Doing Science is Essential . . . Communicating Science is Just as Critical (and maybe more FUN!)

The need and desire to communicate the value of science is not new, but the movement to promote science communication, or "scicomm", has gained significant momentum in recent years. At its most basic level, scicomm means explaining science and research in ways that non-scientists can appreciate. The hashtag [#scicomm] is used regularly on Twitter by those wanting to mark their post as a form of science communication. Increasingly, scientists are understanding the importance of sharing their work with people outside their field and more and more nonscientists are understanding how critical it is to understand and support scientific contributions. To give you an idea about popularity, #scicomm has been used 490 times today (April 21, 2020), and it is only 11:15 a.m.!

The foundation of any sound communication strategy involves determining the target audiences, the messages to convey, and the best methods to do the job. This holds true with science communication as well. Knowing the target audiences is critical to developing appropriate levels of messaging and determining which methods are best suited to the engagement. To be most effective, a communication plan should use multiple methods to reach different audiences and communicate different parts of the message.

For example, the communications directorate at the Great Lakes Fishery Commission uses a variety of methods to achieve its objective of "translating science to the public," which include: one-on-one interactions with the public, consistent engagement with the mainstream and emerging media, development and maintenance of the website, use of social media, and development of various communication products including videos, fact sheets, brochures, activity booklets, and press releases. Certain methods are more effective at reaching particular segments of the intended audiences than others. Oftentimes, more than one method is used to communicate the same message.

New methods are always emerging! Recently, a team of students at the University of Toronto contacted the Commission and asked whether they could create a "StoryMap" in ArcGIS that would explain the Commission’s program to engageable, general audiences. A StoryMap is a tool that integrates maps, text, images, videos and other media to relay key messages in a fluid and interactive way. U of T student Shannon Petrie explained why her team chose to highlight the Commission’s work with sea lamprey: "Invasive Sea Lamprey and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission were obvious choices for our group due to the devastating impacts of the Sea Lamprey on native ecosystems and the astonishingly successful research and control methods being done by the GLFC to combat their effects. We felt it was an important topic that needed public support to be most effective. We believed a StoryMap would be a great way to correct common misconceptions through an informative and engaging format.""

The Commission is pleased to add this StoryMap to our communication toolbox!