Tag Archives: science communication

Using giveaways as a tool in science communication. Post #3: Checklist and logistics

Many big research projects and institutions regularly spend a lot of money on things like pens, mugs, canvas bags, or even pool noodles (I kid you not, one of my former employers did that!), all typically branded with the institution’s or project’s logo, that they give away in large quantities. Many of those are certainly useful and others funny. But since they are already budgeted for, anyway, why not use them as a tool in science communication?

For part 1 on what the literature tells us about giveaways, check out this blog post.
For part 2 on designing an actual giveaway, check out this blog post.

Checklist for a successful giveaway

Now you have a whole bunch of ideas. Maybe you have a clear favorite, maybe there are several. In any case, I like to make sure that my giveaway checks all or most of these boxes:

Is it actually conveying my message?

  • The message is clear both explicitly (in the text) as well as implicitly (in the form & function of the object)
  • The giveaway matches the scicomm goal that I designed it for
  • It is actually suitable for the target audience. That means for some audiences it can be funny (using plays on words or similar), while for others it should only contain facts, graphics, ….
  • It is project specific and not something that any other project would also be able to give away without everybody being completely confused about how it is related to that other project
  • It shows the concept of interest
  • It is made easy to follow up (i.e. find additional information, contact relevant people, …), so the giveaway includes a QR-code, link, or at least the search terms that will lead directly to your project’s website
  • It is something that people can easily integrate in their work/life so they see it often and are reminded of the message

Does it spark joy and the desire to keep it?

  • Something you want to keep, not eat and throw away (Non-branded chocolate hearts! Not project-branded sweets that then aren’t even any good)
  • Useful, so people like to keep it around
  • High quality product (not cheap looking)
  • Sturdy (I HATE it when the clipsy-things on pens break off right away)
  • Attractive design
  • Positive association
  • Can be kept for an appropriately long time (Doesn’t perish quickly, doesn’t break)

A couple more thing to consider: Does the giveaway suit the context it is to be distributed in? Will there be time & people power to explain what it’s all about or is there some information provided? If the giveaway is designed for a specific occasion (science day) and are there statistics on typical audiences? How do you make sure you target (and reach) only specific people, not everybody (so that you connect to the right people and don’t “waste” a lot of giveaways on people who aren’t even interested)? Is it easily mailable/transportable or does it need specialized packaging or something that makes logistics super expensive?

Basically, what I want from my giveaways is that they provide value for free, i.e. make sure your give-aways are products or services that people are happy to receive and to share. This should go without saying, but it’s scary how much stuff I have gotten over the years that I really don’t want in my life but was too polite to refuse in the situation. I have absolutely no use for ugly mugs, I have more pretty ones that I love than I could ever use in my home and my office and my imaginary holiday house (and even my even-more-imaginary seminar space in my future light house). Or key chains — is the one you are trying to give me really so awesome that you think I will be using it? Especially when it’s not even used as a lanyard for a name tag when you are giving it to me, but just an empty key chain?

Using multipliers

When gifts are given with the intention to develop an effect beyond the first level of recipient, using that recipient as multiplier, marketing principles of viral online marketing can be applied (Wilson, 2000):

  • Make it scalable so you can cope with snowballing demand. Or be aware that you might be disappointing people if they want your really cool giveaway but you’ve already run out.
  • Make it easy for the recipient to share the giveaway with others (so maybe not an exclusive dinner invitation, but rather some funny toy or a gif, link, game that can easily be shared electronically)
  • Play on motivations like greed, hunger to be popular, loved, understood to have your message shared. People aren’t sharing because you are asking them to share. If however people feel that it is making them look cool / wise / knowledgeable / whatever to share your stuff, they are going to share your stuff!
  • Place your message into existing communications between people to make it even easier to share, so use Facebook or institutional newsletters, booths at fairs that would be there whether you ask them to hand out a couple of your flyers or not, …
  • Use someone else’s resources to share your message (e.g. affiliate programs that place texts or graphics on someone else’s webpages so that someone else’s infrastructure is conveying your message)
  • Give away something that provokes reactions / initiates conversations by other people when they see it, so that recipient is often engaged in dialogue about the message, and thus is both reminded about it all the time as well as acting as a multiplier, thus doing your job for you.

