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Canadian Science Policy Centre | Panel 211 - Communication culture: scientists' view and trainers methods to better engage with publics and policy-makers

Panel 211 - Communication culture: scientists' view and trainers methods to better engage with publics and policy-makers

Conference Day: 
Day 1 - November 7th 2018
Takeaways and recommendations: 

Communication culture: Scientists’ views and trainers’ methods to better engage with public and policymakers

Organized by: Carleton School of Journalism and Communication, Kathryn O'Hara

Speakers: Dr John C. Besley, Ellis N. Brandt Professor, Michigan State University; Sarah Everts, Journalist associate professor at Carleton University (effective January 2019); Jim Handman, Executive Director, Science Media Centre of Canada

Moderator: Kathryn O'Hara, Adjunct Research Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University

Takeaways and recommendations

Why scientists need to communicate:

  • Because government and academic science is publicly funded.

  • It is your moral obligation to share your research.

  • If taxpayers understand your work they may value it more and be more willing to fund it.

  • If you don’t speak as an expert, a less qualified person will.

  • You have an opportunity to inform public discourse, and create opportunities for informed debate.

  • Decision makers who value and understand your work are more likely to implement evidence-based policies.

  • Understanding the objectives of “knowledge users” is essential for ensuring positive outcomes.

  • The public is interested in your work.

  • Engaging more young people can inspire more to pursue STEM careers.

  • There is some association between higher citations and scientists who engage in social media, write blogs, and do media interviews.

Why don’t scientists communicate?

  • Some scientists don’t think it is necessary and don’t know how.

  • Some scientists require training to learn to be more accessible, clear, concise and conversational. Avoid information “dumping”.

  • Some scientists fear being misquoted by reporters who are not experts in science.

  • Some scientists don’t think it will have an impact.

As a group, scientists need to:

  • Engage in activities and storytelling to share what we know about scientific issues. Start your “story pyramid” with what is interesting in your work, why it matters and what is its impact; avoid focusing on scientific methods.

  • Reframe questions asked of you to make sure you understand what is being asked.

  • Understand media timelines. If you don’t get back to them the same day you might lose the opportunity to inform their story.

  • Research journalists who contact you to ensure their news outlet is the right platform to share your expertise.

  • Work to get people excited about science, when appropriate.

  • Demonstrate they care about their communities.

  • Demonstrate their expertise.

  • Be open to training.

Training will help scientists to:

  • Understand the difference between scientific vs. non-scientific communication and how to effectively communicate what they do with different audiences.

  • Understand that the public is sometimes intimidated by experts or finds it hard to ask an expert a question.

  • Recognize that scientists are not the only voice in society and that their fellow citizens care about communities and have insights to share that deserve consideration and respect.