Science communication often involves numbers. It comes with the territory. And all these statistics and data can easily become a real barrier to your intended audience understanding or taking notice of what you have to say. Especially when you’re trying to reach non-experts. But data doesn’t have to be dull or complicated – just like anything else, it’s all in the execution.
In day-to-day life, most people don’t deal with big numbers or complicated comparisons. It’s probably also fair to say that, like us, people often switch off if they don’t immediately appreciate the relevance of whatever it is you’re trying to quantify or demonstrate. So, what is the answer?
Well, that all depends on what data or information you’re trying to get across, but the starting point is to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. How much of the data do they actually need to know? What are the key figures that you want them to take on board? What’s their likely level of understanding? Are they familiar and already engaged with the topic, or is it completely new to them?
Like any key message, it’s about prioritising and keeping it as clear and simple as possible. For instance, explaining how many people are affected by an issue can be very difficult, particularly if it’s large numbers. But put that number into a perspective that your audience will understand, such as enough people to fill Wembley Stadium, and they might start to visualise or grasp the scale. In fact, comparing figures to everyday things can be used in all sorts of ways and is a great way to help people understand and remember key statistics. Also think about how accurate you need to be. Does your target audience need to know it’s 64% or will ‘around’ or ‘over’ 60% do? As an expert in your field you might feel like you’re sacrificing or over-simplifying important details, but remember that less is usually more.
That said, sometimes lots of numbers can’t be avoided and it’s not that straight forward. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be dry or complicated either. Think carefully and creatively about how you can present your data - is there a way you can make it more visually appealing or easier to digest? There are lots of great examples out there, from ways to present a one-off data set beyond a traditional graph to inspiring infographics that outline several related sets of data or numerical information.
The more relevant, attention-grabbing, understandable and interesting you can make any numbers or data, the more likely people are to engage with them. And, at the end of the day, if your aim is to communicate your area of work or issue, then the number of people who hear about it is the most vital statistic of all.
© Tangelo House
It’s a simple and broad statement, but when it comes to public engagement, it couldn’t be more true. Any kind of public engagement should always be a two-way dialogue and have mutual benefits - sharing really is the golden rule! Let us explain…
In the first instance, it’s about opening up your work or project by inviting others to get involved because you care about getting it right and having a positive, well-informed impact. It’s about sharing your aims so everyone understands what the end goal is, then sharing information, knowledge and ideas to get there together.
As your project or activity progresses, it’s important to keep everyone in the loop and share updates about any changes you’ve had to make, any bumps in the road or key milestones that you’ve reached. By doing this you’re showing that you care about your participant’s input, that you’re listening to what they have to say and genuinely allowing them to help guide your work.
Once you reach the finish line, it’s important to let people know what you did and how you did it, as well as what you achieved. And not just those involved in your project, but a wider audience of peers, enthusiasts and people with a particular interest. By sharing what you’ve learned and your experience – of the process, what went well (and, often more importantly, not so well), what you might do differently in future, what you would absolutely make sure you do again – everyone learns. You learn, your colleagues learn and others considering or undertaking engagement activities get to benefit from your experience too. All of which can only help to drive better, more effective public engagement all the way round.
So, sharing really is caring…and caring is sharing too.
© Tangelo House
It’s a busy, noisy world out there. To give your communication the best chance of cutting through all the other voices, we’ve spelled out the important things to consider as you develop your activity or campaign.
C is for clarity – whether it’s your aim, target audience, key messages or measures of success, the important thing is to be CLEAR!
O is for objectives – they should be specific and measurable. Objectives are vital for outlining exactly what you want to achieve, how and when.
M is for metrics and measures – a key element of planning the evaluation of your activity is to think about the different metrics and measures that will allow you to show how you have met your set objectives.
M is also for messages – and by this we mean a few key messages. You might feel like you have a lot you want to tell people, but it’s important to prioritise. What are the 2 or 3 most important points that you want your target audience to understand or take away?