Next steps

Now. Are you ready to come up with a giveaway for your project that ticks all the boxes of this and the two previous blog posts? Then you should check out #scicommchall on Monday, because (spoiler alert!) designing a giveaway will be April’s #scicommchall! :-)

Literature

Wilson, R. F. (2000) The Six Simple Principles of Viral Marketing. Web Marketing Today, Issue 70, February 1, 2000

Using giveaways as a tool in science communication. Post #2: Designing the actual giveaway

Many big research projects and institutions regularly spend a lot of money on things like pens, mugs, canvas bags, or even pool noodles (I kid you not, one of my former employers did that!), all typically branded with the institution’s or project’s logo, that they give away in large quantities. Many of those are certainly useful and others funny. But since they are already budgeted for, anyway, why not use them as a tool in science communication?

For part 1 on what the literature tells us about giveaways, check out this blogpost

Part 2: Design criteria for giveaways

Let’s assume you’ve gone through the three basic scicomm questions and know your goal, your audience, and your message:

1) Why do you want to give away a giveaway? Your goal.

2) Who do you want to reach and how will you reach them? Your audience.

3) What do you want people to take away from your scicomm activity? Your message.

Now how do you now come up with a good giveaway? I have collected a bunch of points that I think are helpful to consider in this context.

Combining the verbal message with a physical object

While giveaways don’t have to be physical objects, let’s assume that that’s what we want to give away, so people have something to take home with them, to look at, to use, to remind them of your scicomm activity or support them when engaging with your topic. So first, let’s think about what images come to mind that are relevant for your topic, then look at functions that might be connected to what you are doing.

Considering shapes / forms / images / …

It’s likely that some thought has already gone into creating a logo for your project, or an acronym, or a key visual, or some sort of visual representation. But that doesn’t mean you have to stick with that; and if there isn’t anything like that — now is your chance to come up with something!

Rapid ideation is a method that works well to come up with shapes related to a message: Come up with 30 different ideas for shapes or symbols related to your message, even if you don’t immediately see how they can be converted into a giveaway. Write them down, don’t stop before you have a list of 30! It’s amazing what you come up with once you get over the slump that happens after you’ve initially run out of ideas.

Considering functions

Now this is what I think of as the fun part: Combining the functionality of whatever object you decide to give away with the message. Or rather the other way round — figuring out what functionality would work well to remind people of your message.

For me, this leads to two main questions to ponder:

In what context do you want the recipients to be reminded of your message?

Depending on your goal, your audience and your message, you might want to bring it back to people’s attention at very different times.

Going back to the fish example of the previous blogpost, you might want to remind people of what fish to buy when they are out shopping, or maybe when they are at home, thinking about what meal to cook the next day, or maybe even when at the office, planning tonight’s dinner. For each of those cases, you would use different physical objects as your giveaways (and which one you end up choosing should really depend on good research about your audience so you know they will actually use the giveaways in the way you envision).

Here are a couple of examples (and there are probably tons more if you actually think about it): If you want to remind people of your message while they are at work, it might be a good idea to use office supplies, desk helpers, USB sticks, coffee mugs — objects that people regularly use at work. But remember, the assumption here is that this is when they make decisions about what fish to buy! If you think it’s more likely that those decisions happen when people are out, shopping, then using coin purses or those coin holders for trolleys or even canvas bags might be a better choice. And while fish-related cooking utensils are a cute idea (don’t you love kitchen gadgets??), it’s probably not the best timing for your scicomm, because the fish has already been bought at that point.

Another approach is to think about functions that are related to the message itself, not the time when you want to remind someone of the message:

What are functions related to the content of your message?

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of two collaborative research projects people at my old job were working with, one on magnets and one on materials changing properties with changing temperature. Both of those have cool applications that can easily be used in scicomm.

The one with the materials that change properties can do really cool things related to for example colors changing depending on temperature: there are all these cool “thermometers” like color-changing ducks that tell you the temperature of your bath, eggs that change color and tell you whether your eggs are soft- or hard-boiled, mugs that display different images when the contents are hot then if they are cold, or — my personal favourite — mood rings (!!!). Or if you want to make it about light changes rather than temperature changes, you could do these indicator strips for UV light that tell you when to apply sunscreen, color-changing nail polish (this actually exists!), fairy lights with sensors that come on when it gets dark, … All of these things show versions of what the research project is all about, and make great giveaways that can either raise interest or remind people of having been engaged in some scicomm related to that topic.

The collaborative research project that is all about magnets, on the other hand, could use anything related to attaching things to metal, pattern of iron filings in a magnet field, these little boards that kids have that you can draw on with a magnet.

While both of these projects have a very applied topic, but if your project was, for example, on salinity in the ocean, maybe consider nautical-themed a salt shaker branded with your project’s logo or a slogan that relates a number of shakes per cup with ocean salinity in different oceanic regions? (Now I want to design a giveaway for a project on ocean salinity just because I want to play with salt shaker ideas!!!)

