Science communication – Just do it?

These days, researchers are expected to communicate their knowledge, the scientific process and results to the publics and to interact with stakeholders. Many researchers are adding communication, such as expert blogs and social media presence, to their routine activities. The digital platforms provide easy ways for highlighting the important topics. Yet there is more potential to be released.

Researchers are increasingly motivated to communicate – with the great help of the funding bodies’ demands of research communication and impact. How to trigger the positive attitudes to real action? Support is clearly needed, and many communication professionals are occupied with motivating researchers and organising research communication activities on many organisational levels.

The research field of public communication of science and technology (PCST) investigates topics such as researchers’ motivations and barriers to carry out science communication. However, research communication as an organizational activity alongside with the role of the communication practitioners have remained under-researched, even though science communication reflects the changes and the values within the scientific enterprise, as well as the relations between science and society. Yet, there are great exceptions:

Idea(l)s for science communication collaboration

I summarised my core ideas for research organisations’ science communication collaboration in my presentation at the recent PCST2018 conference. The core ideas are based on the initial findings of my PhD research. It is a qualitative study for which I interviewed 17 researchers and 15 science communication professionals in five different organisations. The focus is on science communication in the new media.

Communication is an ever-evolving domain with wide spectrum of activity. When researchers are encouraged to do science communication, the role of the practitioners is changing. As research is increasingly conducted in interorganisational and multidisciplinary projects, how should the pros and cons of the projects’ communications be dealt with? The core ideas for science communication collaboration are essential themes I recognised in my data, and they may offer keys for elaborating communication activities.

Figure: Core ideas for science communication collaboration
As can be seen in the figure, science communication collaboration can be grouped into four functions:

SHARING: Sharing the social media publics between a research project, organisations, and even stakeholders may offer possibilities for maximising the impact of, for example, an expert blog or video. Creating a new networked impact, such as sharing in collaboration with other organisations, demands invention of new practices and connections.

CONNECTING: Some of my data signals a distance between the researchers and the in-house communication practitioners. Luckily, many communication practitioners wish to be easily approachable, so that the researchers feel comfortable asking help with their new media troubles, and in adapting their role to a social media personality. This, however, is not always possible in the organisational settings, and the gap between science communication ideals and the organisational realities may even challenge the conceptions of science communication.

ORGANISATION: The significance of the clear organisation of communication is apparent in my data. Persistence and keeping up the routine are the keys for establishing new practices among organisational cultures. It is my experience that simple routines may release remarkable communicational potential of the researchers. For example, in the case of the BCDC Energy research project, monthly Blog&Tweet turn taking is a valuable key for the project’s communications and capacity building. To succeed, it requires follow-up actions, ongoing support, and gentle pushing.

COLLABORATION: The interviewees prefer researchers before practitioners in creating research-themed content for the new media. However, practitioners are regarded highly relevant as providing side-by-side support for the researchers. Into the practitioners’ new role the researchers welcome coaching. The researchers see coaching as motivating, encouraging, guidance with writing, and even some urging. They stress that science communication actions need close collaboration between researchers and communications professionals. Another crucial incentive is the lead and support of the research directors.

And how to do it?

Theory, inspiration and solid practical advice for a variety of approaches, such as digital research communication, the use of social media, as well as citizen-science projects in transdisciplinary settings, can be found for example in Creative Research Communication: Theory and Practice by Wilkinson & Weitkamp (2016). Or good practices can be borrowed from neighbours: (Sweden). The De-Jargonizer is an automated jargon identification program that helps scientists to write in an accessible way (Just paste your text in/load file. This text has a score of 92% suitability for general public).

And, dear colleagues: comments and ideas are welcome. A challenge is how to adapt turn taking to a wider context like a faculty with a great share of external funding in projects, and many of them with their individual communication plans? Fortunately, I will get to suggest trials to a grand, new flagship research project with a multitude of external collaborators.


kaisu innanen, bcdc energia, bcdc energyKaisu Innanen
BCDC Interaction team

Kaisu Innanen is a PhD student of Science Communication. She also works at the Communications, marketing and public affairs unit at the University of Oulu.


The blog post was published on 24th May 2018 on BCDC Energy research project website.




Read more:

Tutkija kohtaa viestintäjohtajan – tiede viestinnän 13th of June 2017




Last updated: 25.5.2018


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