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New climate change brochures for Victoria

Recently we worked with the Victorian Government to prepare a series of regional brochures explaining the likely impacts of climate change and describing how best to adapt. This project was a collaboration with Karen Pearce of Bloom Communication and Rohan Hamden & Associates.

The 8-page brochures state how climate has already changed, highlight climate-related risks for key sectors and present ‘climate-ready’ actions. These actions include considering different crop varieties, insuring assets and undertaking emergency planning. We give numerous examples of communities successfully preparing for, and adapting to, climate change.

The brochures conclude with detailed, regional descriptions of the projected changes to temperature, rainfall and, where relevant, sea-level rise under various greenhouse emission scenarios out to the year 2100. CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology prepared regional projections and climate information specially for the project.

Supporting the brochures are regional data sheets for a range of climate variables, presented annually and by season.Victorian climate change brochures

In preparing the products, we applied our extensive climate communication experience, as well as the advice from social scientists. I recently wrote about some important findings from social science, which concluded:

  1. Highlight personal experiences and local examples
  2. Describe effective local action
  3. Emphasise local changes
  4. Accentuate the positive
  5. Seek to build a better tomorrow.

By presenting information regionally and showcasing practical examples, the brochures fulfilled points 1 to 3. The numerous examples of successful recent action fulfilled points 4 and 5.

Thanks to the Victorian Government, there were many rounds of user testing. We incorporated well over 500 comments and suggestions made on various draft products.

We know that people interpret information in different ways. To cater for this, the brochures include body text, breakouts, infographics, attractive photographs, and different graph styles. CSIRO’s experience is that an effective way of visualising how climate change will affect a place is to state a ‘climate analogue’. Here is an example from the brochures: ‘In 2050, under high emissions, the climate of Bendigo will be more like the climate of Shepparton now.’

The climate change projections for Victorian are based on material from the Climate Change in Australia website, produced by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, at www.climatechangeinaustralia.gov.au.

The Climate-ready Victoria brochures and data sheets are available at www.climatechange.vic.gov.au/understand, under the ‘Being Climate Ready’ tab.

Cli-Fi: cautionary tales to prompt action

Cli-fi, or climate fiction, also known as Eco-fiction, is a relatively new genre of literature that sets narratives in an often dystopian world affected by climate change. I love it because fiction can be used to convey complicated climate change messages, by enabling exaggeration, contraction of time, or the creation of hypothetical situations that can better illustrate impacts than dry, scientific facts. It can also reach audiences who do not normally obtain climate change information.

I gave it a shot in the mid 1990s by developing a web-based science soap opera, called CO2Lab, which used a superficial story about the social lives of a fictional team of climate scientists as a ‘Trojan horse’ to introduce complicated concepts about climate change and other science (you can still find it online if you search hard enough).

There are hundreds of cli-fi novels (for example, GoodReads), and universities even offer courses that examine climate in film and books (see the New York Times).

Hopefully they are cautionary tales to prompt action in the present rather than handbooks for the future. For my top ten cli-fi novels, see my ’10 Great Books on Climate Change Fiction’ blog post on Science Book a Day.

 

 

The psychology of communication: Here and how; not gloom and doom

By Paul Holper

Science organisations want to explain their work to increase impact and use of results. Scientists know that science is important and would like others to feel the same. They also realise that science that no one knows about may find itself short of support and money.

Decades ago, laboratories began employing information officers, science communicators, public relations people and the like to pump out the facts. They wrote newspaper features, brochures, pamphlets and books, some consuming forests to describe the importance of healthy ecosystems.

This approach is known as the ‘empty bucket’ or ‘deficit’ model. It assumes that people have gaps in their heads ready to be filled with facts, and that if a little fact pushing doesn’t work, then increasing the flow of brochures, newspaper articles, and radio talks will help.

The problem is that communication theory has pointed out that the deficit model has limited effectiveness. Often it fails completely, having the opposite effect of what was intended.

