Version 0.15 October 2012 (working draft)
Intended audience: research managers and researchers, communication and information professionals
Members of the general public will be the ultimate beneficiaries of scientific research and, therefore, in addition to making research findings available to the scientific community, in journals and through other scientific fora, the findings should also be communicated to non-specialist audiences. While peer-reviewed publications, specialist websites and scientific congresses typically form the principal information channels of the research community, the most important single information source for the general public about science and technology is the mass media, i.e. television and radio, and print media like newspapers and popular magazines. These mass media, especially radio, are able to reach large groups of potential beneficiaries such as farmers, farmer groups, rural communities and households, rural service providers, and extension agents. Therefore communicating research messages to the mass media will make it possible for interested groups to become aware of new developments and, if the necessary infrastructures are in place, to interact with the research producers.
The main goal of this Pathway is to help in understanding the importance of communicating research messages to specific user groups using the mass media and highlight what should be done to facilitate the communication.
Why communicate research through the mass media?
There are a number of reasons why research messages should be communicated using radio, television and newspapers:
- Much of the research is funded with public money. Scientists and research institutes have an obligation to the public to account for the public funds used to support their work, and one way of doing this is to make known their research and its’ benefits through the media.
- Mainstream media reach very large audiences and, in most cases, the public regards the media, i.e. television and radio news, as one of its most trusted information sources. Hence this acts to demystify the science and bring it into everyday life.
- Coverage of science and technology in mainstream media attracts more public and private support for research and also attracts interested individuals to careers in the sciences.
- Experience has shown that after a piece of research is publicized, a scientist usually receives a significant number of requests for further information from fellow researchers, many of whom may have missed the published scientific paper or presentation.
- The probability of individual farmers, farmers groups, and rural service providers picking up the research messages from the mass media is high. This again can stimulate responses.
What do you need to do?
As part of an institutional or research group communication strategy, the objectives and results of research work, and its’ benefits, should be communicated to the media. There are simple principles which should be followed to increase the effectiveness and success of your communication.
For the researcher:
- Understand how the media works - they live by deadlines, are in a hurry and are concerned with simple messages.
- When your research findings are ready, identify target groups that could be interested in your research and prepare targeted messages to be communicated via the mass media.
- Filter research down to two or three key messages and explain them clearly in simple, non-technical language, and stick to these points.
- Make yourself available if requested for an interview on radio or television, to write an article about your research for the media, or to speak about your work directly to the public.
- Prepare yourself for the media as carefully as you would prepare for a talk at a scientific conference.
For the institution:
- Equip researchers with appropriate skills, i.e. ways of using the media to get their messages across to the public and targeted groups using the mass media.
- Budget for and include communicating research through the mass media as part of the institution’s communication strategy. This may require additional resourcing.
The following publications provide detailed advice on various approaches to communicating research to the public using the mass media.
- Carrada, Giovanni. 2006. Communicating Science - a scientist's survival kit.
- Communicating Science News: A Guide for Public Information Officers, Scientists and Physicians.
- European Union. 2004. A guide to successful communication.