Moving forward with your idea…

…is what we will be talking about in tomorrow’s blog post, that provides a checklist of things I like to make sure I have considered before committing to a specific giveaway, and then some logistics stuff to keep in mind. Stay tuned! :-)

Using giveaways as a tool in science communication. Post #1: What the literature tells us

Many big research projects and institutions regularly spend a lot of money on things like pens, mugs, canvas bags, or even pool noodles (I kid you not, one of my former employers did that!), all typically branded with the institution’s or project’s logo, that they give away in large quantities. Many of those are certainly useful and others funny. But since they are already budgeted for, anyway, why not use them as a tool in science communication?

Part 1: What the literature tells us about giveaways — and how I think that applies to science communication

What eactly is a “giveaway”?

In the marketing literature, giveaways constitute the “low” end of the spectrum of corporate gifts, in contrast to high end gifts like holidays in the Caribbean or cars; “generally low value, high volume, less personal items that are used mainly to promote a company’s name” (Fan, 2006). They are used because verbal communication is easy to forget while gifts, branded for example with a company’s logo, serve as a reminder of that company, which may tip a business decision in that company’s favor (Axtell, 1990, in Fan, 2006).

Most research on corporate gifts is on very expensive gifts, like cars and Caribbean vacations, and therefore deals with legal and ethical concerns. I will ignore such concerns here because I am talking about the type of inexpensive giveaways that are customary in academia: Mugs, pens, hats, flash drives, stickers, all the stuff that you will be given at academic conferences, when visiting institutions, at open days or science fairs (it’s often the exact same items given to all the different audiences).

Goals of giving giveaways

Marketing literature tells us that depending on the stages of a customer relationship, giveaways typically serve different purposes. Arunthanes et al. (1994) describe business gifts as “means of promoting products and services by strengthening relationships with customers and suppliers“. They distinguish three categories of reasons for giving business gifts relating to a company’s relationship to their customers: initiating relationships, cementing relationships and quid pro quo.

Initiating relationships

When initiating relationships, the goal is to create a positive first impression in and relationship with potential new customers, extending a gesture of good will as basis for a positive future business relationship. Fan (2006) describes this goal saying that giveaways are “used mainly to promote a company’s name”, and Beltramini (1992) describes the goal as increasing positive customer perceptions toward key product attributes.

In a scicomm context, this could mean that you want to attract a new audience to your scicomm topic — kinda like I did when I used the opening of an art exhibition to talk about physics. I was first going to continue saying “… except we would be giving them some small physical object”, but we do not even need the physical component, even a social gift of spending time, building relationship, stimulating thought might be considered a giveaway.

Cementing existing relationships

When giveaways are used to cement existing relationships, they can be used to thank clients for positive past relationships, for placing a new order or for referrals to other clients. Marchand (2017) points out that sometimes repeated (instead of one-off) gifts for might be necessary to keep up customer loyalty.

In scicomm, this might mean keeping an existing audience interested in your scicomm topic, giving people who are already interested in your science something that reminds them of how interesting it is and that they can come back to you for more cool and fun and fascinating information and discussion and engagement. So anything that they will take home and that helps them continue engaging with your topic might be in this category, like the magnifying bug viewer that you showed kids how to use and that they continue using when out and about with their parents or kindergarden group.

Quid pro quo

In the quid pro quo scenario, a giveaway is given in the expectation that the favor will be returned by the customer through other means, for example increasing consumer’s in-venue spending through sports promotions (Yukse, Smith and McCabe, 2017), or because customers have come to expect receiving gifts.

This is what I would refer to as “buying attention” — I give you a giveaway, you give me your time. Maybe this is the really flashy gadget that you get so fascinated with that you don’t even realize you are in a scicomm situation? Or a booklet that captures people’s interest? In a way, the magnifying bug viewer is also a “quid pro quo” thing, I spend money to make you look at bugs (which is what I want you to do because it’s my area of interest and I want you to get excited about it).

Anyway. No matter the stage of the customer relationship, objectives of giving giveaways can be classified very broadly into three categories: Cognitive goals (you hope they will learn something, which could be evaluated by looking at reach of a campaign, awareness of a certain product, or knowledge), behavioral goals (you hope they will change their behaviour, which you would see for example in a number of hits or downloads), and financial goals (you hope they’ll give you money, evaluated for example by the return of investment, brand equity, …) (Cruz & Fill, 2008).

What makes a giveaway successful?

