Issue #2: Science Communication
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Communicating Our Science

Welcome to the second issue of "Conservation in HD!" This newsletter is dedicated to sharing tips and tools for integrating human dimensions into our conservation work. Each issue focuses on a different topic related to how people value natural resources and how they affect and are affected by management of natural resources. We received lots of great feedback on our first issue on Stakeholder Engagement and hope you enjoy this issue on communications as well. 

Whether you consider yourself a conservation practitioner, decision maker, or scientist, you know that communication is an important part of your work. The fish, wildlife, plants, and habitats we work to conserve depend on our ability to convey information internally, to partners, and to the public. 

Good communication is sometimes easier said than done (no pun intended!). Information, data, and numbers alone rarely result in attitude or behavior change. People want INSPIRATION and FAITH! This means we need to be strategic--communicating in ways that are consistent with the values of our audiences--in order to forge lasting and meaningful connections between people and natural resources. 

I've found that honing my own communication skills is a life-long process and still continues.  I hope the resources and tools in this issue help you to improve your skills and expand your toolbox to more effectively communicate your science and conservation work! 

- Natalie

Natalie Sexton
Chief, Human Dimensions Branch
Natural Resource Program Center


Visitor Use Management: Balancing Societal Benefits with Resource Protection and Conservation
LIVE BroadcastMay 22, 2014
2:00-3:00pm ET
Speakers will address visitor management from academic, agency, and practical application perspectives. This and other Human Dimensions of Natural Resources broadcasts are archived at the link above. 

Communications, Outreach and Visitor Services Workshop
September 3-5, 2014 
Offered to FWS employees through NCTC, this 3-day course will provide participants with the tools and skills to effectively communicate with diverse audiences about natural resource conservation. Register for the workshop. 

Pathways 2014 Conference:
Integrating Human Dimensions into Fisheries and Wildlife Management

October 5-9, 2014
Estes Park, Colorado
Consider attending this premier conference on furthering the integration of human dimensions into fish and wildlife management. A multi-day human dimensions foundations training
 will be offered through NCTC in conjunction with the conference. Please contact the HD Branch for more information,

Communication Basics
Our lives are spent communicating with others. We convey messages through our speech, writing, body language, and behavior every day. Remember Charlie Brown's teacher in the classic Peanuts cartoons? We can probably all relate to Peppermint Patty dozing off to the "Wah wa-wa wah" of the teacher's instruction. 

No one wants to be that teacher! We want our messages of conservation and stewardship to resonate above all the noise. This requires us to be intentional and thoughtful in our communication efforts. The following steps and questions can guide you in creating and delivering effective communication messages: 
1. Research the topic or problem. Take the time to consider and articulate the topic or problem you want to solve or address. Consider writing a problem statement to help focus your efforts.

2. Determine your desired outcomes. Consider what you really want people to know, feel, or do, but be realistic. Research tells us most people can
process and retain 7 pieces of new information at a time. Focusing on one or two outcomes in your communications will lead to greater success. 

3. Get to know your target audiences. These are the people or groups who are affected by and able to influence your desired outcomes. What is their familiarity with the topic? What are their perceptions and attitudes? What do they care about? 

4. Create a compelling message for each identified audience. Remember, one size doesn't fit all. Determine what is the single most important idea to communicate and connect that idea to what your audience cares about. 

5. Deliver your message. Determine the best outlet to reach your target audience and who is the best credible source to deliver the message. Also consider the care and feeding your communication requires over time. 

6. Evaluate! How will you know if you have achieved your desired outcomes? Evaluation is an important part of our conservation work, and communication is no exception. Consider your indicators of success from the outset and revise messages accordingly.  

Check out Tools of Engagement--a collaborative resource from Audubon Society, FWS, and others--for some excellent tools for mapping audiences and creating compelling messages. 
By inverting our learned science communication style (on left), we can better communicate natural resource topics to the public. That is, start with the "bottom line" and tell people why they should care before launching into the details. (From Communicating the Science of Climate Change).
Beyond the Basics

Once you have identified your audience and thought about your message, it's time to deliver. Just like a good joke, it's all in the delivery! Below are three resources to take your communications from good to GREAT! 

