07 January 2013

#Scio13: bring on the strategy!

ScienceOnline 2013 is quickly approaching and I'm excited to co-moderate a panel called "tackling science denialism with a systematic game plan" with Emily Willingham.  Emily and I clearly bring different perspectives to the table.

Emily has an impressive track record of accomplishment in science and science communication.  She earned a PhD in Biological Sciences from the University of Texas at Austin, she completed a successful postdoctoral fellowship at UC-San Francisco, and she taught biology to thousands of college-age students in Texas and California.  In addition to writing a successful laypersons' guide to college biology, Emily's work has appeared in Scientific American, Slate, Grist, Forbes, and other noteworthy publications. (She's also a star of the coolest YouTube video on evolution EVAH.) 

When Emily was probably ramping up her graduate studies, I was attaching pizza coupons to my resume and mailing them to Members of Congress.  The cover letters would say things like, "Dear Senator - hire me and get a dollar off your next extra-large pepperoni!"

So yeah, I'm a little intimidated. 

But since then, I've seen some things in politics and public relations that have helped me understand how public opinion evolves and how it affects policy. I've learned the importance of having well-defined goals and meaningful metrics.   I've seen "overmatched" people and organizations win policy and PR fights through tenacity, patience, well-tested messaging, creativity, audacity, and strategic application of finite resources.  I've seen one cliche play out time and time again: "If you're not on offense, you're on defense.  And if you're on defense, you're losing."  In short, I've learned that you need a strategy to "win." And sadly, for all the brilliance that #scio13 brings to bear, I think we're still really short on strategy.

I won't pretend to know how "denialism" starts or how those who hold it think. I also won't pretend to know more about science or science communication than the people participating in the panel discussion.  I'm more interested in developing strategies to win the hearts and minds of those who make decisions for all of us.

I'm hopeful that people will come to the session with items or ideas around which they want to build strategies.  For now, I will share a series of questions I hope people can use to help them develop those ideas:
  • What's your measurable goal - is it a public policy change, a business change, something else?
  • Who makes up specific audience or community you wish to influence?  Who are that community's leaders?
  • How will you build or strengthen your relationships with those leaders? 
  • Who are some allies that may not be scientists or science communicators? 
  • Who are your opponents?
  • How will you know you've made progress?
  • How are you testing your messages to know that what you're saying persuades people?
  • What resources do you have readily available, and what more do you need?
  • What is your timeline for success?
And here are some relevant posts I've written previously:

I'm really looking forward to the discussion and the strategies that emerge. 

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