6 March 2017

Considerations for Strategically & Effectively Communicating Your Science

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Lauren Childs-Gleason

The DEVELOP Everglades Eco team presents their poster as part of a collaboration between NASA and the National Park Service to celebrate the 2016 NPS Centennial. Photo Credit: NASA DEVELOP

Science is inherently exciting. Exploring new frontiers and discovering intricacies of dynamic systems that enhance our understanding of the planet, improves the quality of our lives. That is awesome and exciting. Yet sometimes scientific communication can be uninspiring – the stereotypical bespectacled professor wearing a lab coat and droning on about equations comes to mind.

How do we not be boring? How do we communicate more effectively and engage more deeply? How do we excite and entertain our audience so that they understand our science, its value, and want to learn more? Where should one begin when identifying a communication strategy?

How can you pursue a similar communication strategy? Consider these six steps:

  1. Audience is Key: Identify who you currently reach, and assess the level of engagement and your effectiveness. Brainstorm potential audiences you’d like to reach, strategize and research the best forum to engage them, and identify the method that best fits their interests and attention span.
  2. Build on Your Foundation: Start in the scientific world’s communication comfort zone of conference presentations, peer-reviewed publications, and websites. Is there anything you could be doing better or more effectively in these areas? How are those Power Points looking? Research ways to more effectively communicate quantitative data then proceed on.
  3. Consider Cadence: Some communication venues require much more constant communication to be effective (e.g. social media), while others can be served on demand (e.g. videos, brochures, websites). What communication cadence matches your science? And what can you personally keep up with?
  4. Develop Creativity: Use visualizations and the human element to connect with your audience. Explore new methods of sharing your science – short videos, virtual sessions, social media, interactive workshops, lightning talks, etc.
  5. Enlist Help: Assess resources available to help you communicate – both those that help inform you how to effectively communicate and those that actually communicate on your behalf. Look inside and outside your organization, professional societies like AGU, TED Talks, your public library, and then enlist others to help: volunteer organizations with shared goals, student interns, partner organizations, local universities, etc.
  6. Frequent Monitoring: Analytics allow you to measure the effectiveness of different approaches. Begin with your baseline, make your changes, then measure. Look at total number of people engaged, views, geographic reach, ‘likes’, or whatever measure makes sense for your approach. This is key to gauging success and ensuring you don’t waste effort in one pursuit that is not resonating when you could focus on another approach that is blossoming.

Serving as a keynote speaker promoting use of gender and GIS for disaster resilience. Photo Credit: NASA SERVIR-Mekong

It’s easy to get wrapped up in your science. Remember that effectively communicating your science and its value to a broader audience is critical. Employing a multi-faceted, interdisciplinary approach can keep it fresh and extend your reach.

Lauren Childs-Gleason serves as the National Operations Lead for NASA’s DEVELOP National Program at NASA Langley Research Center. DEVELOP, part of NASA’s Applied Sciences Program, conducts 70-80 applied Earth observation feasibility studies each year demonstrating the utility of NASA Earth observations to local communities.