Climate change is an example of the failure of the deficit model. Despite massive communication efforts, a considerable proportion of people do not accept that climate change is caused by human activities. Brulle et al. (2012) suggest that climate science has little direct influence on public opinion on climate change in the United States.

Propagation of more and more information is not the way to engage people with complex issues like climate change. Social scientists have long realised that inclusion and dialogue are essential.

Improving public engagement with climate change: five ‘best practice’ insights from psychological science by van der Linden et al. (2015) provides recommendations on this topic. The five insights apply more widely than climate change.

Paraphrased, they are:

  1. Our brains value experience over analysis
  2. We are social and mimic peer behaviour
  3. The here and now is more important than something that may (or may not) affect us profoundly in future
  4. We like to win
  5. Human motivation is powerful.

Applying these insights to communication means that we:

  1. Highlight personal experiences and local examples
  2. Describe effective local action
  3. Emphasise local changes
  4. Accentuate the positive (for example, reducing emissions equals cleaner air)
  5. Seek to build a better tomorrow.

So rather than ineffective messages of gloom and doom, the more effective communication approach relies on familiarity, hope and optimism.

References

Brulle, R., Carmichael, J. and Craig Jenkins, J. (2012) Shifting public opinion on climate change: an empirical assessment of factors influencing concern over climate change in the U.S., 2002–2010. Journal of Climatic Change.

van der Linden, S., Maibach, E., & Leiserowitz, A. (2015) Improving public engagement with climate change: Five “best practice” insights from psychological science. Perspectives on Psychological Science.

 

Communicating to a young audience – Part 3 (What not to do)

Just as important as understanding what to do when writing for young people is to understand what not to do.

 

Talking down to young people would possibly be the number one crime in writing for this audience. They’ll pick up on any condescension. While being conscious of vocabulary, you can still use rich and evocative words and phrases to excite young audiences about science.

 

Unless you actually are 13 years old, don’t try to talk like one. It’s unlikely that you’ll have the most up-to-date terms, and will come across as a fraud and a try-hard. It is very uncool to try to be cool. And even if you were to succeed, by the time your book is published, the language will have moved on.

 

Educating rather than entertaining is a trap for non-fiction writers. Magazines and books that young people read in their spare time should be enjoyable and entertaining. It is then a bonus if they learn anything as a result (if they find the reading fun, this is more likely). An exception to this rule is to consider a teachers’ guide or to highlight curriculum links to provide ideas on how an enjoyable, spare-time activity can be related to classroom learning.

 

Humour should be used with caution, as trying too hard to be funny will often result in jokes falling flat. However, I’m a fan of relevant puns.

 

Using talking animals may seem like a good idea, and remind you of your own childhood. However, the scenarios can be unrealistic and the characters under-developed or cliché. Leave these characters to the cartoons and puppet shows.

 

As in any writing, aim to show; don’t tell.

 

Finally, never try to publish work that has not been tested. I am too old to remember what I found enjoyable as a child. If you don’t have an appropriately-aged reader in your family to use as a reference point, ensure you have available at least one proof-reader who is the age of your intended reader. If you don’t have children in the intended audience range, run your ideas and writing past relatives or friends who are the correct age. They will not only be helpful in testing your drafted text, but also a source of inspiration for future writing. And they will feel proud to have helped your production (and will be rapt with an acknowledgement inside the book).

 

See Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog for other tips.

 

In closing, while writing tips are useful, it is important to develop your own style. Ensure you have a strong voice in your head that is relaxed and unique to you as you write.

 

Communicating to a young audience – Part 2 (Grabbing attention)

Open with a bang.

 

Further to our suggestions in part one of this topic (http://scientell.com.au/2015/11/12/communicating-to-a-young-audience/), start a non-fiction book with a story that captures an event such as an amazing discovery, just as fiction starts with an action scene. You could also include fascinating facts to grab attention. The ‘Wow factor’ should not only start your book or article, but be threaded throughout it.

