SciComm Innovations at the Chemical Heritage Foundation
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
As I have traveled across the country over the past year giving talks on new directions in science communication, one of my recommendations to science institutions and organizations has been to launch blogs and podcasts as important strategic communication tools for engaging with audiences and stakeholders.
There are a number of challenges a science organization faces when launching a blog. The first is staff time. In order to do a blog properly, you need to have a skilled staff person dedicated to the site at least half time, preferably full time. Moreover, to do a blog well, this staff person has to have the writing skills, the blog savvy, understand the organization, and have access to and the trust of leadership.
Second, and perhaps more problematically, is the willingness to change direction in organizational culture, understanding that a blog is not like a press release i.e. relaying carefully planned information one way to a targeted audience of journalists and stakeholders.
Rather a blog is two-way communication and involves daily and hourly community building with readers and stakeholders. This often means being willing to lose control of a message, or more precisely to have a community of readers and commenters respond to and re-purpose the content of the original post. It also means taking the type of social interaction forged online around the blog and shifting it to face-to-face contexts at meetings, talks, and real world social occasions.
One fear in launching a blog is the generation of misinformation and inaccuracy that the organization could then be held responsible for. Yet science blogs, if run well, have established a pretty good track record in building a community of readers who engage in self-correction of false or misleading information. The blog sites on Real Climate and Prometheus are good examples. Readers also know that when taking a look at comments or at responding bloggers, that it's consumer beware.
Let's put fears about misinformation this way: If science organizations are not blogging about their reports, their press releases, their activities, and the implications, other bloggers surely will be. Science organizations, by not having blogs, lose the ability to respond to and engage with the growing influence of the blogosphere on public discourse and understanding, not to mention the inaccuracies and negative attention already featured in traditional media.
With these considerations likely in mind, this week the Chemical Heritage Foundation has taken one of the first big leaps by a leading science organization into the blogosphere, launching The Periodic Table. Their regular podcast Distillations is already up and running.
Congratulations to the CHS for taking a lead in this important next step for science organizations!
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