Comics by @TheCosmicRey

With the support of the Rita Allen Foundation

Below you’ll find a set of eight comics that @TheCosmicRey produced to complement our book Strategic Science Communication with the generous support of the Rita Allen Foundation. Each strip models a type of conversation we often have when talking about strategy with science communicators. Please feel free to use and share any (or all) of these comics (with appropriate citation, of course).

Identifying Audience-Specific Behavioral Goals

This first three comics focus on the challenge of identifying concrete, audience-specific behavioral goals for your communication efforts. This is the focus of chapter 1 of the book and an increasing amount of our research.

In this first one, note the transition from behavioral goal identification to deciding what potential cognitive and affective communication objectives to prioritize.

[Two people sitting at a table.] 
Scientist: I really think people need to feel awe for the universe.
Mentor: Yeah. I mean why do you think so?
Scientist: Why? Because space is awesome. People need to experience that.
Mentor: Yeah, space is pretty awesome but ... um ... WHY should we want people to experience that awe? 
Scientist: Awe for awe's sake! Wonder! Joy! Isn't that enough?
[Image of stargazing]
Well ... I remember I used to go stargazing with my mom growing up and one night I got to see a meteor show. It was like the skies opened a glitterbox. That feeling really got me into science.
Mentor: What a beautiful experience. Do you think other kids might have the same experience?
Scientist: Some might. It'll help. 
Mentor: So your ultimate goal is to get more kids to choose a science career and your hypothesis is that experiencing awe will help.
Scientist: Yes!
Mentor: That's AWEsome. Given your goal, awe is probably a good place to start but I also wonder what else we might want to communicate to help achieve that goal? Let's keep strategizing ...

In this second goal-focused comic, note the identification of an audience as well as a more specific behavioral goal. In our research, we’ve found that ‘getting policymakers to consider scientific evidence‘ is typically the behavior that scientists rate as most important.

Scientist: Ugh We have to do more science communication. People need to think more critically.
Mentor: That would be great. Which people?
Scientist: Everyone!
Mentor: Can you think of a more specific group?
Scientist: Everyone would be great but I guess this story is about the town planning board. They clearly need ... help.
Mentor: Oh I can see who your specific audience is. What is it you specifically that you wish they do?
Scientist: They're ignoring the evidence on wetland protections and what's at stake.
My lab's been working this for years. They don't seem to know what's at stake. So ... critical thinking is KEY!
Mentor: Well, maybe, but it sounds like your immediate goal isn't just critical thinking. It sounds like you want the planning board to consider specific research.
Scientist: I guess I don't know the details. I want them to use the best available science in their decisions--and i could probably help with that--but I don't really know much about the process.
Mentor: My neighbor is on the planning board. Do you want me to introduce you?
Scientist: That would be great. Now that I have a more focused group in mind, a clear goal, and someone to talk to, things seem a bit more manageable.

In this third behavioral goal-focused comic, note that the mentor helps the scientist realize that the audience for their behavioral goal is themselves.

An underlying message of the book (and one we’re still trying to figure out how to talk about) is that making the idea of ‘two-way dialogue’ real means setting audience-specific behavioral goals where scientists are trying to use communication to see if they need to change their own research or communication behaviors. In the book, we argue that ‘dialogue’ and ‘listening’ are great, but they’re just tactics.

Mentor: We have a the "community dialogue" meeting coming up with that farming group. Do we have a plan yet?
Scientist: I was thinking we'd talk about changing their techniques to protect the soil.
Mentor: Why is this still an issue? The science has been clear for like 20 years? 
Scientist: I guess they still don't know?
Mentor: Are we sure that's the reason? It's not like we haven't sent out the information in all kinds of ways.
Scientist: A few farmers have changed their practices, we know it's possible. Hmmm.
Mentor: Would it be okay if I set up a couple of small meetings ahead of time to ask about it? 
Scientists: Sure. I guess we could just focus on that during the community meeting? I'd also love to know what motivated the farmers who have already switched.
Mentor: Good idea. Let's make a meeting goal to figure out if WE have done the research farmers think would help them make decisions.
Prioritizing Cognitive and Affective Communication Objectives

Once you’ve identified your goals, you still need to figure out what ‘beliefs, feelings, and frames’ (i.e., BFFs) make it more likely that someone (including scientists) will do the goal behavior.

In this first objectives-focused comic, note that the mentor helps the scientist think beyond just communicating benefits (benefits and risks are discussed in chapter 8 of the book). Specifically, the comic highlights the need to potentially communicate about trustworthiness, especially both integrity (chapter 4) and ‘benevolence’ motivations (chapter 3). Understanding the difference between trustworthy perceptions/beliefs and behavioral trust is important topic of the first section of the book and John’s recent research.

Scientist: There have been so many great benefits of basic science; people need to know them. Penicillin! Microwaves! Sucralose ...
Mentor: Yep. Science is dope!
Scientist: Oh and we should tell them about all the cool scientists out there! That's important too. If people knew, they'd lavish us with that funding $$$.
Mentor: Maybe.
Mentor: Are the benefits the only reason people support science? What else matters? 
Scientist: I guess I saw a survey that suggested a lot of people are worried about where scientists get their money and who they're really working for.
Scientist: It bugged me. I go out of my way to protect the integrity of the work. And most scientists I know do this because they're trying to make the world better. 
Mentor: Are you sure people know most scientists are trustworthy?
Scientist: I think they do ... well ... I wonder it's worth sharing information about my motives?
Mentor: Absolutely. Let's make sure we say something about that.

This second objectives-focused comic also focuses on trustworthiness (chapters 2 through 6) but highlights the challenge of ensuring that the scientific community put its best face forward rather than giving in to our frustrations. Our research in this area suggests that being a jerk, probably won’t work (with reference to @ShupeiYuan‘s excellent work).

In this third objectives-focused comic, the focus is on differentiating between content that focuses on risks/benefits (i.e., attitudes, chapter 8), social norms (chapter 9), and self-efficacy (chapter 10). These three types of information and beliefs go by many different names in the literature but underlie most theories of behavior change.

Scientist: Can you help me brainstorm things to tell people about Electric Vehicles?  
Mentor: Go for it. Start with the benefits.
Scientist: They’re still a bit more expensive to buy but they pay for themselves in a few years if you drive much. They’re not perfect but they’re still better for the environment, quieter, and easier to maintain.
Advisor: What else?
Mentor: They’re becoming increasingly common so people don’t need to worry about looking weird anymore. 
Mentor: What else?
Scientist: : There’s a lot more options now for most budgets and uses. The charging network is also getting more extensive so you’re not going to get stranded.
Mentor: So, you’re saying that Electric Vehicles provide more benefits than risks, and that they’re increasingly normal and feasible. FWIW, social scientists sometimes call those three types of perceptions attitudes, norms, and self-efficacy.
Scientist: But which one should I emphasize? 
Mentor: It’s hard to know.
Mentor: What do we think people believe right now and where is there room to move perceptions?
Scientist: Let’s try to find out. Maybe there are surveys about it I can read!

In this fourth objectives-focused strip, we return to the astronomer and her mentor and focus on what types of beliefs/perceptions a scientists might try to communicate once they have identified their goal.

Choosing Tactics

Our last comic calls attention to a central theme of our work; the need to identify our audience-specific behavioral goals and prioritize cognitive and affective objectives before choosing tactics. Unlike most science communication books, tactics aren’t our primary focus.

Of course, our behavior, our message, and our style/tone matter deeply. So too do our choices about source, channel, and timing. But the way we know if we have made smart tactical choices is if they have the effect on our priority cognitive and affective objectives.