U is for underpinned by insight or evidence – a strong, compelling campaign or argument needs good quality insight or evidence to back it up. It will increase the chances of your message cutting through and being understood.
N is for numbers – think carefully about how to present them in a way people will understand or to make them relatable to maximise the impact of data.
I is for informed – don’t just assume that your key messages are clear, will be understood and have the desired effect. Test them with a sample of your target audience and refine them as needed to make sure they have the best chance of cutting through.
C is for being creative – there are a lot of people out there communicating science to the public, so be creative in your ideas for how you can get your messages across. Likewise, if you’re aim is public engagement - you need to drive people’s interest to involvement and make participation appealing.
A is for action – if you want people to do something as a result of your communication you need a clear call to action. But remember to be sparing and just stick to one, as multiple actions might just confuse your audience and result in no action being taken at all.
T is for targeted – who, what, how, where, when…to maximise the chances of successfully reaching the right people at the right time, every element needs to be targeted in the right way.
I is for impact – think about what difference you want your communication or engagement activity to make and how you’ll measure any impact as a result.
O is for outcomes – these will help you measure the impact we just mentioned! Outputs will demonstrate what you did, but tangible outcomes will really show whether you raised awareness or changed anything.
N is for narrative – if you want your target audience to take notice of what you have to say, especially if you want them to act on it, you need to explain why it matters and why it’s relevant to them. You need to take people on a journey, if you want to really engage them.
If you want more practical know-how, and to learn how to increase the impact of your communications, check out our course ‘The Basics of Science Communication’.
© Tangelo House
There are often times when we need to capture the views of people. And if you want to know what people think about something then you just have to ask them. But it’s not always that simple. To get the information that will meaningfully inform your work you have to ask the right questions in the right way.
Surveys are being carried out all the time but not all data gathered is of the same quality. Some people design questions to get the answers they want to hear in order to prove a point, perhaps by asking leading questions or restricting the options that respondents can choose from. However, results from surveys like this may be easily discredited because of the way they are collected in the first place. Sensational, yet poor quality, survey results may make the headlines for a day or two but if you want to make a long-term, appropriate impact you’ll require credible evidence.
For a start, you need to make sure you design your questionnaire in the right way. Here are five tips to bear in mind when designing your questionnaire:
1. Know what exactly you intend to do with the results – Before you even start writing your questionnaire, you should be clear on exactly what you want to know and why. Your survey should have a tangible purpose.
2. Be clear - Make sure your questions, and any response options you offer, are really clear. If there’s any ambiguity in the mind of the respondent, then you may have problems interpreting the results.
3. Understand data protection requirements – There are legal requirements regarding how you obtain, hold and use personal data. Let people know what you intend to do with any personal details they may provide and how you will use their feedback.
4. Survey length – Consider how much time it will take people to complete your questionnaire. Don’t make it too long or a lot of people will get bored and give up. Let participants know approximately how long it will take them to complete the it.
5. Thank participants for their time – After all, they don’t have to take time out of their busy lives to fill in your questionnaire but they’ve chosen to help you out. So, don’t they deserve a little thanks? It doesn’t cost anything and everyone appreciates good manners!
Of course, there are many other things you need to know when carrying out surveys including: targeting the right audience in the right way, knowing what sample size would give you the most helpful results, deciding whether the results are representative, and how to accurately interpret the results. As William W. Watt once said: “Do not put your faith in what statistics say until you have carefully considered what they do not say.”
We recommend seeking guidance in designing, implementing and interpreting your survey. From courses, to books, to online resources, there are a wealth of sources out that there that can help.
© Tangelo House 2020
Getting involved with someone can be daunting - it could lead to heartache, but it can also reap big rewards. Ultimately, it’s a two-way street. The same can be said of public engagement. It's is all about involvement, two-way communication and building a strong working relationship. It takes patience, trust and effort to really make it work.
