Last week, I talked about how Compassionate Science Communication can provide value for and have lasting impact on our audiences. It requires the communicators to first learn what our audiences care about before offering a relevant scientific perspective. How? Let’s review the steps that guide the process:
- Listen: Approach our audience with curiosity—ask questions, listen, try to understand their perspectives and acknowledge where they come from without judgement. This puts us in a much better position to provide information that would actually benefit our audience.
- Relate: Identify something in common so we can better empathize, speak their language, and form a genuine connection.
- Inform: Offer scientific information that is relevant to their values, questions, or concerns, in a way that is accessible.
- Encourage: Provide actionable points & a sense of hope, highlighting what they have to gain from the actions to motivate and empower them.
What these steps look like in practice depends on your platform and your audience. Let’s break them down in a case study based on Gentle Facts, a project I started in March 2020.
Gentle Facts—Science Made Gentle
I did not come up with the idea behind Gentle Facts—it found me. With misinformation rampaging and opinions online becoming more polarized, it was apparent that the pandemic has taken a huge mental toll on many of us, myself included, and we just wanted to shut it out. But not keeping up with the latest development only made us more vulnerable, exposing ourselves and our communities to potential danger. It’s not you it’s the pandemicSo I decided that these are the people I want to serve—those who support science and want to take positive actions, but are impeded by information fatigue and overwhelmed by the divisive, sometimes hostile discussions online. I sent out a survey to confirm that people do want more information, especially on health and environmental science, to guide evidence-based decisions. They just want it in a format that does not drain them. This formed the basis of Gentle Facts, which is to deliver scientific information, curated in a visual and easy-to-digest format, and designed specifically to reduce anxiety and provide actionable items.
As I started posting content on Instagram, I continue to engage with my audience through Stories, comments, and direct messages and address any questions they have. I seek out people in my community who are hesitant to take the Covid vaccines to understand their thought process. I take every one of them seriously, even the cynical comments that question the validity of my work.
I always thank them for sharing their viewpoints and they are often grateful for having someone who would actually listen.
By acknowledging and genuinely inquiring about their perspectives, these remarks usually turn into respectful and constructive conversations, whether we end up agreeing or not. For instance, when I see comments like “this is misleading/wrong/hilarious,” I’d invite them to elaborate as well as share resources that informed their opinions. I always thank them for sharing their viewpoints and they are often grateful for having someone who would actually listen.
I chose my audience because I am one of them. To preserve my sanity as I finished grad school during a pandemic, I avoided headlines about the plague like a plague. However, it left me feeling powerless and confused, much like the audience I am trying to reach. Having this shared experience makes it easier for me to empathize and anticipate their needs.
Through Gentle Facts and other real-life encounters, I am meeting people from different backgrounds and viewpoints, while forming more specific connections with each of them. There is always something that we can agree on and values that we share, whether it is the fear of needles, yearning for human connections, finding hope for our community or environment… The more vulnerable and authentic I allow myself to be, the easier it is to find that common ground, which helps us relate and receive each other’s perspectives.
What can we say about vaccine history?Now that I’ve done my homework, I’m ready for the most creative—and tricky part: delivering relevant information in a format that my audience finds easy to access and understand. In addition to the practices that scicommers often implement for accessibility (e.g. avoid jargon, use analogies, etc.), here are some guidelines I keep in mind specifically for my audience:
Keep it simple:
Especially for my tired and overwhelmed audience, more is not more. I try to share just enough information to give context or support my point. I also make sure the flow of logic and language used are easy to follow.
Create a safe and calm environment:
Through the use of art, language, and communication style, I try to evoke positive emotions while reducing stimulation and the sense of threat in my audience. Some examples include:
- Use of friendly, animated cartoon characters and pastel colours
- Minimizing text and using negative space for breathing room
- Focusing on the facts and how they impact the audience, instead of blaming, labeling, or mocking people and their behaviours
What can my audience do with the information I provide? I always try to include actionable points that are easy to follow and be clear on how the audience may benefit. It can be as simple as “share this info with someone you think may need it,” but it helps empower and activate my audience in ways that align with their values. It also ensures that they understand how the information is relevant to them.
Hope is everywhereGentle Facts is young and still evolving, but I believe that Compassionate Science Communication will always be at the core of what we do. If you have any thoughts or feedback for us, or want to get involved, please reach out!
It’s also about you
Before I end this two-part blog post, I want to make sure that we, as science communicators, are also empathetic to ourselves. We as humans are all capable of compassion, but it takes a lot of patience, thoughts, and extra care to activate and practice it, especially during this rising tide of anti-science. Practicing compassion can be extremely taxing on the communicator, thus it is important to be mindful of our own boundaries. Pick your battles, take breaks, back off when people don’t want a conversation—whatever it takes to care for yourself so your passion for this meaningful work stays alive!
I hope that this blog post provides some helpful tips and inspirations for those who want to take a kinder, gentler approach on science communication. I am also very curious to hear other people’s take on this subject. What are some compassionate communication tools that you use? Share with us in the comments!