Researchers call for communication training cohesion

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A new white paper, published by science communication researchers and trainers, offers a framework for defining core competencies in science communication and calls for analysis and assessment of how scientists are trained to communicate, in an effort to tame the current “wild west” of science communication training programs, and “move toward coherence in designing science communication and public engagement training programs.”

“This preliminary framework provides an opportunity for the communities building capacity for science communication and public engagement to more effectively debate what we teach and how we train scientists to communicate,” said Elyse L. Aurbach, one of the paper’s authors and Public Engagement Lead at the University of Michigan’s Office of Academic Innovation. “To that end, we examined work from science communication researchers, evaluators, and trainers, and synthesized a set of recommendations for core skills that scientists should develop to communicate effectively with different publics.”

The paper issues a call for science communication training programs to come together to define common goals for training - though not common methods for achieving those goals. The paper pays particular attention to developing what it calls “foundational skills:” those communication skills that apply to all audiences and all communication methods, as opposed to skills that would be more relevant only to audiences with advanced topical knowledge.

“Engaging in this discussion, we hope, will enable science communication trainers to determine field-wide core competencies, laying the groundwork for greater coherence across site communication training opportunities in the future,” said paper co-author Emily Therese Cloyd, director of the Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Surveys have shown that scientists are, in many cases, eager to share their work with other people - with their colleagues, their friends, their family members, but also with students and strangers.

Yet many scientists, like professionals in other highly technical fields, are rarely taught how to share their work effectively with different audiences. There is a growing demand from scientists for communication training, and a growing number of organizations and methods working to meet that demand.

“Science communication training programs are often developed by individuals or organizations, and different curricula frequently emphasize different skills,” said Katherine Prater, one of the paper’s authors and Senior Fellow Trainee at the University of Washington’s Neurology Department. “While there is great value in sharing these diverse approaches to training, we saw an opportunity for the field to develop greater coherence around what the focus of training efforts should be.”

In the paper, the authors also identify a need to track track scientists’ interest and success in engaging others with their work, both as a way to inform communication training methods, and as a way to measure the methods’ effectiveness.

“We hope that this framework catalyzes opportunities for our respective fields to come together, learn from each other, and collectively explore what we are trying to teach as we work to help scientists connect meaningfully and effectively,” said paper co-author Laura Lindenfeld, Executive Director of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science and Interim Dean of the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University.