How can we engage broader audiences in our work? Tips for Effective Science Communication

On March 31st, we had the pleasure of learning from guest speaker Joey Lee – masters student of Geography at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada and Mozilla Science Fellow!

The aim of his seminar was to discuss first, what we can do to get our research out to a broader audience and also, what is the incentive to do so?

In science, we communicate our research by publishing. It is our common currency that can get us the recognition we need to obtain academic jobs. But, as Joey said, “only like 10 people will read it, with fewer really grasping your  point”! Furthermore, by only publishing your work in academic journals – you are limiting the audience based on journal accessibility  [insert shameless promotion for open source journals here!!]

So, how can we turn our work and data into something that is accessible to peers AND public or audiences that wouldn’t normally have access??

Joey’s major tip was that visualization is key – accessibility isn’t just about open access, we must also make sure the work we put out to a larger audience is both visually appealing, easy to navigate all while making your message understandable and out in the open. Visualization is more than just a graph – its the text, the font, the colors….its the whole experience!

Now then, what are our options? Joey provided some great examples that demonstrate  the spectrum of opportunity we can tap into, to communicate our science:

-anecdotal evidence, which is a podcast-esque way to tell stories about science, not necessarily the results –

-The world population project – which incorportates a whole lot of population data and statistics and places within an interactive interface that allow sfor demographic data to be accessible and informative to anyone! This is a really cool one, check it out!

– Selfie City – A site where researchers and designers explore selfies from across the world. This is more than a webpage- its an experience. Sort of like a visual journal article where the colors, graphs and text was directly decided for users experience. It’s a really interesting and abstract way of pulling data and drawing some broad conclusions as well, for example, each city has a different selfie style! 

This is all well and good, but you may ask – why do we need more science communication?

  • It can help put the public back in science (they fund us after all!)
  • It will help address broader audiences, which could lead to innovation/collaborations
  • It can attract more funding and interest 
  • It will put a face to the work

Ultimately, your research is cool and people should know how you spend your day!!!

The act of science communication is a process, which is not trivial. It includes :

  • Obtaining data ——> understanding of which takes many steps. and perhaps,  a lot of time 
  • Deciding how you may want to communicate your data
    • it helps to physically sketch out your ideas. pen to paper…
    • wireframe them [advanced sketch, a little closer to the real thing]
  • Prototyping your idea – build it!

Truly, it is about designing an experience around the thing you want to communicate, which, can include mechanisms that allow a mixture of user/viewer interactivity, exploration. (correct) translation, or all of the above!

We can also aim to do public speaking, journalistic writing, video+photography, etc. Often times, it is possible to find communities that can help you develop your skulls and taste (mozilla study groups;; student/special interest groups; local meet ups and hang outs; on the web)

In the end, all you need is a vision/idea AND a direction! So, get out there and start communicating!!!


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