When you're at the very beginning of a piece of work, just the idea of involving others can raise all sorts of questions and concerns - where do you start? How do you manage the input from someone else? Where will it lead? It can seem overwhelming or confusing but you just need to take it one step at a time. Think of it like you would any other kind of budding relationship.
1. Decide to get engaged. You've met someone you really like and want them to be a bigger part of your life. Or in this case, you have a project you're really passionate about and feel that it would benefit from a particular group or audience getting more involved in it.
2. Get ready to take the plunge. You want to propose, but it's a big step - you don't want to mess it up, so you think about what you'll say. Maybe rehearse it to make sure you get it right. Similarly, before you invite others to get involved in your work or project, you need to get your aim and objectives sorted. Make sure they're clear about what you want to achieve, and about what you want from their involvement - do you want to consult them or do you want to collaborate with them? People are more likely to say yes if they understand what you're asking of them.
3. Don't propose to just anyone! Just like most of the other relationships in your life, you're looking for someone you have something in common with. In terms of your project, think about the target audience for your involvement - it might be a group of people with shared experience of a particular issue or who share a relevant interest or hobby that could support your work in some way.
4. Develop a relationship. The participants that get involved in your work are your partners, so you need to treat them as such. You need to talk to them, really listen to what they have to say, don't make assumptions, and show them you value their input. Like any relationship in life, you have to work on it. Of course, you might disagree sometimes, but keep an open dialogue so you can work through it and navigate any bumps in the road together.
5. Take time to check in and reflect. In any relationship, two-way communication is key and it's good to take time to think about how things are going and the direction you're headed in. The idea is that the process is mutually beneficial. Monitoring your public engagement, both in terms of getting feedback from participants on their involvement and any activities you deliver, will help make sure it's working well and flag up if anything needs adjusting. And when you get to the end of your project, a thorough evaluation should reveal its impact as well as provide lots of learnings you can share with others and take into future work.
If you think your work might benefit from involving others - whether it's patients, people in a particular community or location, or people with experience of a particular issue, don't be shy. Take a leap, reach out and see what amazing things you can achieve together.
If you would like to learn more about public engagement, why not sign up to our online training course, ‘An Introduction to Effective Public Engagement’?
© Tangelo House 2020
Ask someone how they measure the success of their communication or engagement activity and you'll undoubtedly hear something along the lines of:
“media coverage showing how many people we've reached”
“the number of events we've delivered during the campaign period - and how many people attended"
“the number of leaflets distributed to people in the target audience”
“the number of visitors to a particular web page”
Now, all those things have value and are a brilliant way to show what you DID. They're all the OUTPUTS of your activity and are part of the rich tapestry that is a good, thorough evaluation. But, say your objective was to raise awareness of an issue with people in your target audience. Would any of these things show how your activity was received? Would they tell you if it had the intended impact and raised awareness? This is where OUTCOMES come in.
Outcome measures tell you whether people saw your leaflets or posters and whether they know more about the issue as a result. They can also tell you which particular messages have cut through and whether people have taken an action (if you prompted them to).
Now there's a good chance that for at least some outcomes, you'll need a baseline - a starting point showing existing levels of awareness and so on - for comparison afterwards. For example, how will prove you increased awareness if you don’t have data on what the level of awareness was before your activity? If you don't have baseline information already, you'll need to gather this before you deliver your activity, which is why it's so important to plan your evaluation carefully at the outset.
We're talking right at the very beginning, when you're defining exactly what you want to achieve. At that point, you need to make sure you're also thinking about how you will measure whether you successfully meet every element of your aim and objectives. Think about what you'll need to demonstrate and the methods that will help you do that. Will you need quantitative data? How about qualitative feedback? Or, as is often the case, will a combination of both be required? Do you need to measure aspects before AND after the activity? Get these things straight and you'll be on the right track to measuring the real impact of your activity.
So next time someone asks about how you measure the success of your activity, make sure your answer includes both...
Outputs - what you PUT OUT into the world, and
Outcomes - what COMES OUT of your activity - what difference it made.