Since giving and receiving giveaways has become the rule rather than the exception, givers seem to evaluate giving giveaways as overall positive and worthwhile, i.e. the objectives seem to be achievable by giving giveaways. Investigations show that business gifts are generally effective in increasing positive customer perceptions toward key product attributes, especially in the case of the low-priced product lines (Beltramini, 1992). For sports promotions, Yukse, Smith and McCabe (2017) find that promotional giveaways increase consumers’ in-venue spending intentions. These effects are explained by the principle of reciprocity, which has its theoretical foundation in the exchange theory (Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005).

Dimensions of gift design: gift type and gift relatedness

Marchand (2017) describes two critical dimensions of gift design: gift type and gift relatedness. Gift types can be described in the continuum from economic gifts (where the value of the gift is in the monetary value) to social gifts (where it is about the gesture, the connection, the feelings). Gift relatedness describes the closeness of the link between a gift and the gift-giver and their products and services. Gift-relatedness is high for a company’s own products, and low for other companies’ products.

Marchand (2017) recommends economic related (e.g., coupons) and social unrelated (e.g., unbranded chocolate hearts) gift designs over economic unrelated (e.g., coupons for products from other companies) and social related (e.g., exclusive events with company chairpersons) ones. However, even though social related gifts are generally not recommended, there might be goals for which they are still well suited. For example, if the goal is to learn the needs and problems of the client, to further client-seller relationships or to close a sale, lunch, evening meals, leisure activity or parties might help achieve just that (Arunthanes et al., 1994).

One example of a gift on the economic-related-to-economic-unrelated scale in a scicomm context are little business cards with key messages of a workshop that you hand out to participants (for example which fish to buy and which to avoid). If the card is branded with your institution, NGO, project, what have you, it would be a related. If you hand out a similar card that someone else made and branded, you might still be conveying the same message about what fish are good to buy, but you might at the same time be building up someone else as the trustworthy authority on fishing, rather than having people think of you as the authority because they saw your logo every time they were making decisions about what fish to buy.

On the economic-to-social scale, economic gifts in the sense that there is a large monetary value given are not common in academia (or at least I have never received or given any). Social gifts are more common — meeting with famous scientists, guided tours through famous institutions, that kind of stuff. But I feel like with scicomm giveaways, we’d be not in the extremes on either end of this scale.

Long-term effects

Depending on the goal, in order to achieve long-term effects, one-off gifts might not be enough. Repeated gifts for customer loyalty might be necessary, otherwise, the reciprocity process could wear out (Marchand, 2017).

For scicomm, I think this might not be the case as much. Giving people pens so they remember this one phone number for your taxi company might be helpful (I know it worked for me as a kid, when the pen next to the phone (which was still on a cord) had a taxi number on it, that was the one I would use), but for scicomm I would hope that people’s engagement would not depend very much on who gives the coolest gifts. On the other hand, occasionally reminding people of your cool topics would probably not hurt, either. But then it’s not so much about “loyalty” as of being on people’s minds, which can happen by means of giveaways, but also by many different means like for example a radio interview they happen to hear or a poster advertising your open house day.

Cultural context

Gift-giving is depending on cultural context, which can have a huge influence on how a gift is perceived depending on the timing, the monetary value of the gift, the way it is being presented, or even the colors used (Arunthanes et al., 1994; for a broad overview over gift-giving across cultures check out Giftypedia, 2013).

Cultural context is always important to keep in mind, especially working in international settings such as academia. So not surprising that it might be an important consideration when designing giveaways, but worth the reminder!

Giving through multipliers

Giveaways can develop both direct and indirect effects. In the same way that it often is a successful strategy in advertising to target children for products that parents will make purchasing decisions for (not only entertainment parks etc, but breakfast cereals, cars, …) it can be a strategy to not target an audience directly with your giveaway, but use other players to bring the message to your intended audience.

When the first level recipient is intended as multiplier, Berger & Schwartz (2011) find that while products that are cued more often were discussed more frequently, more interesting (or novel, surprising, original) products did not get more word of mouth overall.

This translates well to scicomm: If a topic is cued more often, it is likely that it will be discussed more. So make sure your giveaway is something people use daily and that makes other people comment on it!

