December 21, 2022
On Wednesday afternoon at the 2022 AGU Fall Meeting, there was an AGU Signature Session titled “Skills for Science: Ask the Experts (SciComm and Public Engagement).” This session is held every year, consisting of a room with round tables for informal conversations rather than formal PowerPoint presentations. Each table has a designated topic and at least one person that AGU has asked to share their knowledge and experiences while facilitating a conversation on topics such as science policy, science and art, and the topic/table I was helping with – science communication to the public.
Communicating with the public was a very popular topic at the session, requiring us to pull over even more chairs to the table! The table was surrounded by those new to science communication to seasoned experts. No matter what the career stage or job title, all of us have much to share and to learn from each other. The question that came up most frequently was: “Where can I get resources on sharing with the public?” My first answer is always the AGU Sharing Science program – yet I was surprised at how many people were unaware of what is available through the organizers of our own meeting! I hope this blog post calls attention to some of what AGU has available, as well as a couple of additional resources that came up in our discussion.
AGU’s Sharing Science program
If you have not yet checked out the AGU Share and advocate for Earth and space science website, leave yourself enough time as you explore and click through the many resources and materials available.
Want to learn how to craft an elevator speech about your research? AGU has resources for that. Interested in tips for writing a plain-language summary? Speaking without using any science jargon? Working with the media? AGU has pulled these tips and resources together!
There is a YouTube playlist for the AGU Sharing Science program with webinar recordings on topics ranging from sketching science and engaging on social media, to writing op-eds and letters to the editor.
Don’t forget to follow The Plainspoken Scientist blog to stay informed on the latest outreach tips and best practices in science communication from AGU staff, experts, and scientists in the Sharing Science program. And be sure to take a listen to the AGU podcasts Third Pod from the Sun and Sci & Tell – excellent examples of storytelling in science!
Speaking of storytelling…
Storytelling with ABT and COMPASS Message Box
I will start with the most important step in telling a story – first, identify who is your audience. You cannot use the same message and approach with all audiences, so it is important to start with who you are trying to communicate with/to before framing the story you want to share.
At the Ask the Experts session, I shared two approaches I have used with my own students to move them away from writing a scientific report and instead have them share stories of science. And-But-Therefore (ABT) is a framework that has been used in Presidential speeches to GoFundMe campaigns. You can view a TED Talk by Randy Olson describing the approach. Dr. Olson has published books on science communication (I have my undergraduate student researchers read The Narrative Gym: Introducing the ABT Framework For Messaging and Communication) and has a podcast The ABT Time Podcast.
The COMPASS Message Box is another tool to prepare not just the “what” of your work, but “why” it matters. There is a template with five areas to fill out to best prepare for interviews, presentations, even grant proposals. This video is a very helpful overview of the approach, and the entire Message Box Workbook can be downloaded as a PDF for free.
Talking about climate change
Another very common question that came up at our discussion table was how to talk about climate change. Fortunately, the AGU Sharing Science program has an entire webpage with resources on How to Talk About Climate Change, including links to EOS articles on climate science communication.
And with such a wealth of resources out there, I always encourage people to view Dr. Katharine Hayhoe’s TED Talk, “The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: talk about it.” If you haven’t seen this one, you should check out how she customizes her climate message to the audience she is speaking with.
In addition to the above video, I have my students view this short interview Dr. Hayhoe did on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe Teaches Us How to Talk to People Who Don’t Believe in Climate Change. My students in my climate course say this is one of their favorite videos of the entire semester. (they also like this one, Climate Change Debate: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver)
Dr. Hayhoe also has an informative video series that is great for sharing with all audiences. You can check out my blog post on the Global Weirding video series (first post and second post), or go directly to the Global Weirding YouTube channel and start watching! If you prefer reading instead of videos, I highly recommend Dr. Hayhoe’s book Saving Us – A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World.
If you are looking for an additional book, All We Can Save – Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis has several examples of people talking about climate advocacy and action, and is perfect as a textbook in university courses (see how I use the climate action Venn diagram) and for community book discussion groups (see blog post). The All We Can Save website includes resources for climate emotions and workplace climate action.
There are a wealth of materials and resources available for communicating science to the public. What I have here isn’t even the tip of the iceberg, but I hope for those that aren’t yet familiar with these resources, this provides a materials for your science communication toolkit! And don’t forget to sign up and join the AGU Sharing Science community, connect with colleagues on AGU Connect, and more!