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Communicating Science to the Public and Policy Makers

By Charlotte

Effective communication can influence the ideas of another person whether done verbally or non-verbally. It plays an important role in the achievement of educational, social and professional success and in turn the development and productivity of contributing citizens. Communicating science is therefore very vital in the growth of the country at large especially when done to policy makers and to the public.

These ordinary people in the society are considered not important to belong to a particular group of people. For communicating science to be effective, even this group of ordinary people need to understand the message which is being dispatched for societal growth. Understanding your general public is very important for communication. A message directed to the general public will not be delivered or presented in the same way as if it was to a particular public or group of people.

Public communication:

Public communication is mostly done by politicians, who do campaigns to persuade people to vote for them by giving their own opinions, ideas on public works, or speaking against or praising other parties.

Effective public communication involves good planning, craft persuasive messages and targeting the right audience. To be successful in public communication, good public speaking skills are very necessary for you to convey your message whether it is for a school, career advancement or just to increase your self confidence.

Public communication may take different forms depending basically on how and what the communicator wants to take across to the listeners. It may be a message to persuade (change beliefs, attitudes and behavior of the listener), entertain (amuse listeners) or to inform (create or ameliorate the understanding of something). A good speaker is often needed for public communication and this speaker should always remember that his image is very important for the audience. Also keep at the back of his mind that both he (the speaker) and the audience have needs which are met when the message is clearly understood and there is a good feedback.

A speaker who wants an effective public communication should always avoid choosing the wrong topic or being forced with a topic. You should choose a topic you can best elaborate on which could be from your personal experience or on things you are versed with. Do not turn your back away from the audience or put your hands in your pocket and neither use a lot of ums or jargons which could only be used in your field of study nor talk too fast and with a low tone etc.

Public communication can help to inform other scientists of your own activities, overcoming the barriers that separate different disciplinary fields. This is important because current trends try in every way that knowledge should be seen in a holistic manner and not at different angles or from different fields of study.

Communicating sciences

Science makes the world turn around with its great and wonderful experiments and findings but it is always very difficult for sciences to be communicated to the public that needs the findings. In communicating sciences, there are different tools which are used to help understand these concepts for it to be used for effective development and the growth of every nation.

Most at times communicating sciences effectively to the public or to policy makers is very complicated and difficult to get across either due to the fact that scientists forget that the public is made up of different audiences with different backgrounds. A researcher should not present the same message he presented to a scientific conference to congressional officials or to the rotary club. This can greatly be avoided if the researcher tries to understand his audience and channels his message to the specific audience where he is found. The following steps can be taken to communicate science;

Step 1: Good Preparation

Communicating science requires a good communicator who prepares ahead of time. The researcher should be prepared to pick the opportune time to speak and be open minded. Make sure the audience is present and moves along with him in the presentation.

Scientists and the public have different styles in communicating. Communicating science always has a protocol and scientist always like to place their communication in a historical context, starting from the introduction, methods, discussion and conclusion. Scientists also describe tons of background information before giving results because that’s how they were trained through school to write their thesis, dissertation or scientific presentations. When communicating science to the public, this protocol is supposed to be flipped away and the researcher should always try to invert the communication pyramid by starting first with the conclusion and this should be concise, simple and straight to the point.

 Step 2: Build a Comfortable Atmosphere

Relax for better communication; the relaxed atmosphere creates a sense of confidence and helps in avoiding mistakes. Preparing a science communication in the form of a marketing package convinces your audience. Creating a comfortable atmosphere is by getting everyone involved and letting them know their opinions count. This can be done through small workshops, team work exercises, interactive question and answer.

Step 3: Work with Persons of other fields

Good scientific communication is very essential to career development and to the progress of science as a whole. Science is best communicated when barriers are broken through other fields eliminating the understanding of findings only by a particular group of scientist but working together with people in other fields for there to be effective communication i.e. looking at science in a holistic manner (earth system science) and not an abstract event only for a group of scientists or people.

Step 4: Choose the right message and encourage team work

A scientist should therefore choose a particular message that he wants to get across and avoid having many things to say or get across in one message because it can confuse the listeners; making the work to be less convincing to the general public and policy makers.

Science communication aims first at conveying important information or findings to the broadest audience possible while also convincing the specialist that their findings are credible. This can easily be done by structuring or arranging your manuscript or message in the best way and also getting a good communicator to convey the message to the general public or policy makers especially if you know you are not really good in communicating. Science communication is done effectively when each person in a group knows exactly his/her task and accomplishes it in the best way that they can thereby facilitate the work to the person who is charged of conveying this message to the general public and to policy makers.

