The Tools And Tactics Of Effective Science Communication In An Issues Rich Environment

The Tools And Tactics Of Effective Science Communication In An Issues Rich Environment

Author: Ben Creagh, CSIRO, Australia

As one of the Australia’s most trusted organisations (Bruce & Critchley, 2013) the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has a long history providing research and synthesising complex technical information to better understand pressing and often highly contentious issues confronting policy makers.

This presentation will articulate the communication tools, tactics and principles necessary for scientists to improve how they actively inform public policy with impartiality and independence, and in doing so increase the potency of science as a shaper of policy.

It will draw on three case studies: (1) understanding the social, environmental and economic impacts of Australia’s unconventional gas industry; (2) communicating scientific observations and data underpinning climate science (State of the Climate, 2014); and (3) helping chart the economic, social and environmental implications of expanding development in Northern Australia. It will present a ‘toolbox’ of the consistent and critical elements of effective communication of complex and technical scientific information and will canvass science marketing, stakeholder engagement, issues management, and contemporary media engagement practices.

Despite the diversity of issues and the unique public policy and political circumstances that define them, the communication environment is largely characterised by a set of consistent traits. These include issues where scientific knowledge is contested or incomplete; presents a difficult and complex policy challenge; involves a spectrum of often competing interests and values; and is of high media, political and public interest.

Central to the success of this approach has been adherence to the honest broker role as articulated by Roger Pielke (2007) as a guiding principle for all communication and engagement activities irrespective of the issue. This presentation will also demonstrate how the right communication and engagement approach can allow scientific organisations to maintain and grow the trust of the public, media, policy-makers, politicians and the science community.

Bruce, G. & Critchley, C. (2013). The Swinburne National Technology and Society Monitor. 2013 Monitor. Retrieved from
Bureau of Meteorology, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (2014). State of the Climate 2014. Retrieved from
Pielke, R. (2007). The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press