By Alberto Muñoz (UNIVLEEDS, UK), Nada Caud (IPSL-CNRS, France) and Asher Minns (UEA, UK).
There is a wealth of scientific evidence for climate change – enough to fill five IPCC reports – but there is much less known about how to communicate this climate change research to the public. On September 25th CRESCENDO organised a one-day practical workshop for early and mid-career researchers in CRESCENDO to gain knowledge of the science of climate change communication, and the confidence to apply this knowledge in practice with non-academic audiences.
The training day was led by Asher Minns, RT5 leader in CRESCENDO and Head of Communication at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, in partnership with Chris Shaw of Climate Outreach in a workshop co-created by Asher and Adam Corner as part of the HELIX project.
The workshop consisted of 5 sessions and covered a set of very clear aims:
1) Provide an introduction to the social and political context of communicating climate change as well as specific tips and guidance for researchers (introducing the science of communicating climate change);
2) Increase the confidence and capacity of climate change researchers to effectively engage the public (building climate change communication confidence); and
3) Initiate new links between early-career researchers who can provide peer-support for each other in the future (building new networks).
A further partnership on the day was with French graphic artist Barbara Govin who through her sketches illustrated the content, discussions and take home messages of the entire workshop (see illustrations below).
Session 1: Understanding how you are heard and choosing your voice. We learned how to concisely communicate your research to a lay audience. For that, it is essential a better understanding of different audiences and their needs. What works and what does not when explaining your research to the public? What are the challenges to overcome? There are words difficult for people to understand like model, simulation, programming, uncertainty, interaction, process… Hence our aim is to find a better way to describe them. This can be achieve by the ‘why’ and the ‘what’, by telling a story, a narrative, describing pictures and using everyday language. We also understood the different roles scientists have in society, who we are as communicators and how we can navigate the boundaries between communicating climate change and political views/public perceptions. Scientists can adopt different roles (Pure scientists, Honest brokers, Science arbiter or Issue advocate). Which one(s) do we most identify with? We learned that it is fine to move across the roles in order to help develop a clearer presentation of the science of climate change, or to engage the public on the science behind, or to produce policy-relevant knowledge.
Session 2: Communicating uncertainty. A question remains unsolved when trying to communicate the science of climate change – Why uncertainty is a communication challenge for scientists? To us it means ‘the degree of confidence’, but to everyone else ‘ignorance’. We learned clear recommendations for effective communication of uncertainty:
- Manage your audience’s expectations: align the style of the scientific messages to the public’s beliefs about science (Rabinovich and Morton, 2012);
- Start with what you know, not what you don’t know;
- Shift from ‘uncertainty’ to ‘risk’, the public is more familiar with the term risk; and
- Communicate through images and stories.
Session 3: Overcoming the psychological distance of climate change. We all have a limited amount of ‘concern’ to go round: daily problems take precedent. Climate change is a difficult phenomenon to detect and track accurately based on personal experience, and some of those reasons that put a barrier between scientists and the public, politicians, policy makers and members of the media are psychological and cultural, and related to the perception of climate change (Weber 2010). How do we bridge this gap? The key is to establish clearer links between our own area of specialist research and the ‘everyday’ issues it relates to. Thus this is to try to connect our research with everyday things that are relevant to it and how it relates to ‘things people love’, that have a meaning to them, like food, traditions, experiences, hence gaining increased confidence in communicating about them.
Session 4: What is really driving public beliefs about climate change? Previous research in the field of public psychology tells us that there are 10 motivationally distinct value types that are likely to be recognized within and across cultures and used to form value priorities (Schwartz 1992). These are guiding principles in an individual’s life divided in two basic dimensions that organise value systems into an integrated motivational structure with consistent value conflicts and compatibilities. For instance, individuals who give high priority to security and power values are likely to find nationalism a compatible political expression of their guiding principles. In contrast, individuals who give high priority to universalism and self-direction values are likely to view nationalism as the antithesis of their guiding principles. Understanding what is driving public engagement with climate change, and scepticism, would reflect on the role of researchers in engaging sceptical audiences. Scientists can bring the two parts (‘dimensions’) together and hence engage the public and make them feel closer to the subject.
Session 5: ‘Science and stories’: Finally, the key to communicate climate science is the use of the ‘narrative form’, learning how to communicate about science as a ‘story’. Aristotle (384-322 BC) identified three guiding principles to tell any story: i) Ethos (credibility/character); ii) Pathos (appeal to emotion); and iii) Logos (reasoned discourse/evidence in support of your argument). Applying these, we can summary the steps to tell an engaging story about climate change as follows:
- Take responsibility for how you are heard: This is completely different to what it is that you think you said;
- Find and build your authentic voice;
- Frame your voice to your audience values;
- Beware of the psychological distance of climate change;
- Consider the difference between risk vs uncertainty, and responses;
- Show the human face of science and get over your physics envy. Climate research is done by real people researchers, not robots.
- talkingclimate.org (The gateway to research on climate change communication, a website run by COIN that provides a bridge between academic research and practitioners)
- http://www.climatechangecommunication.org/ (A Yale University/George Mason University collaboration: the social science of climate change communication)
- http://www.climatecommunication.org/ (Science and outreach: the latest scientific findings, communicated in a user-friendly way)
- http://www.ucl.ac.uk/public-policy/policy_commissions/Communication-climate-science (A recent report from UCL on how to communicate climate science more effectively)
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