Because one without the other, can only tell half the story.
© Tangelo House 2020
To successfully execute any kind of communication or engagement, you move through a basic trinity of activities: you plan, you deliver, you evaluate. Simple, no? Well, not necessarily. Like so many situations in life, there’s usually a favourite and there’s always the quiet, understated one that can easily go unnoticed. Like all those drummers in bands you would struggle to name, even though you can list every lead singer!
In this scenario, planning and delivery typically get all the attention – or rather the time, effort and resource you put into a project. Planning something new is exciting: it’s full of ideas, creativity and collaboration. Then there’s the thrill of delivering it and seeing all those ideas and everyone’s hard work come to life. You might give a little bit of thought to evaluation along the way but, with planning and delivery being more flashy and shouting louder, it finds itself left sitting in a corner until everything quietens down a bit and someone remembers it’s still there. However, you’re then required to show just how successful your project has been, so you pull up its chair. You remind yourself of the objectives, throw together some figures that demonstrate what you’ve done, add a bit of feedback from people involved, and job done. Right?
Wrong. Just like those aforementioned drummers, good evaluation is the backbone of any well-planned, successful activity or project. It holds the whole thing together so you can see where it’s working, where it’s not and what the ultimate impact is. It’s not just counting in the rest of the band or doing a quick solo at the end of the song – it’s there from the start to the very end providing a steady beat throughout.
And it’s not just about doing any evaluation activity; you need to do it properly. Getting it right is vital if you genuinely want to understand the success of your activity. So, what does ‘getting it right’ look like? (Here come a lot of terms beginning with ‘o’… - see the end of article if you’re not sure what they mean!) Good evaluation involves measuring a range of outcomes that show the difference your activity has made, as well as the outputs of what you actually did (we’ll cover more about outputs and outcomes in a future article). Those outcomes should relate to your set objectives, and you need to think about how you’ll measure them at the OUTSET of your project – if some outcome measures require baseline data, you’ll need to know that and deal with it before you deliver your activity.
Good evaluation is about monitoring the impact of your activity whilst it’s live. If something’s not working, it can quickly let you know that something needs tweaking. And like anything good or worthwhile, the more you put in, the more you get out. And without it? There’s the danger that you don’t reach the people you really need to, or that you waste time and resource repeatedly doing the same ineffective things. Best case, your activity just doesn’t do anything or cut through, worst case, it could cause more issues or misunderstanding.
So think of evaluation like a straight-talking, honest friend at your side to guide you through your project with insight and sound advice. If, at any point in a project’s lifecycle, you can’t hear its measured tones in your ear, take a look around and make sure it hasn’t been relegated to that quiet corner. Allow it its share of the limelight, and you will be repaid well in the long term.
Objective – Defines what you aim to do or achieve. Objectives should be specific and have clear, measurable outcomes.
Output – Demonstrates what you did, for example, the number of leaflets handed out or the number of workshops delivered.
Outcome – Shows the impact of your activity, for example, increased awareness or change in attitudes or behaviour.
© Tangelo House 2020
We’re living at a time where many people trust influencers and compelling orators more than facts and evidence. This is leading to widespread misinformation, misunderstanding and ‘fake news’, and potentially shaping how society responds to issues. But why is this happening? Surely, there are plenty of well-qualified people out there regularly communicating the facts – why are they not more influential?
A business strategy model, called ‘The Black Box Model’, may help explain. In ‘The Decision Book: Fifty models for strategic thinking’, Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler outline the concept as they clarify ‘why faith is replacing knowledge’. It goes something like this…
Our world is constantly becoming more complex. Topics are no longer black or white, good or bad, or right or wrong, but are multifaceted, nuanced and evolving. Technology is now far more difficult to understand (just compare the workings of a smartphone to an old dial phone), health issues and treatments are a minefield, and what we should eat or drink or buy or boycott seems to change daily. These are just a few examples but illustrate that as things get more complicated, we find it more challenging to keep up. In part, this is because the more society discovers and invents, the more there is to know, and no one can know about everything. So, as individuals, the amount we know about actually constantly drops.
