The do's and don'ts of science advocacy
Since 2016 I have started engaging with the general public through presentations, podcasts and interviews where I have been talking about different aspects of science. Also, since 2017 is part of my job to learn how to communicate effectively with policymakers and journalists ... so I thought about sharing what I learnt (and keep learning) with you.
* As with my other blog posts, I will be updating it constantly so stay tuned.
* Stakeholders could be journalists, policymakers or citizens.
Different audiences react differently to different narratives. Apply trial and error which "is the process of experimenting with various methods of doing something until one finds the most successful". This can easily be done on social media such as on Twitter.
Do not react badly when science deniers troll you on social media. A phrase written by you at a moment of bad temper can be used against you later. Remember that everything we write on the internet is like a tattoo.
If engaging on a debate with science deniers remember that you are not trying to convince THAT person about your point view. Your audience here is everyone following that debate online or offline.
If you are not sure about the answer to a question: be honest and do not be afraid to say that you "do not know" or that you "are not completely sure about it". This helps to build trust between you and the different stakeholders, they will know that when you say something is because you are certain about it.
Refer the stakeholders to your colleagues for the topics you are not sure about. This will enhance the overall content of the conversation and will help your team to engage with new stakeholders.
Use examples to communicate complex scientific concepts. Use stories that are close to people's daily life and emotions.
If you are talking about data and you are not 100% per cent sure about the numbers mention this to the stakeholder. Tell them that you will double-check the exact numbers after the conversation. Once you are certain about the facts contact them confirming or correcting the information you provided. It would be even better if you also send them some articles or scientific literature supporting your claims (highlight the part they may be interested in).
If engaging with journalists, ask them to show you the written piece before is published so you can ask them to clarify some parts if needed.
It is worthwhile explaining the difference between causal and coincidental events (for example when explaining the causes of diseases).
Do not use scientific jargon, avoid chemical names or gene names unless is widely know.
Some excellent reads that helped me to become better at science advocacy/communication:
- Bad Advice by Paul Offit (Book)
- The dos and don’ts of influencing policy: a systematic review of advice to academics by Kathryn Oliver & Paul Cairney (Scientific Article)