Are you a scientist? Interested in sharing your knowledge with the rest of society? In this article you will find some tips that will help you carrying out an effective science communication with public from other spheres.
And, if after spending several hours in front of a screen fighting with that paper pending to be published you feel tired of reading, you can see the most important contents of this article summarized in a simple infographic. Check out the infographic!
A society hungry of science
Science communication has always been a complex issue. The efforts made by the scientific community to pass on their knowledge to the rest of society have increased over the years, although the results are not always satisfactory.
And this is because science, with its unintelligible language to many, formulas and statistical analyses, can be a hard nut to crack. However, seven out of ten Europeans consider science as an important element for their lives, which makes them more comfortable, healthy and easy. Similarly, more than half of the population considers to be uninformed about scientific matters and would like to be better informed.
More than half of the population considers to be uninformed as to scientific matters*
However, even though a large part of the population believes scientists are honest people, they are also perceived as being bad communicators or secretive. So, how could we improve the communication of scientific issues to a public that does not understand about science?
Start by knowing your audience
A successful communication process begins with a basic element; knowing the audience to be addressed. Do you know what are the interests of your public? What they expect from you? How your inputs can be useful to them? What is their level of knowledge of the subject you are going to deal with?
The answers to these and other questions are not always easy to obtain. However, the more you try to find them, the more you will know your audience and the easier it will get to adapt your messages and media to their needs and preferences. And for knowing your public, the best approach is to ask and listen.
Did you know that seven out of ten people believe that scientists should listen more to the public in other areas? *
Although society places a high degree of confidence in scientists, there is still some skepticism around them. In general, society tends to assume that the intentions of a scientist are linked to the institution for which he or she works.
Thus, researchers from private companies are perceived as “less reliable” than those belonging to public institutions, as it is normally assumed that the former are driven by economic profit.
Four out of ten people do not trust scientific information due to a lack of evidences*
It is therefore important to communicate clearly what are the intentions that guide your research, and present evidences that support your results. Evidences can be exposed as data, outcomes or references to other studies, but in a way that is easy to understand and access by a non-expert audience on the subject.
Usually, people is more interested in the results of a study than in knowing how they have been obtained. Therefore, it is important to be direct. Presenting the results first for afterwards developing the theme can be a good strategy to catch the attention of your listeners or readers.
Furthermore, it is important to filter the information that you would like the public to knew, and present only the one that is important to achieve your goal. Remember, less concepts, more explanations.
… without forgetting to entertain your audience!
Perhaps one of the most important factors for an effective science communication is to keep the audience entertained and interested. And how can you get it? In case you have not been able to clearly identify the interests of your audience, remember the following:
People want to hear or read compelling stories, human stories, those that refer to their lives and reality, or instead, those that allow them to dream.
It is therefore important to think about how you can bring your research closer to your audience. Do you find it difficult to find such link? You can always use metaphors or anecdotes you may have lived during your research, or even include some science fiction to bring your work to a field that your audience may know, and thus keep them connected.
Use simple and visually powerful messages…
Once considered the above, it remains to be seen how can you shape your messages. Your public may be varied, but likely will not know many of the scientific terms and concepts that are so familiar to you. Therefore, try to avoid jargon, formulas and statistical results.
And remember, our brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text.
While this is not always possible, you can try to find a way to express the same in a simple and attractive way. For this you can use images, photographs, videos or other visual aids to help you explain those abstract concepts or to make your messages more appealing.
… and always through the right channel
What is left now is choosing the most appropriate communication channel or media to connect with your audience. To do this, first you should consider what media your audience does not have access to, which one is not suitable for the format of the message you intend to convey, or what channels you cannot use due to budgetary reasons.
Once those media have been discarded, you will need to identify which one is your public’s preferred media. Generally, preferences on a particular media depend on socio-cultural factors, age range and level of education.
Thus, if your target audience covers a wide social spectrum, or includes people of very different ages, the best thing is to use traditional channels such as television or the printed press.
For six out of ten people, television is their main source of scientific information*
In the event that you have to address a young audience, it is advised to use online resources, such as online newspapers, science websites or social networks, as for half of the youth is the preferred way to access scientific information.
Moreover, within these resources, social networks are the chosen media to access to scientific information by one out of four of the people up to twenty-four years old. Therefore, it is desirable to keep abreast of new technologies so you can adapt your messages to the digital era.
Summarizing, to carry out an effective science communication is important to start by knowing your audience. Thus, you can tailor your messages to their interests and level of knowledge. In addition, you should limit the information you want to transmit to that strictly necessary. And finally, you must be careful with how you present it, include images to facilitate its understanding, and choose the best channel to deliver your message to the target audience.
As an example of an alternative and attractive way of presenting a message, here we include an infographic in which we summarise the most important elements explained above. Thanks for sharing.
*The population data have been extracted from “Public Attitudes to Science 2014”, they refer to the UK population, and are presented here for guidance purposes only.
- Nisbet, M. C., & Scheufele, D. A. (2009). What’s next for science communication? Promising directions and lingering distractions. American Journal of Botany, 96(10), 1767-1778.
- Castell, S., Charlton, A., Clemence, M., Pettigrew, N., Pope, S., Quigley, A., … & Silman, T. (2014). Public attitudes to science 2014. London, Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute. 194p.