We are increasingly surrounded by ‘black boxes’ – complex constructs we find hard to understand, even if they are explained to us. The idea is that we don’t understand the inner workings of these black boxes but, despite this, we integrate their inputs and outputs into our decision-making. For example, some of us may not understand the detail of how online banking works but we trust that it does what it’s supposed to do and incorporate it into our everyday lives. These black boxes will be different for everyone, but there will be common issues that are too complex for most people to understand. Because we can’t hope to understand everything, and we have to just trust things we don’t understand, society is placing more importance on those who can explain something, or at least say something convincing that we believe (even if it’s inaccurate), than the explanation itself. (Just look at the influence of 'how-to' videos on YouTube and Instagram as examples!) Krogerus and Tschäppeler assert that as time goes on, we will need to place greater emphasis on images and emotions in order to convince people, rather than using arguments.
It’s all about building trust and using the right communications to build it. So, how can science communicators use this concept to make sure the right information is trusted and accepted?
© Tangelo House 2020
Are you thinking of getting involved in science communication or are you a science communicator looking to expand your skills and reach? Then joining a network for science communicators is a great way to take that leap forward.
Interest and involvement in science communication has grown exponentially in recent years. Science communicators work in a huge range of settings, delivering diverse and engaging activities around the world. To keep on top of their game, science communicators often join networks to learn from each other, as well as share and develop new approaches to the field. There are numerous science communication networks in existence, many within academic settings. Here, we provide a handy list (in alphabetical order) of some of the largest networks around the world, outside of academic institutions, that support and promote science communication. Why not get involved?
1. Africa Science Communication Network
Africa Science Communication Network is Africa’s next generation global research and innovation integrated knowledge management network. A professional environment where scholars, investigators, change managers, science communicators, research administrators, development officers and policymakers can access donor-funded programmes and expertise to collaborate and expand their networks – all in one hub. It offers a subscription-based suite of productivity tools and is available to professionals interested in science research, technology and innovation around the world with an exclusive focus on Africa.
2. ASPAC Asia Pacific Network of Science & Technology Centres
The Asia Pacific Network of Science & Technology Centres (ASPAC) is an association of science centres, museums and related organisations, with a regional focus on the Asia Pacific region.
3. Australian Science Communicators
Australian Science Communicators is the national forum for science communicators and science journalists. It is a national network of people working in science and technology communication, including science journalists and writers, public information officers for academic and research organisations, scientists, museum professionals, science educators, science film-makers, and many other diverse professions united by the common theme of making science accessible.
4. BIG STEM Communicators Network (UK)
BIG is a not-for-profit organisation for all people involved in informal science communication activities and hands-on education projects in the UK. It runs regular events and training courses on issues relevant to science communication and informal science and maths education. It also provides opportunities for networking and for sharing skills, knowledge and best-practices.
5. European Science Communication Institute
ESCI is a not-for-profit organisation that empowers scientists, helping them communicate and connect with the public to bridge the gap between science and society. ESCI strives to foster greater understanding and raise support for scientific endeavours across the board.
6. Indian Science Communication Society
The Indian Science Communication Society’s purpose is to position science communication as an area of serious scholarly endeavour to realise the goals of science and technology Communication and to popularise science and scientific temper among the Indian masses.
7. Japanese Association for Science Communication
The Japanese Association of Science Communication (JASC) is an association which functions as a platform for all people related to science communications. JASC promotes science communication to enhance science literacy of the whole society, and contributes to the realisation of a society where the public can proactively be involved in issues surrounding science and technology.
8. National Association of Science Writers (USA)
The National Association of Science was established to foster the dissemination of accurate information regarding science through all media normally devoted to informing the public. Its officers have included both freelancers and employees of most of the major newspapers, wire services, magazines, and broadcast outlets in the country. Above all, NASW fights for the free flow of science news.
