How to Succeed with Science Communication in 7 steps

Science communication is exciting, but in order to really achieve something you need to follow a few key steps to make sure you’ve got everything covered. This list is the bare bones of planning a successful science communication project and after reading this, you will be able to go ahead and plan your own. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me! Just comment below or visit my contact page and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

There are so many people in the world, it can be a daunting task to narrow down who your research is most relevant to. This is the most important task; you can’t make a communication project without knowing who you’re communicating with! If you want your audience to be “the public”, find out why that is not a good idea in my recent article.

To find your audience, ask yourself “Who am I doing this research for?” or “Who benefits from the results I get?” You might end up with multiple groups of people and I would advise picking just one to make your life a bit easier! It’s true that there are many areas of research that may not have an immediately identifiable audience, but if you do some brainstorming and work with colleagues then you might find your research is relevant to more people than you think!

I challenge you to think of an audience other than children between 5 and 12 years old (primary school in the UK); it’s a common fall-back and young children can only absorb so much!

Goals are like signposts; they’ll help show you the way to get to a great science communication initiative. Finding your goals takes some thought and is what prevents your communication from being just a good idea.

You don’t need to limit yourself with just one goal though; having more goals will give you more inspiration for the next step. Start with 3 questions;

  1. Why are you communicating your research to this audience?
  2. What do you want your audience to get out of this communication?
  3. What do you want to get out of this communication?

These questions are very similar, but they help you to frame the reasons behind your project and one might resonate with you more than others. The answers to these questions very much depend on your audience and your research and the answer can’t just be “to raise awareness” (see the bottom of “5 Reasons Why the Public Doesn’t Exist“). Goals could be to get more followers on your group’s social media, encouraging your audience to take up a similar career, a behaviour change, take part in clinical trials.

You’ll need to consider:

  • How your audience digests information
  • What activity is most likely to help you achieve your goals
  • What information is most relevant to your audience

I’ve listed 10 creative ways to communicate your research, but if none of those stand out to you, use inspiration from organisations you admire, science festivals, teaching resources, YouTube; anything to give you inspiration if you’re drawing a blank. Remember to keep your audience and your goals at the centre of your ideas and really think about whether it will really work or if it’s just a cool idea.

This will tell you whether you have achieved your goals and isn’t something to leave until the last minute. Fit evaluation time into your initiative so that you don’t miss it out. Evaluation could be take the form of giving your audience a survey at the end and giving them time to fill it out before they leave. Your method really depends on what your goals are; did you want to engage a specific audience? Then you might want to consider collecting demographic information. Did you want people to have fun? Ask people whether they’re enjoying themselves individually during the session!

It could be as simple as observing people or reading comments while your initiative is running and taking notes: does your audience look/sound happy or bored? Are people chatting about your research or something completely irrelevant?

It’s ok if you don’t achieve your goals! The results of your evaluation will tell you where you can improve and solidify why you’re doing the communication in the first place. Evaluation makes sure that your efforts matter and mean something.

This step is so low down because you can’t apply for funding unless you have a solid idea with an evaluation plan. No one will give money to someone who has a cool idea unless it’s backed up with the steps above. Of course, funding bodies have their own criteria for applications so check that you tick all the boxes and get someone you trust to review your application before you send it.

There are lots of different places you can get funding and it’s usually termed as Public Engagement Funding if you’re searching on Google. It’s common practice for research grants to require the allocation of some funds to communicating the research, so ask your principal investigator about this and how much you have. The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) offer many different grants for science communication and you could also contact any societies that you’re a member of.

You may not need funding at all; I’ve created lots of events and activities with no budget that have been successful, but it’s always useful to have some money just in case you need any specific materials.

You’ve come up with the activity, you have an evaluation plan and hopefully you have some funding. Now you need to find your audience and encourage them to take part! Think about where your audience goes to find information; if they’re a farmer they might go to the National Farmer’s Union, if they’re a patient they might look at hospital noticeboards, if they’re a student they might look at university newsletters. You could even try reaching out to non-profit organisations to disseminate news about your project.

Make sure that you talk about the benefits of taking part to encourage more people to attend. This is very closely related to the questions above in Define Your Goals and might help you to sell your activity. If you are struggling, try adding in a small competition to your activity. Make sure you give yourself enough time before your initiative starts to tell people about it, but not so much time that they forget about it!

Congratulations! You are now the proud creator of a brilliant science communication initiative and you’re ready to unleash your skills on your audience! Delivery can take many forms and not all communications require your to talk to people in real-time.

If you are delivering a session yourself, practice on your friends and family and get their feedback to improve it before you go in front of your real audience and make sure you’re ready for any questions.

That brings us to the end of this list, which is also available as an infographic.

Please comment down below with any questions you have, or visit my contact page.

Why not share this with someone who will benefit from it and if this list helped you to create a science communication project, tweet me a picture of it so that I can share in your success!

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