Tailoring science messages to support evidence-based decision making
By Scientell intern, Nick Jackson
There are many ways we can communicate a message. Imagine you were teaching someone to wash their hands for the first time. You could use an audio message, a fact on bacterial contamination, a cartoon illustration, or a short video. Which one do you think gives the clearest message? Now ask a friend or family member. Ask another friend. There’s a diverse range of responses. To communicate science effectively, we must first understand how different groups of people best interpret information.
Scientell’s communication products encourage audiences to engage with and reflect on information. Part of the skill of communication specialists is understanding which methods to use when connecting with different audiences. Science communicators must understand the audience’s needs and priorities to engage meaningfully with them. The communicator can then tailor their message accordingly.
Transforming facts into actions
In the movie Don’t Look Up, the character Teddy Oglethorpe says, ‘Short, sweet, and simple science. Science tells us the truth’. What Teddy does not acknowledge is that science only states factual truths. When conveying science, the language and the format we use contribute to whether the audience will recognise science in their personal truths (beliefs) or become polarised by it. A communicator’s job is not to spout facts but to show how these facts fit into their audience’s life. If someone feels personally connected to the science, they are more likely to incorporate evidence-based information into their life.
Science is vital in supporting policies and strategies across government and industry. Science communicators and knowledge brokers communicate evidence in a clear and engaging way. Using an engaging format such as concise, punchy, well-designed brochures and fact sheets that demonstrate how science aligns with stakeholders’ perspectives encourages evidence-based decision making.
Here are four steps to help a science communicator engage with their target audience.
- Understand your audience’s perceptions, priorities and needs.
- Understand what form of communication is best suited to your audience.
- Explain how science relates to and can benefit the audience’s priorities and needs through a verbal and/or visual medium.
- Don’t tell; communicate in a way that prompts the audience to think critically about the information instead of letting it wash over them.