Science communication – from evidence to emojis



TYPE Prevention Centre News

The Prevention Centre model involves researchers and end users of the research – policy makers and practitioners – working together to develop research questions, conduct the research, and interpret and apply the findings. We also plan for our communications team to be involved right from the start as an integral part of our work. In fact, the second person employed at the Centre back in 2013 was a communications specialist who played a significant role in driving the collaboration. Ten years on from the establishment of this embedded science communication approach, we note that a number of research organisations do not have dedicated communications personnel and our expertise is often called upon by our network partners.

The Prevention Centre works with more than 700 researchers, policy makers and practitioners in chronic disease prevention, all with unique communication goals and challenges. The Prevention Centre’s Communications Manager Ainsley Burgess has led the development and dissemination of hundreds of resources designed to communicate prevention research over her eight years with the Centre. Employing a range of innovative methods from storytelling to improvisation, she has helped translate findings into news stories, policy briefs, videos, and podcasts for different audiences, in a way that the intended audience will find useful and can act on.

The foresight of the Centre’s founders to embed a capacity for science communication has proved its weight in gold. We have developed new ways of thinking as professional communicators based on trust, collaboration and dialogue. This approach requires time to experiment, adapt, and evolve, and from this we have created an innovative model for science communication.

Ainsley Burgess, Communications Manager

The establishment of the Collaboration for Enhanced Research Impact (CERI), with several NHMRC Centres of Research Excellence (CREs), has expanded the focus of the Prevention Centre’s science communications, especially in terms of joint advocacy efforts for CERI to create a united and compelling narrative about the value of prevention. Several CREs recently contributed to a thought-provoking article in the future workforce planning issue of Inspire magazine along with a submission to the Australian Government on improving alignment and coordination between the Medical Research Future Fund and Medical Research Endowment Account.

The Prevention Centre also works to upskill the broader prevention community in science communication through a Communications Community of Practice. This initiative, established by Science Communications Adviser Helen Signy, regularly brings together researchers with communications professionals to share best practice insights.

Together they have produced a CERI User Guide with practical tips on communications for researchers, from writing policy briefs and opinion pieces to storytelling, social media and engaging with the media. For many of the researchers in the CERI CRE’s, this guidance has been invaluable and has changed how they approach their work when it comes to engaging stakeholders on the value of their research. Dr Konsita Kuswara, Knowledge Translation Coordinator with the CRE in the Early Prevention of Obesity in Childhood (EPOCH-Translate), reports that her engagement with our communications team and the Community of Practice helped her more effectively and proactively disseminate research to non-research audiences.

The academic culture prioritises scientific publications and what I usually see is that communication is an afterthought or may not even be considered at all. My previous approach to communicating research was often translating it to products that simply reflected a summarised version of the scientific paper. Even when writing plain summaries of research findings, I would use the structure of a scientific journal – introduction, method, results, discussion, and conclusion.  Now, I flip the structure to put the main findings right in the beginning to better engage the readers. 

Dr Konsita Kuswara, EPOCH-Translate

Dr Kuswara has used her communication skills to develop policy-relevant research summaries and confidently write and pitch opinion pieces for the media including this article in Croakey.

The Prevention Centre’s focus on communicating complex information to audiences outside the scientific research arena includes the publication of newsletters such as The Chronicle, website and social media content. Our Senior Communications Officer, Cindy Jones, has led the way in creating a carefully curated voice for the Prevention Centre on social media that has attracted new audiences outside the prevention community. We have regularly shared different elements of the CERI User Guide in #TuesdayTips across several social media platforms and recently guest curated Croakey Health Media’s @WePublicHealth Twitter account, a social journalism service with a public health focus, to share the #ValueOfPrevention with a wide online audience.