Academic researchers are rarely trained or rewarded to do public outreach. When they do, it is usually geared toward “traditional audiences” ‐‐ those who are already aware of the values of nature and the importance of science. Scientists tend to avoid non‐traditional audiences either because they do not perceive academic rewards, cannot predict the audiences’ levels of understanding, or lack contacts outside of academia. To improve scientist‐driven dissemination of research to non‐traditional public audiences, I founded the Research Ambassador Program in 2003, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and National Geographic Society. The key concept is to help scientists find elements of their research that are held in common with the values and interests of non‐ scientist groups, and thereby open the door to communication of their research. For example, due to growing ecological concern of over‐harvesting slow‐growing moss for the horticulture trade from ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest, I collaborated with prisoners to develop methods of “farming” moss within a local medium‐security Correctional Center. I later started a research seminar series for prisoners and prison staff on sustainability, and forged relationships with retail gift companies to sell “moss gardens”, which can provide an income for prisoners after their release. Other venues for researcher‐initiated outreach have included churches and synagogues, urban skateboard parks, art galleries, poetry readings, and rap music studios. In addition to communicating science, Research Ambassadors raise awareness on such conservation issues as biodiversity and global climate change. I am now developing a long‐term program to help shift academic culture away from its relative isolation and into diplomacy to all areas of society. My central questions include: how can scientists maximize outreach activities without compromising professional responsibilities? How can we assess these efforts on public audiences and on scientists?

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Prisons, pulpits, and poets
Disseminating research beyond academia

Nalini Nidkarni   The Evergreen State College

Academic researchers are rarely trained or rewarded to do public outreach. When they do, it is usually geared toward “traditional audiences” ‐‐ those who are already aware of the values of nature and the importance of science. Scientists tend to avoid non‐traditional audiences either because they do not perceive academic rewards, cannot predict the audiences’ levels of understanding, or lack contacts outside of academia. To improve scientist‐driven dissemination of research to non‐traditional public audiences, I founded the Research Ambassador Program in 2003, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and National Geographic Society. The key concept is to help scientists find elements of their research that are held in common with the values and interests of non‐ scientist groups, and thereby open the door to communication of their research. For example, due to growing ecological concern of over‐harvesting slow‐growing moss for the horticulture trade from ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest, I collaborated with prisoners to develop methods of “farming” moss within a local medium‐security Correctional Center. I later started a research seminar series for prisoners and prison staff on sustainability, and forged relationships with retail gift companies to sell “moss gardens”, which can provide an income for prisoners after their release. Other venues for researcher‐initiated outreach have included churches and synagogues, urban skateboard parks, art galleries, poetry readings, and rap music studios. In addition to communicating science, Research Ambassadors raise awareness on such conservation issues as biodiversity and global climate change. I am now developing a long‐term program to help shift academic culture away from its relative isolation and into diplomacy to all areas of society. My central questions include: how can scientists maximize outreach activities without compromising professional responsibilities? How can we assess these efforts on public audiences and on scientists?

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