John BESLEY, Michigan State University, United States
Leigh Anne TIFFANY, Michigan State University, United States
The proposed presentation will share research-based insights into how scientists think about science communication in the context of efforts to improve effectiveness. These insights were gained over three years of qualitative interviews with scientists involved in two “Long Term Ecological Research” (LTER) sites in the Northeastern United States. The interviews underlying the research occurred as part of a project that saw communication support and resources provided to the two LTER sites with an aim of increasing the impact of the sites’ scientific research. The desire for increased impact, however, competed with organizational missions emphasizing long-term research on basic (vs. applied) research questions.
Tentative initial findings include:
1. At the outset of the projects, it became clear that scientists at both sites were not eager for general science communication training, but instead looked to small, on-site communication teams for support and guidance on specific next steps. This desire for support (and training reticence) is noteworthy given the focus of many training efforts on short, general training courses and the frequent absence of communication support for scientists. This finding points towards the potential value of more targeted training and research aimed at better understanding the communication support structure available to scientists.
2. A mid-project change in site leadership and the departure of a key communication lead at one of the sites was associated with a seeming divergence in the priority that the two sites’ placed on enhancing engagement effectiveness. The central role that leadership and communication support play in enabling progress on communication efforts was evident in how interview subjects talked about public engagement efforts at the two sites, over time. This potential finding further points towards the central importance of communication infrastructure.
3. The mid-project leadership change and communicator departure may also have led to broader changes in the degree to which scientists at the sites developed a more sophisticated perspective on science communication. Sophistication, in this regard, might be understood as a combination of an increase in strategic thinking and a recognition that any such strategy needs to focus on long-term relationship building that emphasizes mutual respect and learning. Strategic thinking, in turn, could be understood in terms of scientists’ work to identify prioritize goals (e.g., ensuring that research insights generated are considered by government officials and land-managers). The emphasis on relationship building reflects a recognition that having an impact requires efforts to foster long-term relationships at that such relationships require both sharing and genuine listening. This potential finding could highlight the value of active efforts to work with scientists on strategic communication thinking and the challenge of doing so without a supportive environment.