Science of Communication

Notes from Workshop on Saturday 29 March 2014 – Science of Communication. Canberra, Australia.

2 main things to consider when relying on media of any sort:
– Strategic measures (different for scientific matters being communicated);
– Tactical steps (develop core skills across different areas of science).

– Scientific facts/assertions do not convince people to change their behaviour, but does change how people think;
– People are ‘motivated’ not to hear the scientific, and to motivate you need to fit with their beliefs and values.
This means getting across an increase in scientific knowledge is more related to people’s cultural groups, and need to target to that understanding. This is done by bringing out the emotional in the issues that are relevant to them. Make them emotional and value issues.

People loose ability to add numbers and assess facts when looking at emotional and value issues, as they are more concerned with the core issue close to them, which are usually emotional and value issues rather than based on numbers and facts. Need to ascertain and know about people’s values and beliefs to get messages across. A message achieves this when satisfying 3 indicators:
– Beliefs
– Values
– Trust.
This means a message will be more trustworthy when it consistent with people’s values and beliefs.

Generally, people do not ‘trust’ scientists at meetings because their presentations do not commonly meet these 3 indicators, especially if the issue is close to the peoples’ hearts which are generally strongly advocated community or environmental issues. Need to know and take into account what emotions and values are driving people to act and advocate. Look at the widest perspectives, not just your own. That is, how emotionally disposed people are for or against an issue. What is the ‘yuk’ factor? Or what are the aesthetic factors. What factors make people like or dislike an issue and associate or disassociate with it.

Remember, you may have a good message, but you cannot control the media’s portrayal of it, as the media likes to hyper-up the message for attention and also create conflicts around the message. Therefore, essential to create yourself as a well-trusted NGO (non-government organization), as these entities are the most trusted in society. But they still have to go through the media to get their message across. And the media is not well-trusted at all.

Climate change campaigns were initially based on facts, not values close to people. It is necessary to make issues strongly connected to people’s emotional drivers and values. Must have things to connect with the people and that are highly valued by them when presenting your message.

You may have a punchy campaign and well-focused and centred, but it is a big mistake to not be aware of what you are up against.
E.g. 1 – Fossil fuel divestment campaigns – you have to fully internalise that you are up against a mega fossil fuel industry and its resources.
E.g. 2 – If you want people to recognise economic alternatives, you also need to emotionalise it as people generally do not want to change (hard to get people to change).

Need to get people to want to take some ownership of the issues. Also need to localise the issues, whether community localisation or interest localisation. People will only engage in certain things and so need to get their time and commitment. E.g. Some cute and cuddly issues have been ‘close to home’, like saving some unique native species, and people have engaged in them.

Arts and cultural sector involvement is vital! Their support is needed and can play a huge role, as they can change values more easily and attitudes. Similarly, the language of conveyance needs to be suitable. Scientific language can be too much for people to grapple with. Use of language needs to change. Trend for arts councils to combine with science is proving effective.

Note corporations have also used social change movements in their advertising. Not for social change itself, but to sell products, even harmful products. Advertisers have gotten behind social change campaigns in the past. E.g. Coca Cola used themes of the civil rights campaigns, and the tobacco industry used the suffragette movement to market cigarettes to women. Recently, celebrities, sportspersons and the like have got behind the anti shark culling campaign in Western Australia.

Oral culture of storytelling is important to engage people. So get people to tell their stories as to how they got to where there are in their activism work. E.g. this is why I made the decision; my choice came about because; and so on. Campaign adverts are increasingly getting the common person to tell their story.

There are 3 levels of information to have in your campaign:
– Basic
– General
– Advanced.
You and your audience get to choose how much information you/they want. Have the 3 levels available on websites. Have a basic or core message that lives up to science, have a general understanding that needs to be scientifically correct, and have detailed analysis / study.

Use facts that cannot be rejected or have high level of confidence in being accepted. While people are emotionally and value driven, the campaign still needs to be backed up with science (whatever area of science it may be, including social sciences), and so implicitly solid – scientific / rational. Value based campaigns are also relative to who you are talking to and campaign messages need to be based in these terms, e.g. for the particular social groups and demographics. Work out what the group of people value. E.g. how is something a direct threat to them and what are peoples’ relationship with it. Same value message will not fit to all – recognise a range of values. Consider what options people have to go with. How to move people’s mindset can happen by giving them options. Given them options of how to go about change, while raising critical social justice issues.

Focus activity to concentrate on the message, and prioritise you main intentions. Emphasise what communities are making progress with aims similar to yours, e.g. progress in health that relates to your campaign. Associate your campaign with things that make people feel good. For this it is essential to tell your stories and why you are doing what you are. Make people your advocates. E.g. Mistake made by Greenpeace in damaging science experimentation site for GMO crops operated by CSIRO, as it was only a science experiment and actions were seen to be anti-science, when CSIRO was not involved in commercial crop growing, and their experiment may have concluded against commercial GMO crop production. Greenpeace recognised later this was not a good public relations exercise.

Recent trends in activism:
– Shareholder activism and associations;
– Divestment campaigns looking at harmful products to get out of when investing, such as fossil fuels.
These have the potential to ruin investment profiles, and also they appeal to democracy. Appeal to democracy is a good tactic in activist campaigns, as who makes decisions is important to people.

Scepticism as an emotion has also been used by anti climate change vocalists. It can be used also in querying investment decisions of corporations by those involved in divestment campaigns and shareholder activism.

Key lessons of recent campaigns:
– Deficit model does not work, i.e. treating your audience as if they lack knowledge;
– Turning people into scientists does not work;
– Know your audience, its values and beliefs and work on those.
Be aware of no 100% certainty as there are always risks and probabilities involved in how you are doing things.