9. PCST Network Public Communication of Science and Technology (international)
The global network for science communication. The PCST Network seeks to promote new ideas, methods, intellectual and practical questions, and perspectives on the communication of science and technology.
The network for science communication in Latin America and the Caribbean.
11. Science Communication Network (USA)
Science Communication Network (SCN) is a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting environmental health scientists in their efforts to contribute to public dialogue about their work through the media. It provides media training specific to communicating environmental health research, and reaches out to science, health and other interested journalists to inform them regarding important new science.
12. Science Communicators Association of New Zealand
The Science Communicators Association of New Zealand provides a community for science communicators to discuss and debate their craft with others, and hosts science communication events throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.
13. Science Writers and Communicators of Canada
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada is a national association that welcomes media professionals, communications officers in science and technology-related institutions, technical writers and educators – all of whom are involved in communicating science and technology to non-specialist audiences. It fosters quality science communication that links science and technology communicators from coast-to-coast. In the process, members volunteer their time toward a series of programs committed to increasing public awareness of, and engagement with, Canadian science and technology – particularly among youth.
© Tangelo House 2020
We know what it’s like. You’re working on a project or issue. It’s exciting or important (possibly both!). And it’s SO tempting to launch straight into developing a product of your choice – maybe an event, poster, article, video or talk - without taking time to think about who you’re are aiming your work at and in what format those people would actually prefer to receive the information. In other words, how do you know they’ll be interested in what you’re presenting and how you’re presenting it? That’s why, when you’re planning any wide communication, campaign or engagement activity, it’s essential to just pause for a moment and consider who your ‘target audience’ is. But what is a target audience and why is it important?
In a nutshell, a target audience is a group of people that will have most interest in what you have to say – they’re the ones your project or the issue is most relevant to. People often tell us that they struggle to define their audience and they feel that what they have to say is relevant to everyone. But this simply isn’t effective and taking a one-size-fits-all approach to communication and engagement might ultimately fail to reach, or have an impact on, anyone!
The ‘public’ is a very big, diverse group – you can’t engage successfully with everyone and it's very unlikely that everyone needs or wants to hear what you have to say. Do preschoolers, people in care homes, or prisoners need to know? Will cinema-goers be as interested as train enthusiasts? Or tall, bearded male cyclists be more engaged than red-haired, violin-playing female chefs? You might laugh, but these examples illustrate that there are many, many ways to segment your audiences by their characteristics or interests.
Defining and segmenting target audiences can involve a variety of factors, depending on what you are trying to achieve. Who might be affected by a particular issue or who would particularly interested in it? Are there people who need to hear about the issue as they have the power to take action? Does your area of work or the issue mean that you are looking at a very niche audience? Or is it a much broader audience that is made up of several different target groups?
If you are targeting a range of different audiences, it’s important to prioritise. It's better to target one or two groups, perhaps those with the most influence or those that matter most to you, than try to reach multiple audiences with the same approach. Remember what we said – one size does not fit all! If you’re not sure who your target audience is, you might need to gather more insight. This could come from data or information held in reports, or from other people working on the same issue or with the same groups of people.
Once you’ve narrowed down who you want to reach, put yourself in the shoes of your target audiences and think carefully about:
Then you can think about what information they need and how it can best be presented. Some groups will want to be presented with lots of data in a written format, some might prefer a face-to-face interactive discussion, and others may respond best to bite-size infographics or podcasts. The options are endless! But by first considering who you are trying to reach, and why, you can choose the most appropriate content, style and approaches, tailored to their needs and preferences.
We know what you’re thinking - it sounds like quite a lot of work and effort! So, what’s the big deal? Why is it so important? The answer is simple: the more targeted you are with your activity, the more you maximise your chances of success. Identifying and understanding your target audience is essential for effective communication and engagement. Spending time researching your target audience is an investment that will really pay out. The more you put into it, the more likely it is to deliver the impact you’re aiming to achieve.
© Tangelo House 2020