The gift giver

Determining the “audience”, i.e. who you are giving your giveaway to, also includes determining who the gift-giver is (Cruz & Fill, 2008), since the same gift received by the same person can be perceived very differently on the context the gift-giver and the gift-receiver are in. It makes a big difference to the message a gift is sending whether the source of a gift are individuals or a corporation, i.e. whose relationship the giveaway-giving is supposed to influence. A paper clip branded with the logo of an institution might be taken as sign of appreciation when used on documents sent to a coworker at a different institution. The very same paperclip might not work at all when handed out as giveaway at a science day, even if the recipient is the same person in both these example

Design criteria for giveaways

Let’s assume you’ve gone through the three basic scicomm questions and know your goal, your audience and your message, which is what you should always do first:

1) Why do you want to give away a giveaway? Your goal.

2) Who do you want to reach and how will you reach them? Your audience.

3) What is it that you want people to take away from your scicomm? Your message.

Now how do you combine the message with a physical object? That’s a very good question that I will try to answer in my next blog post tomorrow :-)

Literature

Axtell, R. E. (1990). Do’s and taboos of hosting international visitors. Wiley.

Arunthanes, W., Tansuhaj, P., and Lemak, D. J., (1994) “Cross‐cultural Business Gift Giving: A New Conceptualization and Theoretical Framework”, International Marketing Review, Vol. 11 Issue: 4, pp.44-55, https:// doi.org/10.1108/02651339410069245

Beltramini, R. F. (1992). Exploring the Effectiveness of Business Gifts: A controlled field experiment. JAMS, 87-91

Berger, J., and Schwartz, E. (2011) ,”What Do People Talk About and Why? How Product Characteristics and Promotional Giveaways Shape Word-Of-Mouth”, in NA – Advances in Consumer Research Volume 38, eds. Darren W. Dahl, Gita V. Johar, and Stijn M.J. van Osselaer, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research.

Cropanzano, R., and Mitchell, M. S. Social Exchange Theory: An Interdisciplinary Review. Journal of Management, Vol. 31 No. 6, December 2005 874-900 DOI: 10.1177/0149206305279602

Cruz, D., Fill, C. (2008) “Evaluating viral marketing: isolating the key criteria”, Marketing Intelligence & Planning, Vol. 26 Issue: 7, pp.743-758, https://doi.org/10.1108/02634500810916690

Fan, Y. (2006) “Promoting business with corporate gifts – major issues and empirical evidence”, Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 11 Issue: 1, pp.43-55, https:// doi.org/10.1108/13563280610643543

Giftypedia (2013); http://www.giftypedia.com/International_Gift_Customs (last accessed on xxx -> print relevant pages to pdf!)

Marchand, A., Paul, M., Hennig-Thurau, T., and Puchner, G. (2016). How Gifts Influence Relationships With Service Customers and Financial Outcomes for Firms. Journal of Service Research. 1-15. DOI: 10.1177/1094670516682091

Yukse, M., Smith, R., McCabe, C. (2018) Reciprocal Intentions: Effects of Promotional Giveaways on Consumers’ In-Venue Spending Intentions: An Abstract. In: Krey N., Rossi P. (eds) Back to the Future: Using Marketing Basics to Provide Customer Value. AMSAC 2017. Developments in Marketing Science: Proceedings of the Academy of Marketing Science. Springer, Cham

Using social media in science communication — the Kiel Science Outreach Campus shows how it’s done

One of the 2018 achievements that I feel most proud of is developing a social media strategy for the science communication research project Kiel Science Outreach Campus, and implementing it together with the project’s 11 PhD students plus a couple more colleagues who we “entrained” along the way. And now an article we wrote about the whole social media has just been published! (pdf of the article and a link to the full issue No 4 of the IPN Journal). Check it out, as well as our Twitter @KiSOC_Kiel and Instagram @KiSOC_Kiel — both lead to the project’s central social media, which in turn often link to our individual scicomm social media profiles.

Click image to reach pdf of article

A big Thank You to Sonja Taut for the super nice graphic design and print setting!

Communicating Climate Change — a book you should definitely know about!

In a presentation about science communication I gave on Monday, I recommended a couple of resources for scientists interested in science communication. For example the amazing climatevisuals.org for advice on which images to use to communicate about climate change (plus lots of images that even come with explanations for what purpose they work well, and why!). And of course my #scicommchall to get people inspired to try out a new micro scicomm format every month.

But here is an (open access!) book I wish I had known about then already but only came across two days after my presentation: “Communicating Climate Change” by A. K. Armstrong, M. E. Krasny, J. P. Schuldt (2018).

This is a book aimed at educators who want to communicate climate change in a literature-based and effective manner. It consists of four parts: A background, the psychology of climate change, communication, and stories from the field, which I will briefly review below (and you should definitely check out the real thing!). It’s nice and easy to read, and there are “bottom line for educators” at the end of each chapter as well as recaps at the end of each part, making it easy to get a quick overview even if you might not have the time to read the whole thing in detail.

