Integrating communication theory and practice: Successes and challenges in boundary-spanning work

Monday, 15 December 2014
Marissa Weiss and Kathy Fallon Lambert, Harvard Forest, Science Policy Exchange, Petersham, MA, United States
The Science Policy Exchange (SPE) is a consortium of leaders in ecosystem research united to facilitate science from innovation to impact. In our unique model, we catalyze actionable science on pressing environmental issues such as climate change, and undertake comprehensive stakeholder engagement, public communication, and policy outreach. Built on more than 10 years of experience creating programs at the interface of science and policy at Hubbard Brook, Harvard Forest, and other LTER sites, we apply science communication research to practice in various ways depending on the context and problem being addressed.

In keeping with the research on co-production and the importance of establishing credibility, salience, and legitimacy, we engage stakeholders from the outset of each project. Stakeholders and scientists collaborate to define the scope of the project, frame questions relevant to society, and define communication products to meet their needs. To promote broader distribution and uptake, we combine message development, storytelling, and media training to craft and deliver relatable stories that tap into news values and human values. Three recent SPE successes include: (1) Wildlands and Woodlands: A regional forest conservation report released in 2010 that generated 137 media stories and influenced land conservation policy, (2) Changes to the Land: A suite of communication products developed in 2013 for a landscape scenarios project in Massachusetts that saturated the state’s media markets and have been widely cited by policymakers, and (3) Co-benefits of Carbon Standards: A national air quality report released in 2014 that was cited in 76 media stories and helped reframe the national debate on carbon dioxide emissions standards in terms of their potential local health and environmental benefits.

We will describe our successful applications of science communication research and discuss several critical disconnections between research and practice. These include, how much and what form of stakeholder engagement is most appropriate for a given project? How does the state of the science and the current policy context shape the pathways to impact and associated communication strategies? What can we learn from advocacy campaign to make our science communication sustained and more effective?