The River Health Programme (RHP) is a national monitoring initiative that measures and reports on the state (or health) of South Africa's river systems. Since the first State-of-Rivers (So R) report on the Crocodile, Sabie-Sand and Olifants River Systems, the RHP has produced another two reports and a poster.

The first report was a pioneering publication that paved the road to improved science communication within the RHP. Its publication was however, followed by the disenchanted realisation that this product did not have the desired impact on the defined target audience. The review showed that few resource managers read the report in full, and that the public at large found the level of information somewhat overwhelming. All scientific conventions were thrown overboard with the second, softer, coffee table- style report, the State of the Letaba and Luvuvhu River Systems.

This paper describes the reporting process, the response of the target audience and the challenges experienced during the production of soft science communications. The challenges include dealing with stakeholder expectations, the interpretation of aggregated data as well as the fears and resistance of scientists to soft communications. Key lessons were learned from the So R report evaluations and this consequent continuous learning approach can be used to improve future RHP communications.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

The evolution of state-of-rivers reporting in South Africa

W.F. Strydom  

E. van Wyk  

G. Maree  

T.P. Maluleke  

The River Health Programme (RHP) is a national monitoring initiative that measures and reports on the state (or health) of South Africa's river systems. Since the first State-of-Rivers (So R) report on the Crocodile, Sabie-Sand and Olifants River Systems, the RHP has produced another two reports and a poster.

The first report was a pioneering publication that paved the road to improved science communication within the RHP. Its publication was however, followed by the disenchanted realisation that this product did not have the desired impact on the defined target audience. The review showed that few resource managers read the report in full, and that the public at large found the level of information somewhat overwhelming. All scientific conventions were thrown overboard with the second, softer, coffee table- style report, the State of the Letaba and Luvuvhu River Systems.

This paper describes the reporting process, the response of the target audience and the challenges experienced during the production of soft science communications. The challenges include dealing with stakeholder expectations, the interpretation of aggregated data as well as the fears and resistance of scientists to soft communications. Key lessons were learned from the So R report evaluations and this consequent continuous learning approach can be used to improve future RHP communications.

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