GRIIDC Attends COMPASS Science Communication Workshop

Explaining the value of scientific data and the importance of sharing and preserving it is a critical role for GRIIDC. Therefore, on Tuesday, Sept. 24, GRIIDC research staff at the Harte Research Institute attended a Science Communication Workshop by COMPASS to learn skills to more effectively communicate their work to the public. The workshop was sponsored by the Harte Research Institute and its Communications Group. Although scientists are experts in their fields, communicating their work in easily understood terms is not always their strongest suit. Educating our youth, citizens, and policy makers about science is vital for creating a sustainable and healthy environment. Luckily COMPASS and their team of communication experts and science journalists were onsite to provide HRI researchers with tips and tools to help make their work understood by the public in this interactive workshop.

Heather Mannix, Assistant Director of Policy Engagement of COMPASS welcomed the group and let each attendee introduce themselves. She then introduced the four guest experts:

  • John Upton, Features Journalist at Climate Central, specializes in working closely with researchers in academia as well as science reporting for local and national print, radio, television, and digital news outlets.
  • Bob Marshall, a journalist at The Times-Picayune/, writes op-eds on environmental issues with a concentration on the states’ coastal crisis.
  • Anna Kuchment, a Science Writer at the Dallas Morning News and contributing editor at Scientific American.
  • Kelly Kryc, Director of Conservation Policy and Leadership at the New England Aquarium, an energy and environment policy professional who worked with the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and National Resources, the U.S. State Department, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The Science of Communication: Bridging the Worlds of Science, Journalism, and Policy
These accomplished experts gave the researchers a glimpse into the world of reporting science, specifically the challenges of interviewing scientists. They shared their experiences, perspectives, and what they need from scientists in order to write a piece that clearly delivers their message without losing the science, or the audience.

Elevator Pitch
The group practiced giving a 30 second “elevator pitch” about their work in a conveyor belt-like set up. The attendees formed two lines, facing each other and practiced their pitch. After each pitch, they received feedback from their partner and then moved down the line. By the third time participants voiced that there were definite improvements each time. This was a great exercise to help formulate a short pithy message about what they do and why it’s important.

The Message Box
Mannix then introduced the researchers to some organizing tools, specifically, the "message box", which helps clarify and frame the message they want to convey to particular audiences. The message box method breaks the message into sections which identify and analyze the audience, issue, purpose, problems, solutions, and benefits of the message. The participants broke up in small groups with the experts and worked on crafting their own messages, providing feedback followed by a few revisions.

Scientific Role Playing
After lunch participants put what they learned into action, using a role-playing activity with the journalists and policy experts. Each participant had a different scenario where they were being mock interviewed, including: talking about their work to someone from the National Science Foundation at a cocktail party, a phone interview with the New York Times, and a tense interview with a Green Peace advocate. Then the other experts and fellow HRI researchers provided feedback to the interviewees.

As terrifying as being judged by their fellow colleagues was for many of the participants, the activity proved to be incredibly impactful in helping them realize the importance of effective science communication. They learned how imperative it is to cut out the overly technical jargon and focus on the bottom line of their message, especially in a short amount of time.

Future Science Communicators
Overall the workshop was a great success and the participants learned valuable lifelong skills that will help them be better science communicators going forward. Thanks again to COMPASS and to the Harte Research Institute for this incredibly valuable workshop!

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