Background

This part of the book begins with an introduction to climate change science, reporting state-of-the-art science on climate, greenhouse gases, evidence for climate change, and climate impacts. It then moves to how climate change can be addressed: by mitigating or adapting to its effects, how it is important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and how that can be achieved both on an individual level and by collective action. It ends with a “bottom line for educators” summary that stresses that climate change is real, that misinformation campaigns are an unfortunate reality, and that educators can contribute to solving the problem.

The next chapter then deals with what is known on attitudes and knowledge about climate change in different audiences internationally and at different ages, explaining that attitudes are actually a pretty bad predictor for behaviour, but nevertheless important to know about if you are an educator! For example, if you want teens to be concerned about climate change, a useful approach might be to involve their parents along with them, since what family and friends believe about climate change is very important to what an individual teenager believes, as is how often they discuss climate topics with their friends and family. Again, the “bottom line for educators” breaks this down into advice, for example to focus on different topics depending on how concerned about climate change a given audience already is, or to focus on areas in which a common ground between them and their audiences exists in order to generate a constructive and positive dialogue even though there might still be areas in which they do not agree with their audiences (which they should think about beforehand, hence the importance to know about the audience’s attitudes).

The next chapter suggests possible outcomes for climate change education — how do we know if a climate change communication activity was successful? — and stresses the importance of defining these goals in the first place. Outcomes can be defined on the level of individuals, of communities, of the environment, or of resilience of all of the above. For individuals, outcomes could for example be literacy (understanding essential principles, knowledge of how to assess scientifically credible information, ability to communicate, ability to make informed and responsible decisions) of climate change, or attitudes and emotions, the feeling of confidence that you can reach your goals, or environmentally friendly behaviour. For communities, outcomes could be positive development of youth, building of social capital (e.g. trust or positive action), the belief that the community can reach a goal together, or action taken together by the whole community. Focussing on the environment, an outcome could be adaptation to, or mitigation of, climate change.

The next chapter then presents three climate change vignettes — three examples of how different educators address different audiences in different settings — and a discussion of why they chose to design their activity a certain way and react to questions or comments the way they did.

The psychology of climate change

This part of the book presents psychology research on why knowledge about climate change is not sufficient to actually change behaviours.

Identity research especially is very helpful, as it explains how in order to feel like you are part of a group (something that we as humans are hard-wired to crave) we tend to conform with our group’s norms and values. We might be part of different groups at different times as well as simultaneously (for example our family as one and our colleagues as another, or inhabitant of a city, or student of oceanography), and contexts trigger specific identities that might even not be completely congruent with each other. When new information is presented, we interpret it in a way that does not threaten our identity in the context the information is presented in. Therefore, in order to not threaten anybody’s identity and making it impossible for them to take on our message, it is important to make sure that climate change is not communicated as something polarising or political, but rather choose to trigger identities that are inclusive, like for example “inhabitant of place x”, and focus on outcomes that benefit that community independent of what other identities might exist, by for example protecting a local beach.

Psychological distance is another lens through which climate change communication can be viewed. The more distant a problem seems, the less important it is perceived. Therefore focussing on local relevance rather than global, on places that are important to people, on communities they care about, might in some cases be helpful — although not always; the results of the research on this are not conclusive yet.

Then a few other relevant psychological research areas are discussed, like for example “terror management theory”. This leads to the recommendation to avoid “doom and gloom” presentations of climate change that might kick people into a defence mechanism of ignoring the topic to protect their emotional well-being in the moment, and to focus on hope and positive action instead. Then there is the “cognitive dissonance theory”, according to which we try to ignore information that conflicts with what we think we already know or threatens other goals we might have. The recommendation here is to give people ideas of easy things they can do to combat climate change to combat cognitive dissonance.

Communication

This part of the book presents three aspects of communicating climate change: How we frame it, which analogies and metaphors we use, and how we, as a messenger, can build trust.

“Framing” is about how a message is featured in a story line to help the audience interpret it in a certain way, by making certain aspects of it especially visible, for example economic aspects or tipping points. When thinking about framing a climate change message, it is important to think about audiences and their identities and to avoid wording that will trigger identities which make it difficult to accept the message. Depending on the desired outcomes, climate change communications could, for example, be framed for solutions, hope, or values. There are ways to build entire climate change communication programs around those frames, and there are several examples given for how this might be done.

