and together with partners from Sweden, Finland and Iceland have developed the website with the financial support from NordForsk, an organisation under the Nordic Council of Ministers.

A lovely confusing mix of journalists, science communicators, Google+ enthusiasts, communication experts at seminars

My own educational background is interdisciplinary. Public Health is interdisciplinary at its core and adding journalism to it adds a world of not just traditional journalists as we know them from newspapers, radio and television but also communication experts in various forms. Working with social media at Medical Museion in Copenhagen have added a new group of people coming from the world of technology, enthusiast in social media etc. This grand mix of people have all been represented at the different seminars I have been so fortunate to attend over the last couple of months.

Some of the seminars and conferences I have mentioned here previously, but I thought I’d just give a small insight into some of the events I have attended where science communication is discussed directly or indirectly.

London – scientists – social media – enthusiasts – TWITTER

I have already shared some thoughts from my participation at Science Online in London this September in Changed by Science Online London 2011? Thinking back on it the keyword for me from the conference was lots of enthusiastic people. A complete different crowd of people from my previous world. Real scientist eager to share their knowledge and spread the word about the potentials in social media. It was about live-tweeting. Not only about what you heard, but also what it made you think of or how you liked (or disliked) what you heard. Quite a crash introduction to a new world to me. Can’t wait to joining the “big brother” conference ScienceOnline2012 in North Carolina in January 2012!

Crisis communication – Experimentarium – Science Media Centre – UK – Denmark

The Experimentarium (the Danish Science Centre) hosted a conference in October called When Science Meets The Headlines. Participants were a great mix of journalists, communicators, scientists and researchers. The conference was divided into three session. The first session focused on the current situation in Denmark when it comes to researchers/scientists engagement and efficiency in communication to the public. Both journalists, researchers and communicators shared their perspective. Unfortunately, the mention of social media was almost nonexistent – perhaps as a symptom that it is not used, perhaps due to an oversight from the organisers. Second session was a presentation of the English Science Media Center (SMA), an independent venture working to promote the voices, stories and views of the scientific community to the national news media when science is in the headlines. Three speakers from London joined and gave a (over?) positive description of the SMA. Personally, I really missed a more critical perspective and some reflexion on where it might work less well. Third part was then a discussion of the future of science communication in Denmark. Again, it was surprising to see of how little attention was given to the potential in social media. A big shame! It was however clear that the main objective from the organisers side was a promotion of a future Danish Science Media Centre hosted or driven by the Experimentarium. No debate was initiated on who would be most appropriate to host such a centre or whether the needs in Denmark might be different from the UK and therefore require an alternative strategy and organisation. This was a shame. Despite some critic of the conference it was however all in all a very inspirational day with a really good mix of participants.

Google+ – communication officers – Social Media Club

In October an organisation which I had not heard of before, hosted an afternoon session on the wonders of Google+. The organisation, which calls itself Social Media Club Copenhagen had invited three speakers to share their experiences and knowledge about Google+. I am not sure how many of the participants had a health background, but I definitely felt like a minority group. Instead the room was full of people from the communication office of this and that company, from media organisations and other communicative people. Although only one speaker was actually from Google it felt a little bit like all three of them had been paid to salute Google+. Perhaps their recommendations were very heartfelt and real, but it did just seem like a little bit too fantastic. Despite a seminar where I wasn’t quite sure what I got out of it, it did reawaken a curiosity to this new platform and  I took home some useful G+ tips which were shared during and after the seminar. Eg. the ‘Hangout’ features seems to contain lots of potential as useful tool!

Journalists – social media – drinks – debate

The Copenhagen section of the Danish Union of Journalists have applied a wonderful concept called “Drinks and Debate”. Every last Friday of the month they invite members to meet up at Library Bar in Copenhagen and participate in a debate and enjoy one (sometimes two) free cocktails. In October the theme was what journalism can learn from Social Media. Once again this was not a crowd of health people, but a majority of journalists who for a great part (still) feel threatened by this scary phenomena of social media. Astrig Haug from the Danish media hos Berlingske talked about her experiences with using social media and shared thoughts on Danish media’s adoption (or lack) of social media. Interesting thoughts on how newspapers are still thinking in print articles when writing to the net and the need for the journalist to adapt to a changing world were brought forward. Astrid Haug encouraged journalist to turn their heads towards the bloggers for inspiration both as information sources but also for their methods and style. For example by being better at putting themselves out there and also expose what you don’t know. All in all an inspiring debate.

