Last fall, I had the great pleasure to accept an invitation to write a paper for a special issue in the journal Human-Wildlife Interactions. The issue focuses on ravens, and the editors thought the topic needed a scicomm perspective. I like to share the love/fun/platform whenever possible, so I reached out to three scicomm colleagues who I know think long and hard about effective, inclusive scicomm in applied/policy/human-wildlife settings.
Now, nearly a year later, I’m delighted to share that our paper has been published and is available for free/open access. It is especially satisfying to have this paper out in the world just in time to share it at the upcoming Ecological Society of America annual meeting, a training for a state agency’s wildlife biologists I’m leading in August, and as part of the portfolio of work two of the co-authors can submit for their PhDs!
Read on for a synopsis of the paper.
In essence, we wove together some central practices that we all four use to make connections with the groups of people most able to inform our research and help our research to matter and get used by communities, managers, and decision-makers.
We focused on a three-part framework that ties together shared values and shared goals through sharing stories between scientists/science professionals and the people they work with.
Our abstract for the paper does a pretty good job of summarizing what we’ve learned, the broader conversations in the field and in the literature about these ideas, and our recommendations for how to apply all this to effective, inclusive scicomm efforts.
Scientists in and beyond academia face considerable challenges to effectively sharing science, including lack of time and training, systemic disincentives, and the complexity of the modern media/attention landscape. Considering these constraints, 3 achievable shifts in mindset and practice can substantively enhance science communication efforts. Here, we provide evidence-based and experientially informed advice on how to center shared values, articulate science communication goals, and leverage the power of stories to advance our communication goals in connection with the values we share with our stakeholders*. In addition to a discussion of relevant, foundational principles in science communication, we provide actionable recommendations and tools scientists can immediately use to articulate their values, identify shared values between stakeholders, set science communication goals, and use storytelling as a means of building and reinforcing relationships around shared values, thereby working productively to achieve those goals.
Resources + Highlights
In particular, we provided a table of resources readers can reference, a recommended order for working through them, and even a supplemental worksheet that readers can use to make high-level and project- or individual-specific decisions about shared values, goals, and stories.
We are also aware that individuals’ efforts and intentions cannot always overcome the institutional, systemic, and societal issues that make it (sometimes, really) hard to do scicomm in effective and inclusive ways. In a table in the paper, we especially highlight how these disincentives and hurdles constrain major groups’ efforts to connect around science. These groups include STEM professionals of all kinds, individuals outside STEM, community-level groups, and policy-related groups at all levels.
Some of the disincentives include assumptions that all people need is more information, a resistance in academia to value, support, and provide training in scicomm, and more.
We’re hoping this paper will be useful in a lot of contexts, including settings where individual science professionals need support, resources, or even justification for taking an evidence-based and inclusive approach to doing scicomm.
For more, you can read the paper here, or contact me for a copy of the paper if you can’t access it .
Full citation: Merkle, B.G., S. Bayer, P. Shukla*, and E. Valdez-Ward*. 2022. Sharing science through shared values, goals, and stories: An evidence-based approach to making science matter. Human-Wildlife Interactions 15(3). https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/hwi/vol15/iss3/27/
If you hit a paywall at that link, contact me – I’m happy to email you a copy of the full article.
*A note on the use of the word ‘stakeholder’ – as we note in our paper: “…we distinguish between audiences (passive, being talked at) and stakeholders, who are ideally actively engaged with multiple stages of a research and scicomm process.” And yet – we also dig into ‘who gets to be a stakeholder.’ Indeed, “…science has an egregious record of
overlooking local knowledge and needs. The appropriative, domineering, and even colonial
historical context underlying research often goes unaddressed when approaching stakeholders or individuals with a vested interest in the science being done (e.g., Skloot 2010, Zárate-Toledoa et al. 2019).”
We further note that “…our perception of potential stakeholders may not align with their own. For example, while their relationships to their landscapes are nearly opposite of those socioeconomically excluded from nature, many Indigenous communities are not considered stakeholders, or may actively refuse to identify as stakeholders. Too often, Indigenous communities are approached in ways that either extract their already limited
resources, tokenize them for funding purposes, or “discover” things that these cultures already know to be true (Gadgil et al. 1993).”
Despite these concerns, we did lean into the ‘stakeholders’ framing on our supplemental worksheet, for the reasons we address when we defined the difference between audience and stakeholder.
After this manuscript went to print, however, we learned more about the ways in which the term ‘stakeholder’ can be harmful and exploitative, particularly when working with Indigenous communities. Here are two resources we’ve dug into since then, thanks to Ellen Kuhn and Elyse Aurbach of the University of Michigan:
- Sharfstein J. M. (2016). Banishing “Stakeholders”. The Milbank quarterly, 94(3), 476–479. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-0009.12208
I know I will be thinking long and hard about how, where, and why I use the term ‘stakeholder’ in the future. If you have suggestions for alternatives that go beyond the passive, deficit-model of ‘audience’ while being more specific than ‘general public’, I’m all ears!