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Asking New Zealanders about science and tech

The Nielsen Survey in 2014 set a baseline of New Zealand's current state of play regarding public attitudes towards, and engagement with, science and technology - so that the Government knows what it needs to work on.

We recognise that it is important to establish a strong base of evidence against which to measure public engagement.   

In 2014, the Government commissioned a new national survey into public attitudes towards science and technology, often referred to as 'the Nielsen survey'.  The content of the survey was based on previous surveys completed in 2002, 2005 and 2010 (to allow comparison) but extended to include new questions to allow comparison with international surveys.

The purpose of the survey was to help the Government:

  • decide where to focus its efforts;
  • measure whether the activities it funds are working; and
  • provide richer information on the impact of Curious Minds.

What did it find?

In December 2014, the results of the Nielsen survey into public attitudes was released by the Minister of Science and Innovation.  Read the press release on the Beehive website.

The Science Media Centre also shared a summary of the survey results:

The good

– Broadly speaking, Kiwis are interested in science and technology and think it is important not just for them personally, but for society, the environment and the economy.

– 90% of those surveyed agreed that science is an important subject for people to study at school and 83% agreed that it was a worthwhile career to pursue.

– Kiwis are more engaged with science and technology than they were in 2010. Compared with 2010 the “science follower” group survey participants identified with has increased, while the “mainstream” and “disengaged” segments have decreased. That means more people identify themselves as enjoying following science and less people have a lack of trust and interest in it. That’s a very positive trend.

– Engagement with science and technology via the media is very high (87%) which shows that despite the proliferation of social media and fragmentation of media channels, the population in general still has high exposure to science and technology via TV, online news reports, newspapers and magazines.

– 44% of those surveyed said they had donated money to support scientific research, showing healthy support in the community for such causes.

– When it comes to how interested in science Kiwis profess to be, we do very well compared to European countries (81% of New Zealanders are interested, compared to the best European country Sweden at 77%)

– Kiwis feel much better informed about science than people in European countries do (we rank second 62% behind Denmark 65% in this measure).

The not so good

– Only 59% consider science important to their daily lives.

– 42% of people say they get too little information about science, a fair chunk of the population, suggesting there is still a significant deficit in knowledge based on lack of access to information about science and technology in a suitable format.

– A reasonable proportion (35%) agreed that science and technology are too specialised to understand and 51% agreed that there is too much conflicting information about science and technology “making it hard to know what to believe”.

– Young females are less into technology as an important topic to study at school.

– 62% agreed that scientists need to listen more to what ordinary people think, suggesting a bit of a disconnect between the work scientists are doing and the priorities of average New Zealanders.

– Only 39% agreed that Matauranga Maori (traditional Maori knowledge) has a role in science. This is an area that has been targeted for promotion by the Government and increasingly by iwis, so that’s not an encouraging result.

– Males feel significantly better informed about science than females.

– There is low engagement with science-based products or practices at work. Only 15% had undertaken additional scientific training for work.

– In some cases Maori and Pacific Island people are less likely to agree that science is really important.

So there’s plenty of room for improvement. The survey gives us a good base to work from in terms of figuring out ways to more effectively engage New Zealanders with science and technology.

Read more details on the Science Media Centre website.

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