 

While it can be tempting to think that writing for young people should be sanitised and without shock, I believe it should be quite the opposite. Young people love to be grossed out with information about blood, gore, and bodily functions, and embarrassing situations or shocking disasters.

 

As well as gore, weird science stories grab attention, as do mysteries, and record-breaking stories (the first, biggest, oldest, and most dangerous).

 

Accuracy is paramount. Before submitting work to an editor or publisher, ensure you have checked the facts and accuracy of your writing with the talent you have interviewed, and from an independent source through other contacts or from encyclopaedic references or reliable web sites.

 

Activities lead to understanding. A quote by Confucius is, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” The illustration of concepts using hands-on experiments and activities that can be tried (safely) at home can increase the learning experience gained from reading a science book. The activity needs to be carefully explained and safe.

 

The use of fiction, or a combination of fact and fiction, can be a successful way to convey science. For example, an entertaining, fictional story can carry scientific information, so that the facts are delivered using a ‘Trojan horse’ method. Such a method enables learning to occur in an entertaining and subtle way through information absorption. As well as enabling learning to occur in a fun way, the faction genre also enables exaggeration, contraction of time, or the creation of hypothetical situations that can better illustrate facts and information. Our Who Dun It series of books (published by Pan Macmillan) incorporate forensic science into a fictional plot, with fact boxes and activities. The aim is to show that science is used in everyday situations by following the adventures of two 11 year-old characters, Zac and Hannah, as they solve a crime using forensic science skills.

 

Our Who Dun It books combine a number of elements used in writing for a young audience:

  • creative language and story structure in which to embed further factual information;
  • factual information in boxes;
  • activities and experiments to illustrate forensic science;
  • photos to illustrate equipment or other new ideas; and
  • cartoons to illustrate the plot.

 

Fiction can add more variety and a wider choice for young people interested in reading and learning about science. By using creative writing rather than encyclopaedic styles, science writers can increase the entertainment element in their products and remove the divide between perceptions of fictional reading that is seen as ‘fun’ and non-fiction reading that is seen as ‘school homework’.

Communicating to a young audience

Ever since the early 1700s, when the first books for young people were written by authors including John Newbery, Thomas Boreman, and Thomas and Mary Cooper, communicators have endeavoured to target young audiences with specific products.

 

Non-fiction writing for young people has seen a surge in titles over recent decades, with more than 60,000 English-language children’s books in print globally. In addition to the myriad book titles for young people and magazines specifically for young readers (for example, The Helix in Australia, Owl and Chickadee in Canada, and Super Science in the United States), a number of publishers have launched younger versions of their science magazines, including National Geographic (with National Geographic Kids).

 

Drawing on our experience as authors of popular science books for young people aged between 10 and 14, as writers of science text books for high school students, and our experience editing science magazines, here are our views of what grabs the attention of young people (and what doesn’t).

 

There is one school of thought that writing for young people is harder than writing for an adult audience, because it is difficult to convey complicated topics in simple language. Another school of thought is that writing for a young audience is easier because of the shorter manuscript length or for other reasons. However, I believe that good writing for young people should be similar to good writing for adult audiences.

 

Adults enjoy fictional stories that involve humour, fantasy, surprises, characters that they can relate to, winning in the face of adversity, and a bit of mischief. Young people like the same elements in their stories, but set against a slightly different scenario or frame of reference.

 

Similarly, writing non-fiction for young people should be like writing non-fiction for an older audience. Young people are more sophisticated than we think (or remember), so writers need to treat them with respect. Writing for a young audience should be viewed as writing for yourself, covering topics that interest you in a language that you find engaging. Story-telling is paramount, as engaging writing must be about more than simply imparting knowledge. However, it is necessary to use common sense to keep an eye on the language and analogies you use, as a young reader’s understanding of language may lag their understanding of concepts.

