Translating life science research to stories – Using media channels for broader impact and increased audience reach

Author: Jessica B. Turner-Skoff – The Morton Arboretum, United States

Nicole Cavender – The Morton Arboretum
Patricia MacMillan – The Morton Arboretum
Kelley Regan – The Morton Arboretum

Organizations focused on life science are often challenged with sharing scientific discoveries and milestones with the broader public. The Morton Arboretum is a botanical garden with a strong interest in connecting its scientific expertise and research to its visitor base (>1 million per year) and to an external audience through diverse channels. This organization is developing a solution to overcome this challenge.

With the goal to communicate more impactful stories about its science and conservation work, an institutional strategic initiative was launched in 2017, starting with the establishment of a cross-departmental science communication team. Roles and responsibilities were clearly defined, followed by the identification and analysis of priority audiences and the appropriate media channels to reach them: 1) Scientists and Peers; 2) Curious or Affinitive; and the 3) General Public. Next, a systematic process was put in place to objectively evaluate research discoveries, such as those published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and stories that align with both the Arboretum’s messaging priorities and the media’s interest. This process included a method to translate the raw science into language appropriate for the targeted audience.

This process, although early in its development, has already increased in reach and impact. For example, messages developed around research and conservation work with oaks and other endangered trees has reached all three targeted audiences. Metrics comparing the first nine months of 2017 to 2016 indicate a successful trend. For this time frame, there has been a 104% increase in media references to The Morton Arboretum’s expertise.

The science communication team is continuously refining how the science work can be translated for the general public. There are challenges that remain including interpretation, matching media’s interest, and the limited capacity of staff. A broader professional discussion could address these challenges as we work to bring the stories of science to society.

Presentation type: Show, tell and talk
Theme: Science
Area of interest: Applying science communication research to practice