Researchers: we want to know our audiences
By Toss Gascoigne
What research do I want to inform my science communication practice?
It’s about two things: what are the most effective ways to achieve the aim of the event, and how do I know if it’s worked?
For science communication practitioners running events, releasing information about new research or trying to encourage behaviour change, information about audience is vital. What does the audience already know?
What is going to motivate them to change (e.g. to a healthier lifestyle), and what will cause them to switch off?
The most useful document to me in running the annual ‘Science meets Parliament’ events was a survey on how Parliamentarians prefer to be approached by interest groups.
The 2006 Survey of Politicians Lobbying Preferences (PDF, 1.9 GB) was published by Client Solutions, a Canberra-based company with the tagline: ‘Research-based Public Affairs’. They surveyed all 227 Australian MPs to discover the best way to raise ideas with them.
‘Science meets Parliament’ brought 150 scientists to Canberra for individual meetings with politicians. If we were to be effective, we needed to know what Parliamentarians thought, what they wanted and how they wanted it delivered.
The report contains all sorts of information; the best time of day to organise a meeting, how many people should be in the group, how long the meeting will last. It lists the five top lobbying mistakes identified by MPs. These include wasting time on insignificant issues, mis-stating the facts, or raising problems without having any solution in mind.
Parliamentarians say interest groups are wasting their time trying to influence events with campaigns based on letter-writing, email and advertising.
Information about audience is the most helpful thing researchers can provide, closely followed by methods of effective evaluation.
As American businessman John Wanamaker, 100 years ago, is attributed to saying: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”.
I suspect it’s the same with science communication activities…
A 2012 Science meets Parliament event; copyright CSIRO