Mixing it all up and seminars to come

Attending these different seminars and conferences have been very inspiring for me. The quality as varied but all have has contributed to increase my understanding of social media and its current and potential role in communication broadly and in science communication specifically. What I now await is a Public Health conference that could put social media on the agenda. Sadly the upcoming annual of conference European Public Health Association (EUPHA) which takes place in Copenhagen 9-11 November, does not have it on the programme. The social media presence prior to the conference has also been very limited. A hashtag #EPHconference  have however been promoted and I’m curious to see whether it will be used. Right now I’m sceptical but hoping to be positive surprised! Later this afternoon I’m heading to a seminar at (a Danish science communication website) about the visibility of Danish research and a preview of a new international research platform called ScienceNordic. Will share more about this seminar later on.

A very non-social media article about the World Health Organization, public health and social media

A “must read about WHO and social media” it said in one of the tweets I came across on Twitter this morning, linking to an article in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization called “Mixed uptake of social media among public health specialists“. And true, it was a must-read for me: 1) I have a degree in Public Health Sciences, 2) I am a former WHO technical officer and 3) my main area of work right now is social media and public health science communication.

I have actually been looking for some WHO thoughts, reactions, comments on the role of social media in public health and to see WHO make use of it. So it is positive to find this article which brings up some interesting perspectives on social media, and adds some words on WHO’s presence on Facebook, Twitter etc.

Having read the article I am a little bit disappointed. It is in my opinion a little bit overly positive when it comes to describing WHO’s engagement in and use of social media (which is perhaps to be expected as it is written by WHO itself). As a former WHO staff member, I did not once during my time with WHO come across any encouragement to use social media. No one told me of the official twitter channel @WHOnews or tought me the value of using social media platforms in meetings, conferences or in linking with large groups of people with common interests. We didn’t use it in any of the small meetings or even larger global forums which I participated in organising. I know of extremely few WHO colleagues who are on for example Twitter, and I feel that I’m meet with a good bunch of scepticism when I try to advocate for looking into how social media could bring some added value to both WHO’s work but also its research. Perhaps it is changing but my impression of WHOs involvement in social media does not quite mirror what I read in this article.

The article, which by the way as all other WHO Bulletin articles have no comments function or provides active links, tries to give an overview of WHOs presence on and use of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Despite some mention of the strengths of social media in interacting with people and its two-way nature, my main impression after reading the article, is that to WHO social media is primarily about disseminating health information and counter rumours which can then be corrected. There is nothing wrong with that. Different kinds of social media are an extremely relevant places to disseminate information, identify rumours and emerging health problems etc. But what about entering into dialogue? Why is there no comments function of WHO Bulletin articles? Where is WHO’s blog? Does Director General, Margret Chan share her thoughts and interact with ordinary citizens anywhere? Can I enter into communication via social media with WHO staff working in the same area as me?

The article in the Bulletin does raise the question whether public health should be making more use of social media? And I assume this is also a question as to whether WHO should make more use of social media. I would say yes! Both because whether we like it or not lots with relevance for health is already happening out there and it is essential that WHO is present too. And not only WHO should be there.

Also for internal purposes would I argue that WHO’s use of social media would be useful. WHO financial situation is far from perfect and there a cuts being made everywhere. In staff, in travel, in meeting attendance. Here a thing such as Twitter could actually be an alternative to attending a meeting in real life. Following conferences from the sideline is perhaps not as good as being there in person, but it is a good alternative. Live tweeting by WHO from conferences and meetings would also be useful. Actually, WHO regional office for the Americas, PAHO did make an effort on this at the NCD (non-communicable diseases) UN summit in New York in September this year, through their Twitter account @NDCs_PAHO. But lots more could be done.

To quote the article “For activists, social media can be an inexpensive and quick platform for their campaigns.” Why should that platform be exclusive to activists? Can cheap and quick platforms not also be useful to organisations like WHO, national health authoritise etc? In the US the CDC has caught on to social media, so I guess it just for others to get started. I wonder when the Danish National Board of Health (Sundhedsstyrelsen) will get their first Twitter channel and even a page on Facebook, which to my knowledge does not exist, despite the fact that more than 2.4 million danes (of a total population of 5.3 million) are on Facebook (according to 2009 figures from Danske Interaktive Medier (FDIM). There are lots of potential out there for several organisations, institutions, universities to explore their role in social media when it comes to public health.

All in all its great to see WHO taking up social media and public health and I hope that will help facilitate a useful discussion and further exploring into how these two worlds can interlink and make use of each other. I recommend reading the article which also has great references to blogs on public health matters and other references to other social media initiatives in the field. However, without linking to any of the blogs, Facebook pages etc. and without the ability to comment on the article – which unfortunately makes it a very non-social-media like and instead very WHO-like.