The uncertainty of science is one of the hardest things to communicate and has been a hindrance to starting many conversations about climate change. The session at Planet Under Pressure (PUP) “Communicating climate change: achieving richer public engagement” sought to answer the following discussions:
- How can we enhance interest in climate change discussions?
- How can we be effective in communicating what is and is not known?
- What forms of communication best support understanding and inclusive debate, and above all, action?
As discussed in a previous blog post on social media, the discussions and presentations at this PUP event showed that we need to move beyond marketing approaches of communication towards those that generate dialogue and link people together.
A number of the presentations on research into communication and behavior change highlighted the need for relationship building and trust when communicating the uncertainty of science. One researcher demonstrated the need to communicate using an open-ended and more ‘embracing’ form of communication, i.e. using “we”, “us” and more inclusive or open terms, rather than corporate communication language. She also emphasized the need to use more nuanced language when communicating uncertainty: for example, using “around 20%” rather than bands such as “20-30%”.
This session reminded me of a discussion I had with a climate change modeler who was changing his message to focus on the fact that is was not a question of if there will be changes in agriculture production in a certain area, but more a matter of when.
Important recommendations/tips that were synthesized during the session:
- Move way from social marketing models where we are trying to ‘sell’ something towards a model that emphasizes an issue is a collective problem. We need to focus on dialogue and discussion rather than messaging.
- Promote and use relationships and trust. Scary and uncertain issues such as climate change need trustworthy messengers.
- Show the relevance of the issue without resorting to scare tactics. It is distant in space and time and needs to be more relevant to peoples’ lives.
- Style is important; use open rather than closed communication models. This echoed a presentation at CPWF’s International Forum on Water and Food, where Hastings Chikoko from the IUCN argued that we are in an “Age of Style” where communication style is essential.
- We need to consider scale in order to ensure that the dialogue on climate change is long-term and that resources are allocated to it. Social media and mass media are two ways to keep the discussion going.
Another panelist argued that by advocating an approach that focused on social media and engaging in public debate, we communicators are crowding out introverts (i.e. usually scientists) and not allowing them their own private space. There is some interesting literature on this. In an age of introverts and social media, how do engage naturally introverted researchers in these critical debates?
This is a debate that we have had for a while within CPWF and we would like to know how to bridge this gap. How can we communicate uncertainty more effectively? How can balance the need to engage new forms of social media while providing scientists with space to reflect and think?
By Michael Victor