The next chapter focusses on analogies and metaphors. For example, “osteoporosis of the sea” (which I had never heard in use before) has been found to be a successful metaphor for ocean acidification. However, as all metaphors, it only highlights similarities between issues and neglects to mention the dissimilarities which makes them tricky to use because it’s hard to make sure people don’t take a metaphor so far that it breaks down. In fact, to address this problem, the authors recommend to explicitly talk about where the analogy or metaphor will break down.

Establishing trust in the climate change messengers: This is tricky as people tend to trust other people that hold values similar to their own. Therefore it is helpful to think about the messenger and to use trusted middle persons. [There is are actually some very interesting work on trust out there, for example by Hendriks, Kienhues and Bromme (2015) that isn’t mentioned in the book, but that I’d be happy to summarise for you if anyone is interested!]

Stories from the field

The book ends with a part called “stories from the field” in which examples of different climate change communication activities, focussing on different goals, audiences, messenges and happening in very different settings, are given and the design choices that were made explained in detail. Also for each of the story, an example is given how the message is phrased in actual interaction with the target audience. All of this is super interesting to read because all the theory the book provided in the previous chapters is applied to real world cases, which makes it easy to see how they might be applied to your own climate change communication activities. Also these best practice examples are inspiring to see and give me a sense of hope.

To sum up: I really enjoyed reading this book! So much so that continuing reading it was more important than getting a good Instagram pic of my latte while writing this blogpost. I would really recommend anyone interested in climate change communication to check it out! When I finished my talk on Monday, on my second to last slide I put the African proverb along the lines of “if you think you are too small to make a difference, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room”. I used this to talk about using messages of hope in climate change communication, and then also applied it to science communication — don’t think you are too small to make a difference there, either! And that’s a message that this book conveys really well, too, providing a good idea of what one could do and how one might go about it, and inspiring one — or at least me — to do so, too.

I am missing institute seminars! Or: Why we should talk to people who use different methods

You probably know that I have recently changed my research focus quite dramatically, from physical oceanography to science communication research. What that means is that I am a total newbie (well, not total any more, but still on a very steep learning curve), and that I really appreciate listening to talks from a broad range of topics in my new field to get a feel for the lay of the land, so to speak. We do have institute seminars at my current work place, but they only take place like once a month, and I just realized how much I miss getting input on many different things on at least a weekly basis without having to explicitly seek them out. To be fair, it’s also summer vacation time and nobody seems to be around right now…

But anyway, I want to talk about why it is important that people not only of different disciplines talk, but also people from within the same discipline that use different approaches. I’ll use my first article (Simulated impact of double-diffusive mixing on physical and biogeochemical upper ocean properties by Glessmer, Oschlies, and Yool (2008)) to illustrate my point.

I don’t really know how it happened, but by my fourth year at university, I was absolutely determined to work on how this teeny tiny process, double-diffusive mixing (that I had seen in tank experiments in a class), would influence the results of an ocean model (as I was working as student research assistant in the modelling group). And luckily I found a supervisor who would not only let me do it, but excitedly supported me in doing it.

Double-diffusive mixing, for those of you who don’t recall, looks something like this when done in a tank experiment:

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And yep, that’s me in the reflection right there :-)

Why should anyone care about something so tiny?

Obviously, there is a lot of value in doing research to satisfy curiosity. But for a lot of climate sciences, one important motivation for the research is that ultimately, we want to be able to predict climate, and that means that we need good climate models. Climate models are used as basis for policy decisions and therefore should represent the past as well as the present and future (under given forcing scenarios) as accurately as possible.

Why do we need to know about double-diffusive mixing if we want to model climate?

Many processes are not actually resolved in the model, but rather “parameterized”, i.e. represented by functions that estimate the influence of the process. And one process that is parameterized is double-diffusive mixing, because its scale (even though in the ocean the scale is typically larger than in the picture above) is too small to be represented.

Mixing, both in ocean models and in the real world, influences many things:

  • By mixing temperature and salinity (not with each other, obviously, but warmer waters with colder, and at the same time more salty waters with less salty), we change density of the water, which is a function of both temperature and salinity. By changing density, we are possibly changing ocean currents.
  • At the same, other tracers are influenced: Waters with more nutrients mix with waters with less, for example. Also changed currents might now supply nutrient-rich waters to other regions than they did before. This has an impact on biogeochemistry — stuff (yes, I am a physical oceanographer) grows in other regions than before, or gets remineralized in different places and at different rates, etc.
  • A change in biogeochemistry combined with a changed circulation can lead to changed air-sea fluxes of, for example, oxygen, CO2, nitrous oxide, or other trace gases, and then you have your influence on the atmosphere right there.