 

Language should be clear and concise but creative and colourful; it should contain information but be lively and rich. You need to avoid jargon and acronyms. However, you can introduce new words by using tautologies or repetitious language: use the new word, then repeat the concept using a synonym, and then maybe use another term to define clearly its meaning. This will drive home the meaning of the new word or concept.

 

Explanations using analogies will need to be appropriate. Young people are unlikely to have experienced some of the things adults use as reference points, such as driving a car. Find an alternative.

 

Use a combination of male and female role models in photographs or as characters in your writing. The age of role models should about two to three years older than the target audience to give young readers someone to look up to.

 

Aim to illustrate your writing with photos rather than drawings if you require realism. From an early age, our eyes are drawn more to realistic images than illustrations. However, cartoons will work as they characterise a scene and do not intend to illustrate through realism as some illustrations aim to do.

 

Describe science in progress, unsolved problems, and challenges that young readers can play a part in solving. This will enable young people to dream. They will feel they have a role to play in the future, that they could become a famous scientist or even a Nobel Prize winner. Discoveries and research should be described as a world of possibility to which young readers can contribute.

 

We’ll develop these thoughts further – and provide tips on what not to do – in blog posts over the coming fortnight.

 

How to attract research funding: Part 2

Communication was a key theme at the 21st AMOS National Conference, held in Brisbane in July. Communication can raise the profile of research. It can help ensure research results reach a wider audience and hence have greater impact. Communication can raise general science awareness and increase understanding. It can even affect behavioural change.

These are all noble goals of putting time and resources towards communicating our science. But we also need communication to generate funding to support science. Such funding-focussed communication takes place in an increasingly tight, and therefore competitive, environment. In Australia, and around the world, funds need to be sourced from a diverse base. So who are the funders, how do we reach them, what tools should we use, and where can we go for help? A panel session about communication for partnerships was held at the AMOS conference to answer these questions.

Dr Bill Gail, Past-President of the American Meteorological Society and Co-Founder and Chief Technical Officer of Global Weather Corporation, spoke from his perspective as director of several companies over the years, including ones that charge fees, raise venture capital, and act as a bridge between research and business. He said it was important to understand who could benefit from your research: is it society as a whole, the science community, particular industry sectors, or even specific companies? Once you have an understanding of these audiences, he said you need to seek applied uses of your research, guided by who benefits from your work. Bill also explained that you need to identify alternatives to traditional grant funds, such as technology licensing, commercial consulting, start-up investment, and so on.

Paul Holper, now a communication consultant after his 25-year career working at CSIRO in communication, business development, and science program management, spoke from the perspective of sourcing, attracting and securing funds for science programs. Paul said there’s great value in all research groups having a strong public profile to provide the base for attracting funds. He said that researchers need to work as a team to brainstorm ideas and strategies to reach potential funders, including government, international organisations, industry, and philanthropic sources. This doesn’t need to be done alone – assistance is available within many research organisations, and elsewhere, from professional communicators and business development staff.

Dr Donna Green, a senior lecturer and researcher at the UNSW’s Climate Change Research Centre, provided the panel with the perspective from a university environment, where she has pitched her research at a level that attracts research funding from a variety of sources. She spoke of the importance of being strategic and playing to your strengths, and emphasised the point that if you aren’t sure about what to do, ask for professional communication advice. Donna said it is important to stand out, to ensure your proposal shows passion and connection to a real world issue, and to ensure that connection stands out in the first paragraph of your proposal, opening conversation, or elevator pitch. Brainstorm anything legitimate that you can use to make your application stickier and therefore more memorable. She also noted the importance of understanding the politics of the funding landscape – not only the written funding rules, but also the unwritten rules.

