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Panel 226 - Overcoming barriers to knowledge mobilization and science communication

Conference Day: 
Day 2 - November 8th 2018
Takeaways and recommendations: 

Making Science Matter: Overcoming barriers to knowledge mobilization and science communication

Organized by: Sean Young-Steinberg, Director, Operations and Business Development, NIVA Inc.

Speakers: Dr. Aline Dimitri, Executive Director, Food Safety Science Directorate and Deputy Chief Food Safety Officer, Canadian Food Inspection Agency; Jim Handman, Executive Director, Science Media Centre of Canada; Purnima Sundar, Director of Knowledge Mobilization, Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health

Moderator: Anton Holland, President and CEO, NIVA Inc.

Takeaways and recommendations

Context for why this topic is important:

  • Effectively communicating complex subject matter that is tailored to a wide variety of audiences, with messages that are clear, simple, and relevant, is not an easy task.

  • There is a growing acknowledgement that mobilizing scientific knowledge, whether from discovery to decision making, findings to funding, or from research to regulation, is an essential activity for many of the people at this conference, but one that is overlooked far too often.

  • It doesn’t matter if you are trying to reach end-users, decision-makers, or the public, this type of communication requires a relentless dedication to understanding your audience’s needs, and ensuring you have the strategies and tools in place to engage, inform, and motivate them.

  • The recent boost to funding for scientific research in this country is encouraging. However, in the longer term, the scientific community must concern itself about making sure Canadians understand: what are all these new activities going to achieve, how are they implicated in the results, and why should they support ongoing use of their tax dollars for them?

  • There is now tremendous potential to produce a large volume of important new scientific knowledge and information that can help us gain a better understanding of the world we live in, as well as innovative new technologies that improve our quality of life, and ways to reduce the impact humans are having on the planet.

  • While these efforts all have great merit on their own, without the capacity to effectively transmit this knowledge to the people who are in a position to make decisions or change their behaviours, little to no action will ever come of it.

Scientists: How to better communicate your work

  • The communication imperative: if your audience cannot understand the information you are giving them or don’t find it relevant, it is of little value.

  • There are 3 golden rules of communication:

  1. Know your audience (or you will have no audience):

    • Know their interests, education, biases, etc.

    • What motivates my audience? Making money, making choices, staying safe, etc.

  2. Your message should be easy to understand and retain. Should be applicable to our current understanding of the world.

  3. Tell a story:

    • Use a story construct: What was done? Where/why was it done? What’s next? What is the impact?

    • Focus on the interests of your audience.

    • Illustrate your story.

    • People tend to remember: analogies, stories, practical applications, something that makes people laugh or think.

  • Scientists face challenges when communicating their work:

    • There is a fear of the single opportunity: don’t try to cram everything into one interaction – the listener will be overwhelmed.

    • Science often zooms-in by design: zoom out to see how your work fits into a broader picture.

    • Overwhelming someone with information will cause them to seek answers elsewhere (Google), rather than trusting you, the reliable source.

  • Taking advantage of social media and the micro message involves:

    • Enticing people to learn more, getting them interested

    • Layering information

    • Communicating at different levels depending on the audience

  • Seize the opportunity. Innovate how your message is communicated, enhance the visual presentation, and use infographics. Build trust between the scientists and their interlocutors.

  • As a scientist, simplify your message. If you don’t, the media will and may misinterpret.

Organizations communicating science

  • Be aware of the “know-do gap”: what we know doesn’t always shape what we do.

  • Knowledge mobilization is putting research into action.

  • Create research summaries that meet the knowledge needs of the people using them; e.g., different uses and education levels.

  • “Policy-ready papers” can be developed and shared so that policymakers can access the information they need, when they need it.

  • Create learning resources: e.g., web videos helping youth support their peers, developed using evidence and in partnership with youth and practitioners.

  • Evaluate the impact: use web analytics, track implementation activities (e.g., policy change), and create an annual survey.

The makings of a good science story

  • A good story requires:

    • A good storyteller

    • A really cool or relevant topic: e.g., dinosaurs and climate change

  • A good storyteller:

    • Does not use jargon

    • Shows their enthusiasm

    • Uses analogies

  • Use the personal to draw people in: There is no “I” in team, but there is an “I” in science. Tell your story.

  • Even scientists are people too – it’s a great message!

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