What are the benefits of including tiny processes in climate models?

Obviously, studying the influence of individual processes leads to a better understanding of ocean physics, which is a great goal in itself. But that can also ultimately lead to better models, better predictions, better foundation for policies. But my main point here isn’t even what exactly we need to include or not, it is that we need a better flow of information, and a better culture of exchange.

Talk to each other!

And this is where this tale connects to me missing institute seminars: I feel like there are too few opportunities for exchange of ideas across research groups, for learning about stuff that doesn’t seem to have a direct relevance to my own research (so I wouldn’t know that I should be reading up on it) but that I should still be aware of in case it suddenly becomes relevant.

What we need is that, staying in the example of my double-diffusive mixing article, is that modellers keep exploring the impact of seemingly irrelevant changes to parameterizations or even the way things are coded. And if you aren’t doing it yourself, still keep it in the back of your head that really small changes might have a big influence, and listen to people working on all kinds of stuff that doesn’t seem to have a direct impact on your own research. In case of including the parameterization of double-diffusive mixing, oceanic CO2 uptake is enhanced by approximately 7% of the anthropogenic CO2 signal compared to a control run! And then there might be a climate sensitivity of processes, i.e. double-diffusive mixing happening in many ore places under a climate that has lead to a different oceanic stratification. If we aren’t even aware of this process, how can we possibly hope that our model will produce at least semi-sensible results? And what we also need are that the sea going and/or experimental oceanographers keep pushing their research to the attention of modellers. Or, if we want less pushing: more opportunities for and interest in exchanging with people from slightly different niches than our own!

One opportunity just like that is coming up soon, when I and others will be writing from Grenoble about Elin Darelius and her team’s research on Antarctic stuff in a 12-m-diameter rotating tank. Imagine that. A water tank of that size, rotating! To simulate the influence of Earth’s rotation on ocean current. And we’ll be putting topography in that! Stay tuned, it will get really exciting for all of us, and all of you! :-)

P.S.: My #COMPASSMessageBox for this blogpost below. I really like working with this tool! Read more about the #COMPASSMessageBox.

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And here is the full citation: Glessmer, M. S., Oschlies, A., & Yool, A. (2008). Simulated impact of double‐diffusive mixing on physical and biogeochemical upper ocean properties. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 113(C8).

What you know about science is not necessarily what you believe about science

I’ve been working in science communication research for a good half a year now, and my views on outreach are constantly evolving. When I applied for this job, I was convinced that if only the public knew what we (the scientists) know, they would take better decisions. So all we need to do is inform the public, preferably using entertaining and engaging methods. However, I soon came to learn that this is known as the “deficit model” and that there is a lot of research saying that life isn’t that easy. Like, at all.

One article I really like makes it very clear that knowledge about what science says is not at all the same as believing in what science says. The article Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem by Kahan (2015) (btw, a really entertaining read!) describes how changing a question on a questionnaire from “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals” to “According to the theory of evolution, human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals” has a big impact: While in the first case, religiosity of the respondents had a huge impact and even highly educated religious people are very likely to answer “no”, in the second case religious and non-religious people answer similarly correctly. So clearly the knowledge of what evolution theory says is there in both cases, but only in the latter case that knowledge becomes relevant in answering the question. In the first case, the respondents cultural identity dictates a different answer than in the second case, where the question is only about science comprehension, not about beliefs and identity. As the author says: a question about ““belief in” evolution measures “who one is” rather than “what one knows””.

The author then moves on to study knowledge and beliefs about climate change and finds the same thing: the relationship between science comprehension and belief in climate change depends on the respondents’ identities. The more concerned someone is about climate change due to their cultural background, the more concerned they become as their level of science comprehension increases. The more sceptical someone is, the more sceptical he becomes with increasing science comprehension: “Far from increasing the likelihood that individuals will agree that human activity is causing climate change, higher science comprehension just makes the response that a person gives to a “global- warming belief” item an even more reliable indicator of who he or she is.”

So knowledge (or lack thereof) clearly isn’t the problem we face in climate change communication — the problem is the entanglement of knowledge and identity. What can we do to disentangle the two? According to the article, it is most important to not reinforce the association of opposing positions with membership in competing groups. The higher-profile the communicators on the front lines, the more they force individuals to construe evidence that supports the claims of those high-profile members of their group in order to feel as part of that group and protect their identity. Which is pretty much the opposite of how climate science has been communicated in the last years. Stay tuned while we work on developing good alternatives, but don’t hold your breath just yet ;-)


Kahan, D. M. (2015). Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem Political Psychology, 36, 1-43