Talking to Each Other

Scientists charmingly believe that if “the public” merely hears the discovered truth, it will be logically applied in all matters of public policy and personal behavior. If only….

But knowingly or not, subjects of technical impact are important to the public, from genetic testing, to atmospheric chemistry, to oil-spill remediation. How best to communicate in such territory is the subject of a paper published from a West Coast university consortium (Proceedings of the National Academies of  Sciences of the United States of America, 10.1073/pnas.0914292107).

The authors are ostensibly concerned with data on marine reserves off the California coast. Drawing on lessons learned through publicizing the results, they also offer a framework for communications pegged on four points:

  1. Know the audience. You can’t talk to policy makers the same way you talk to kids.
  2. Identify the main messages. Be clear, don’t dither, be minimalist on the number of points.
  3. Choose the communications tactics. Depending on context and individual style, you might be most effective with different channels: oral presentations, published articles, interviews, Web pages, films, slide shows.
  4. Measure success. Did you reach the chosen audience with the message you intended?

The first three are relatively easy; the fourth is difficult to impossible. It’s worth the effort, though, because the stakes are high in an era when knowledge and expertise are increasingly viewed with suspicion by large numbers of our fellow citizens.

Posted In: Education | Policy

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