Karen Pearce, a science communicator, editor, and director of Bloom Communication, provided a practical perspective of using communication to get the message out to potential funders in a changing media environment. She said it is important to be relevant and to lead with the bottom line when discussing your work – explain why an organisation should care about your work, and what’s in it for them. Karen said researchers need to be clear, concise, and not make people have to work to understand what you do and what you want from them. She said you need to be audience-appropriate; that is, know your audience so you can use the right language and tools to reach them. And in terms of getting support for your work, communication doesn’t start and stop with filling in a funding proposal. You need to do the groundwork (profile building, making your work more accessible) and the follow-up (updates, informal/formal reporting, public communication, etc.) to succeed.

In summary, the panel agreed that it is important to understand the benefits to potential funders and clients so you can target the audience and demonstrate impact; that you need to build a public profile to stand out from the crowd; and that you can draw on your wider team – and professional help – to target potential partners to attract research funding.

 

 

Beginners guide to editing

For starters, there’s editing and editing. And editing. Three forms really: substantive, copy and proofing.

For most clients, ‘editing’ means copy editing. That is, reading through a document and checking that it makes sense and reflects what the writer probably meant. Copy editing involves checking spelling, grammar, punctuation, facts and meaning.

Substantive editing is when you take a metaphorical step back and examine the structure of the piece. Would the reader be better served by having the section on John Dalton and his development of atomic theory come before the work of Democritus?

Proof reading entails checking a document after layout to ensure that nothing outlandish has occurred.

One of the rules of editing – and that’s all editing is, rules – is to be consistent. If the text says ‘colour’ in the first par, it will look sloppy to subsequently see a reference to ‘coloring’. Even better than being consistent, is being consistently correct. The Australian Style Manual (published by Wiley in 2002) is the authoritative reference. Using a style manual and compiling a list of spelling and capitalisation as you work will help obtain that consistency.

Ideally you will have a fresh pair of eyes read over and edit anything that you write for publication. It’s difficult to check your own work as you will tend to see what you meant be there rather than what is actually printed. And, yes, I deliberately missed ‘to’ in the previous sentence just to keep you on your toes.

If you are going to check your own writing  – and you should before your editor/friend/colleague does  – print it, as reading on screen seems to do something odd to your ability to spot errors. I’m sure there is research somewhere to support my theory. Then go off and do something else – ideally for at least 24 hours before you take up red pen and paper.

Your software will give you some assistance. Those red squiggly lines are appearing on your screen for a reason. But don’t be lead solely by a word processor. Microsoft Word, for example, didn’t spot my incorrect spelling of ‘led’ in the previous sentence.

Finally, consider hired help or training. There are few better than Biotext’s Malini Devadas and Karen Pearce, who kindly cast her astute editorial eyes over this article.

I recommend Grammar Girl for entertaining erudition.

10 tips for great public speaking

If I could just say a few words…I’d be a better public speaker.
Homer Simpson
Captivate, compel and communicate clearly next time you give a talk. Here are 10 tested steps to help you become a better presenter, and to truly do justice to your topic.

1. Know your audience. Do they have background information or are they lay people you’ll need to bring up to speed before you can explain your work? When presenting, one size certainly won’t fit all.

2. Write down three take home messages. These will dictate the path of your talk.

3. Power of voice rather than PowerPoint? Too often slides are simply speaker cue cards displayed to all. Consider standing out from the crowd by standing out from the crowd and speaking to them without the distraction of bullet points. Consider printing those bullet points on cards to keep you on course.

4. If tip 3 is too daunting, or if you have graphics and images essential to your talk, use PowerPoint or an equivalent. If you must use bullet points, employ a font size of at least 24 point. There are some helpful rules at http://tinyurl.com/oxumkqq.My rule is no more than 1 slide per minute.

5. Plan your talk. Use the dictum of ‘tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you have told them’. Repetition is good. Repetition is good.

6. Create your index cards or slides.

7. Shut your door, note the time, take a deep breath and practice your talk. Actually practicing the talk like this is the best way I know to increase polish and reduce nerves. On the day, you’re likely to speak for longer than during your practice session. Double-practice your opening and closing statements.

