The quick answer is yes, we all want an informed public. In a thriving democracy, having an informed and educated citizenry enhances our understanding of complex issues that, in turn, can result in sound policies. Answering that question is the easy part.
But some of the most difficult questions are “How do we inform the public?” and “What do we want to say?” These questions were discussed at a recent “Climate Change Education Roundtable” hosted by the National Academy of Sciences. With almost unanimous agreement among scientists on the effects of climate change but a public whose understanding and support is gradually dimming (according to a Pew report), the real challenge is how to communicate complex and controversial issues to key audiences. As communications professionals, we address these challenges everyday on behalf of our clients.
So, what were the communications “takeaways” from the discussion? The group agreed on several key strategies that communication experts would support:
- Make your messages relevant to your target audiences – a single message does not resonate with all audiences; find different ways to tell the same story.
- Communicate uncertainty and acknowledge it – for science-related issues, it’s important to let your audiences know that not even science is a perfect science.
- Include a diversity of messengers in your communications efforts – this will show broad support. Teachers, scientists and experts from civil society and academia may be great messengers.
- Customize content for use across various delivery channels (e.g. print media, social media, website, etc.) – use your content in new and interesting ways but customized for different delivery methods.
What will be interesting to see is how organizations put these concepts into action in communicating climate change. Let us know if you’ve applied other strategies that have successfully facilitated communications on a complex or controversial issue.