Sunday, 14 July 2019

Reaching and interacting with your intended audience as a science communicator

Earlier this month I was in Lausanne, Switzerland, for the World Conference of Science Journalists. I took part in an event organised by the Jacobs Foundation called 'The science of learning and science journalism'. In the morning session, I ran one of four parallel rotating round-table discussions, with the others led by Nora Maria Raschle, Cristina Riesen, and Sabine Gysi. 

My round-table focused on reaching and interacting with your intended audience as a science communicator, journalist, or editor. I used examples of my educational neuroscience work aimed at facilitating conversations between neuroscientists and teachers. Within the group discussions I asked the following questions of the journalists present to stimulate discussion:
  • How can we know whether or not our communications with the public have been helpful and effective and reached the right people?
    This is a challenge I have faced during my science communication work, where I have written blog posts or created some kind of output designed for teachers, and been unsure whether or not teachers have acted on the information, or even accessed the output.
  • Do the best solutions for change come from moving beyond traditional written journalistic pieces?
    When communicating science, we are often hoping to cause some kind of change - for example, thinking about something in a different way, or using a new strategy in the classroom. I wondered if outputs like video or podcast are more effective in causing change than articles or blog posts.
  • If so, what can journalists (and editors) do differently?
    Do more efforts need to be made to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and try something new?
  • What types of format best lend themselves to reaching and getting useful feedback from the public?
    If we want to know what impact we are having, getting feedback from users is essential.
I had engaging conversations with each group that participated, and there were a number of common areas that we spoke about. Most people agreed that a diversity of formats is important for the most impact - and in particular, podcasts were thought to be the best way of reaching audiences. This format allows for more in depth discussion of key issues, and can keep the attention of users for a long period of time. 

Social media was brought up in each discussion. Overall it was felt that this is a valuable tool for sharing information and also for getting feedback. Some warned of the possibility of stories turning into click-bait if social media interactions become the most important metric. Another concern was that this method can only reach a small group of users, potentially those most keen, as many don't use social media. There was agreement that social media isn't enough if we want to truly interact with our audience. Conversations need to happen in real life, and to get the most valuable feedback, we need to embed ourselves into our audiences.

Finally, many of the discussions ended up concluding that while we can and should make efforts to reach our intended audiences and get feedback, we need to accept that we can't always get the feedback we want. Writers, journalists and editors need to create the stories they want to share, and hope that they do have some impact.

Thank you to everyone who engaged in these discussions, to Sabine Gysi for inviting me to take part, and to the Jacobs Foundation for supporting my trip to Lausanne.

Picture: Cristina Riesen. L-R Cristina Riesen, Annie Brookman-Byrne, Nora Maria Raschle, Sabine Gysi.

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