8. Fine tune the presentation as necessary based on your practice.

9. On the day, arrive at the venue in plenty of time. Don’t forget your cue cards, USB stick or laptop.

10. Imagine yourself confidently striding to the lectern, facing the audience, pausing to make eye contact and then confidently starting. Now do it.

 

Posted on 1 September 2014 by Paul Holper

How to attract research funding: Part 1

 

This article was first published in the April 2015 issue of BAMOS

 

Communication serves many purposes, including helping to attract research funding. This funding can come from government (federal, state and local), business, philanthropic funds and international sources.

If you are to be successful as a scientist, chances are that you will need to develop your fund-raising skills. Communication lies at the heart of the process.

So let’s start with a quotation from one of the greatest communicators of the 20th century. In January 1961 at his inaugural US Presidential address, John F. Kennedy exhorted: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country’.

I’m going to paraphrase. ‘‘Ask not what your research can do for you—ask what your research can do for your client’. This is your take home message.

That JFK (mis)quote will guide everything you do in searching for funding and partnerships for your research. You need to think about the applications of your work.

Your agency, if you work in one, will probably have senior scientists and business development folk with experience in seeking funds. Get their advice. There will almost certainly be protocols regarding approaching external agencies. Coordination is vital. A company will not be impressed to receive four separate overtures offering four separate world-best models.

I can think of only three reasons why someone will pay for your science:

1.     Helping the government or agency deliver on its promises (making them look good)

2.     Saving money

3.     Making money

Consider your research in these terms. Focus on potential audiences and their needs.

You have Australia’s best database on tropical cyclone tracks. A company planning offshore gas rigs in northern Australia might be interested in statistics and trends for their region to guide their designs. That’s point 2, ‘saving money’.

Your chemistry module includes 1000 reactions involved in formation of photochemical smog. The EPA might fund you to test the effectiveness of planned regulations on the concentrations of peroxyacyl nitrates present in smog. Point 1.

You have skills in helping people adapt to climate change. There are some 190 countries that might be interested in chatting. Points 1 and 2.

Consult widely. Chances are that your research will have applications you haven’t thought of yet.

Getting down to business

Make a list of potential funders. Label them ‘stakeholders’ and you’ll look as if you know what you are doing.

Find out who has relationships with these people. If they say ‘oh, we’ve never got money from them’, put them at the top of your list.

A phone call is 10 times better than an email and a meeting with someone is 10 times better than a phone call.

You are going to ring people, visit people, call in favours, get recommendations and shout people coffee. I know of an example where a $3.00 coffee led to $100,000 of science funding.

Your schmoozing will be more successful if it is part of a carefully crafted communication plan. Your communicator is your friend. So before your contact sips their cappuccino, they will have seen the article on your work in the paper, read your tweets and scanned your LinkedIn profile.

There are as many ways to engage with stakeholders as there are to demonstrate irrefutably the existence of human-induced climate change. Happily, you don’t have to be the climate science community’s answer to Brian Cox to take advantage of them. If you’re more of a listener than a talker, conferences, exhibitions, workshops and social events are all great opportunities to find out who’s who, and make new contacts in the coffee queue.

Never underestimate the time it will take to go from coffee to contract. I had a lead in developing the pitch for the South Eastern Australian Climate Initiative (SEACI). It took the best part of three years and the work of quite a team to bring in more than $8 million external funding. Key to our success was a series of stakeholder-led workshops.

When you sense that success is imminent, ensure that you have done all the internal engagement that will be needed to complete the deal. You will have kept your manager well informed, so your achievement will be no surprise to them. Contact contracting, liaise with legal, find finance, communicate with comms, ID your IP.

Your research is now secure for the foreseeable future. But before you get on to that, we just have a little organisational paperwork for you to complete.