Step 5: Choose a communication center

Effective science communication also requires the scientist to choose the right communication center through which the message would get across to their targeted audience. Communication center could be an agency charged with the responsibility of controlling communication traffic and transmitting the message to the right audience at the right time. This communication center involves different facilities ranging from a message center to transmitting and receiving facilities. In a communication center, communication skills are being enhanced especially in public speaking and one on one interview. Communication centers in some organizations like the police, Emergency Medical Services Authority, schools and safety alert individuals are a state of the art facility featuring satellite monitoring computers, aided dispatch system in collaboration with some other services like the ambulance service and fire service; they utilize emergency calls to make sure they get to the callers who need help as early as possible. As rapid as the communication center can deliver a message to the right audience, that is how science communication should also be transmitted rapidly to the general public and policy makers.

Scientific research is often funded by public funding and it is very important to let the general public and policy makers get the different findings associated to the research so that they can in turn benefit from recent developments. Researchers have to learn inevitably therefore to work with the media in order to communicate science to the public and policy markers.

Step 6: Relate Science to day to day activities

Communicating sciences is very good when the communicator adapts a story telling attitude which he tells the people especially concerning their community; this tells the people that he is concerned about them and their growth thereby involving the public and would be easy to transmit your message to the public and why not the policy makers. Relating science to our day to day activities makes it very easy for it to be understood by the public. Communication is effective in sciences when the listeners integrate and can easily tell their colleagues or their neighbors essentially what they have gotten from your talk and what is it that you want to contribute to what they already know so always try to relate to daily activities and bring new ideas.

Telling the public that offshore geophysical survey is bad for the earth by telling exactly what it causes like destruction of sea animals and plankton which is food for some sea animals makes it easy for some measures to be taken especially by policy makers.

Importance of communicating sciences:

Good communication is very important and should not be minimized especially in the society or where ever you find yourself. Communicating science is adequate if it reaches people with the information that they need and in the form that they can use. The importance of communicating is very vital for the growth of the country and the society at large.

Scientists are aware that it is very important to communicate whether they are into it or not but they know it is important to communicate science first for their own personal satisfaction. Every scientist has a natural burning desire to disseminate his findings either on his personal research or from a research in his field of study. It is very rewarding to go out of one’s specialization and share your passion with the other people around you and this act is very satisfying especially if the person gets back a positive feedback.

An importance of communicating science is also to transmit your passion to get good results. When a scientist doing a personal research sits without communicating his findings even to his group or to other researchers, be very sure that the outcome would not be very good as communication would allow room for more critics and while correcting his errors, his research would definitely have a good outcome. Science information can also be communicated by telling science stories. This helps to convey the value of the scientific way of thinking and the way scientist think rationally to problems even to those who have nothing to do with science.

Science literacy still remains very low in our society today that’s why it is very important to communicate science as this is needed for many things like guiding our sense of wonder of the world around us today. Most people see mountains, lakes, caves and in these caves pillars, stalactites and stalagmites and keep wondering how these features came about; thanks to science communication which has helped us decode these mysteries making us see them as easy things which did not appear by magic.

If communicating sciences in the past was an option, now a days, it is very important because in the last few years, the relationship between scientists and the society has changed drastically leaving some people to even talk about the transition of “academic” science to “post academic science”. It is now common these days to see some key decisions related to science which are no longer made by scientists or the scientific community alone. They have now become a complex negotiation involving different groups of people from the national and local politicians, private and multinational companies, associations, lobbies or special interest groups and the media. Therefore for this decision to be taken, all these groups of people have to be convinced they are making the right choice and are giving the project or grant to the right group of scientists.

Communicate sciences has further advantage as it helps to tell people the benefits, risk and other costs of their decisions therefore allowing them to make inform choices. Scientists should have it at the back of their minds that the goal of communication is not for any agreements and should expect very few agreements.

Communicating science is important because it can capture people’s imagination, start meaningful debate and discussion that give science a stronger presence in our society. It also has the potential to boost a stronger union of the public and scientific values which can lead to a better scientific research, funding and better science articles in newspapers.

Most people say that science ought to be communicated before executed which is often not the case. This would be difficult to maintain because science needs funding and needs to convince a group of people to get this funding. When they have the funding they go straight to execution and wait for tangible results before getting back to the public and the funders. The importance of communicating science to the public is to get better collaborations usually with people from other fields and not necessarily from your field alone.

Communicating science is very important as it waters scientific cross pollination thereby broadening the scientific enterprise. This can be seen especially in biological science as it comprises a vast web of highly interconnected sub-disciplines.

When a researcher communicates, he stays in line with social and ethical issues, develops his interpersonal skills, gets a broad knowledge on national and global data collection, raises his profile and can easily get a better quality grant application. Also, communicating sciences helps universities adapt to the changing world, there is accountability and transparency giving relevance to their work by increasing research quality and its impact. Moreover, communicating sciences is important as it encourages networking opportunities, preventing poor and antique social norms.

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