MCAA Communication Working Group’s Chair Ruben Riosa organised a webinar on science communication with invited experts: Alexia Youknovsky (CEO of Agent Majeur) and James Bowers (Chief Editor at Polytechnique Insights). In this piece, I want to share some of the key messages with you.
Communicating science is more or less part of a researcher’s day-to-day life. How a researcher needs to communicate depends on the platform and the type of audience the researcher would like to interact with, such as experts, policy makers, the general public, and even children. Efforts should be taken in terms of format and content, which require investing time and energy. Having a proper strategy will help get the most out of the results (or concept) you want to communicate. Otherwise, the result will not be fruitful.
Source: The recording of the webinar is freely available at https://youtu.be/EhDs7AOjW28
To build an effective communication strategy, you have first of all to ask yourself, each time, the five Ws:
Why do you want to communicate? Define your objective. Is it to increase your project’s visibility, pitch an idea to the funding bodies, or improve the layperson’s understanding of this topic?
Who is your target audience? Define your audience: Colleagues within your team? Peers at the department? Funding agencies? Policy makers? For this purpose, put yourself in the audience’s shoes, list your target audience, and prioritise the message accordingly. For example, your colleagues might be interested in the results you have got, methods you have used. However, funders will likely be more interested in their investment returns, i.e., what benefits your results have for society.
What message do you want to communicate? The message you want to communicate should match your objective(s) and the one(s) of the audience. Often, the message is related to one’s research project that no one knows better than the speaker, and it is often not easy to deliver in a short and precise way.
Where do you want to communicate? Is the message conveyed through printed material, brochures, blog posts, or social media websites? Your strategy should include the medium of communication by considering your target audience. Not all platforms are suitable for all the audience. For example, TikTok might work well when your target audience is young people. But if you intend to communicate with policymakers, TikTok might not yield the desired results. Though “young” digital platforms have a wider reach, traditional communication channels such as conferences and journal publications are still in the field. Once again, put yourself in the audience’s shoes to help you choose the suitable media.
When do you want to communicate your message? Suppose you want to communicate the results that will be published soon. In that case, it might be a good idea to first communicate the foundations of the topic with the target audience so that the results will be understood more clearly. Or, try not to communicate your best results when the “hot topic” discussed on social media or the internet, in general, is another one – you might not get the attention you want.
It may be easy to communicate trendy topics such as artificial intelligence, climate change, green energy, but not impossible to communicate abstract fundamental research. Each communication task is different and needs a different strategy.
“Science is not finished until it’s communicated” – Sir Mark Walport
But practically, how can we make sure the audience will understand the message? If you want your audience to understand the message well, then try to explain in simple terms. While communicating to a broader audience or general public, apply the 6 “Cs” of the science popularisation techniques to your outreach activities. The 6 Cs are:
1. Clarity: Try to use the words that your target audience can understand. Do not use jargon. If you need to use acronyms, define them before. Researchers often do not realise that the general audience may not be familiar with the day-to-day words used within our (expert) networks.
2. Connection: Communication reaches a broader audience when you connect with them. Often, using storytelling techniques or familiar examples yields a better reach.
3. Context: Try to communicate your message in a particular context to help the audience be aware of the scientific, social, or economic impact. How does your research benefit the target audience in their daily life?
4. Concreteness: Human beings like to see tangible things. Demonstrate your innovation to the audience through a prototype or animations, if you have, to create a more significant impact.
5. Colour: Including pictures, graphs, and/or schematics can engage the audience more. Relying on the images will allow the audience to picture the message and add colours to your communication.
6. Conversation: Often more than expected, the general public is interested in conversing with the scientists and would like to know more about their research. Make your communication as interactive as possible, encourage them to ask questions and wait for their response.
A successful outreach event will result in the learning of all the people involved in it: the person attending it and the person speaking.
Good luck with your learning from the audience.