On a gray Sunday morning in Atlantic City, New Jersey, we gathered with twenty members of the American Fisheries Society for a new type of workshop: The Impact-a-thon: Angling for New Ideas in Science Communication. Together we planned to spend the morning learning about tools and tricks we could use to help communicate science effectively with new audience. We then broke into groups for a brainstorming competition in the afternoon.
As folks settled in for a day of new ideas, we were struck once more by how important science communication is for all the participants—whether they worked in universities, at aquariums, at agencies, or NGOs—to be successful in their roles. We developed the Impact-a-thon because communication is not a one-way street. For research to have impact, it is critical that the relevant stakeholders are engaged. They need to care, and powerful communication can help make that happen.
But it can be hard to find the time to focus on science communication as well as the impact of your research on policy or practice. Equally, it can be hard to find the time to think outside the box. With the Impact-a-thon, we wanted to provide dedicated time to focus on the bigger picture. Our sprint-style afternoon brainstorm would leave no time for second guessing or getting caught up in the details.
The morning centered around how to focus communication on the person who needs to engage with it. When talking to policy-makers or government officials, we explored how preparing messaging in advance that leads with the “so what” can help make the most out of short, often scripted, encounters. We also talked about how important strong and clear communication is with journalists, who are science communicators themselvesNext we stressed the importance of media training for scientists, so they deliver their messages with the right context. A closing section on photos, videos, and other graphics and data visualization drove home how meaningful a behind-th- scenes look at the scientific process can be.
By the afternoon, we were warmed up and ready to brainstorm. We had a deep discussion about how to define impact: it is all about engaging groups in the non-scientific community with those within. It is also about influence: whose opinion or behavior are you trying to change with your research? Ultimately, we agreed that the form impact takes depends on who we’re trying to influence. And with that, the groups were off.
With just two hours to brainstorm a pilot or experiment to improve research impact in their field, we were shocked by how inspired and thoughtful each group’s project was.
The judges, made up of AFS and Wiley leaders, had a tough job on their hands.
The winners proposed a pilot program that will improve diversity in fisheries science. The program will engage with local high schools with an event that connects scientists with students, so they can learn from each other and so students can experience how science impacts their communities and their daily lives. It also kicks off a mentorship program that helps kids learn more about science and life as a scientist. This team included Julie Defilippi Simpson of Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Sarah Glaser of Secure Fisheries and the University of Denver, Karen Murchie of Shedd Aquarium, and Patrick Shirey of Ecology Policy LLC and the University of Pittsburgh.
With an inspiring presentation, and an idea that has the potential for far-reaching impact on the field and in the lives of all the students who participate, we are honored to award a grant to help kickstart this initiative.
The Impact-a-thon’s goal was to get everyone thinking about science communication and the connections we can make to improve research impact. But it also helped us create connections with one another through a day of discussing, asking questions, and brainstorming. As one participant shared on her way out: “I feel re-energized. Today has helped me feel renewed and inspired again.”
Image credit: Samantha Green