Make It Interesting
We've all suffered through unengaging presentations and talks. Perhaps we have even given a few--I know I have! Scientist-turned-Hollywood-filmmaker Randy Olson argues that "if you gather scientific knowledge but are unable to convey it to others in a correct and compelling form, you might as well not even have bothered to gather the information." The key, says Olson, is to stay true to the facts while arousing the interest of your audience through human connection and emotion.  

Don't Be Such A Scientist: Talking Substance in An Age of Style is a funny and great resource, inspiring scientists (and practitioners) to stray from the traditional, academic approach to communication. You may have seen the book reviewed in The Wildlife Professional this spring (vol. 8, no. 1). 

Tell A Story

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of human communication. Ideas of struggle, triumph, power, love, change, and family can connect your audience to your message. Even the most basic elements of storytelling can spark interest in your topic.  I bet many of you can spin a great yarn around the campfire! Why not use the power of story in your conservation work? Why are we here?, what is our vision?, where are we going? These are all stories we need to tell in a way that captures the hearts and minds of our audiences. Consider sharing insightful or humorous anecdotes in an upcoming meeting or presentation. Consider how much more entertaining that next staff meeting would be! 

To further hone your storytelling skills, check out The Story Factor podcast series. Given by Annette Simmons, this series is based on her award-winning book, The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence and Persuasion through the Art of Storytelling

Words Matter: Communicate with Clarity
The words we chose to convey our conservation messages impact how, or if, they are received. Certain words or phrases can be triggers--good or bad--that influence the effectiveness of the message. Since 2004, The Nature Conservancy has been studying this Language of Conservation through national surveys of American voters. TNC provides language and messaging recommendations that apply across the country and reflect today's changing political and economic context. 
Here are a few highlights from this report:
  • DO talk about water! Nothing is more important to people than clean water to drink.
  • DO connect conservation to public health.
  • DO keep people in the picture. Most voters say that benefits to people are the best reason to conserve nature.
  • DO highlight connections of conservation to economic growth.  

HD in Action: Stories of Integration from the Field   

Communicating about Climate Change with Refuge Visitors
by Alia Dietsch

The diversity of public opinion concerning climate change raises the question of how best to communicate with audiences and garner necessary public support for adaptation and mitigation strategies. Because climate change directly impacts the resources visitors depend on for their recreation experiences on refuges, the National Wildlife Refuge System is uniquely positioned to elicit support for such strategies from visitors through communication efforts.

To inform these communication efforts, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey partnered to explore the resonance of potential climate change communication messages with distinct audiences as part of the National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Survey. This partnership expands on previous research efforts measuring public sentiment toward climate change and draws upon literature on framing climate change messages. Framing science-based findings does not alter the overall message (“climate change will have impacts on natural resources”), but rather places the issue into a context to which different audiences can relate.

Research results indicated that four distinct audiences – engaged, concerned, detached, and dismissive – exist within the refuge visitor population, and that each audience will respond differently to specific climate change messages. For example, framing agency responses to climate change as a quality-of-life issue that would benefit future generations would resonate with “engaged” and “concerned” individuals. In contrast, a majority of “dismissive” individuals indicated there was too much emphasis on the catastrophic effects of climate change and too much scientific uncertainty to adequately address those effects, meaning that communication efforts might alienate this audience. 

Findings from this effort highlight the effectiveness of identifying distinct audiences in the context of climate change, and the importance of using communication messages that will resonate with different audiences.

Alia Dietsch is a social scientist in the branch of Policy Analysis & Science Assistance at the Fort Collins Science Center, USGS. 
Speaking of Climate Change...
Communicating about climate change can be one of the trickiest subjects for natural resource professionals. This potentially polarizing issue must be thoughtfully addressed, giving consideration to your audience and their values. To proactively meet this challenge, the National Wildlife Refuge System has finalized the Climate Change Communications and Engagement Strategy.  The strategy aims to guide practitioners in engaging and inspiring refuge visitors and communities to take personal and collective action to understand, address and combat the effects of climate change. 
Click on image to the right to view the full report.
Did You Know?
FWS employees have access to a goldmine of social science journals through the National Conservation Library Literature Search Service. Contact Anne Post at NCTC for more information,

*photo credits: USFWS; dbfphotos