Stories 17.03.2015 Communicating research results requires boldness to make yourself vulnerable Share: We organised training for environmental researchers at Korjaamo on 25 February 2015, focusing on communications and getting the message heard. At the #tutkijavaikuta event the researchers received guidance on communicating their own research. The event was organised by the Kone Foundation, Nessling Foundation, the Forum for Environmental Information and Kaskas Media. Most researchers, including those attending the training event, feel that it is part of their job to contribute to social debate. They believe that researchers must play a role in society, including decision-making. Most research is never read though and is rarely referred to. How could researchers better communicate the results of their work to different sectors of society? These are the questions we set out to answer. Eeva Primmer, Head of Environmental Governance Unit at SYKE’s Environmental Policy Centre, emphasised that communications varies according to the target audience. In other words, you must communicate differently to the media and to other researchers. Primmer’s advice was to look at the big picture served by our research instead of individual problems. The media finds the big picture interesting. You can also get your message heard by following social debate and offering your research results as a contribution at the right time. Primmer reminded us that decision-making takes place on many levels. You can enter into a dialogue with Parliament, government bodies, your own peer groups, businesses, landowners, etc. The Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities and MEPs are also excellent ways to spread knowledge. Ville Niinistö, MP and chair of the Green League, explained political decision-making. Politicians are subject to a deluge of information and have trouble sifting out what is relevant. The easiest way for a busy politician is to follow social debate and the media, so be active participants in it, researchers! Niinistö noted that knowledge and research must be part of the debate, otherwise opinions with no research basis will take over. What should research results look like then if they are to be usable? Research deals with difficult issues that people do not always want to hear about. People also easily feel guilty about issues like climate change. Discussion about difficult and complex issues places researchers in a situation where they become participants in political debate. This is why Niinistö fittingly described participating in the debate as “making yourself vulnerable as researchers”. Things that people find difficult and problematic must be communicated clearly. It always pays to include a message of hope when you present a problem. For politicians, calculated figures and economic and health-related information are important. Niinistö follows research and he retweets about articles related to research and tweets by researchers themselves. Niinistö said that the academic community is too wary about social media and encouraged people to rethink whether their perceived integrity as researchers should confined them to their own four walls. He also urged researchers to contact decision-making bodies directly. Researchers, find out which ministry and unit makes decisions related to your work. Collaborate with researchers who are already cooperating with civil servants. Get in direct contact with Members of Parliament. They are unlikely to be familiar with who knows about which particular issue. Contact committee counsels and the MPs of the committee, ask to come and speak to the committee. Environmental Expert Pirjo Jantunen talked about the importance of research data at the energy company Helen. Helen relies on such data daily, especially in development work and to provide background information for goals. Research becomes reality in everyday applications! Jantunen’s advice was to communicate clearly and concisely with energy companies, for example using Twitter. The event inspired journalist Jani Kaaro to analyse the sources that different science journalists use. There is considerable overlap. Many journalists use the US research news service EurekAlert! and use materials from other journalists. How can scientific journalism be improved? Kaaro suggested in jest that researchers should not give information to freelancers but should get involved themselves in the discussion. In the afternoon it was the researchers turn to be heard. They formed groups to discuss communication problems and solutions to them. What worries you about communicating your research results and what are the challenges? Many were apprehensive about going in front of audiences, partly because of insecurity as performers and partly because of uncertainties concerning the results and quality of their work. Some felt that there is no time to communicate. Some were uncertain about communication methods and were afraid of become branded in some way. A worst-case scenario was the negative feedback received by Pekka Himanen, who according to one researcher was subjected to a “shitstorm”. Asking yourself why you should communicate may also lead you to ponder the chilling, personal question “What am I doing my work for?” The groups found solutions to these fears. Researchers should think of social media and journalists as being on their side. With a little practice and a little less self-criticism communicating becomes easier. Using your time efficiently becomes easier when you know how to communicate. If you have Twitter contacts who work in communications, you can share a story with them without actually writing a press release. If you are worried about becoming labelled, create two Twitter accounts, one for personal use and one for research. In reality, the risk of a media storm is very small. You can enter debates at seminars related to your fields and by joining e-mail groups offered by the Forum for Environmental Information. If there is an economic angle to your research topic, reducing costs for example, or if it can enhance eco-friendliness, use that. The day concluded with Twitter exercises: search with the hashtag #tutkijavaikuta to read about the work of participating researchers. The materials used at the event are available at http://www.ymparistotiedonfoorumi.fi/viestinta-ja-vaikuttamiskoulutus-ymparistotutkijoille/ Author Marjaana Larpa Marjaana Larpa is a cultural production trainee at the Kone Foundation. The job description includes event production. As an outcome of the training day, the writer decided to join Twitter.