A Word About Audience
In order to find the “So what?” of your work, you need to focus on the particular audience you want to communicate with, and gear your Message Box to what matters to them.
When identifying your audience, it’s important to be as specific as you can. Avoid using ‘the general public’ as your audience; the general public is comprised of many different groups of people with different interests and motivations and values. We also commonly encounter scientists who identify that their audience is the problem. It goes without saying that this is not usually the most productive path to relevance and conversation. The bottom line is who are you trying to communicate with? Why? What do they care about?
For some of you, your audience is crystal clear. Maybe you want to reach journalists who can help raise public awareness? Or policymakers who would benefit from your expertise? Or resource users whose livelihoods will be affected? Or concerned citizens who should know about impacts to their communities?
The prism below includes a spectrum of audiences you might want to reach, and some of the questions they might have about your work.
Whenever you can, understand your audience as deeply as possible. This can be challenging, and there are social scientists who devote their careers to this topic. But asking yourself a few key questions can help. For example: What outlets does the journalist write for and what angle does she typically take? Is the policymaker an elected official who answers to constituents, or an agency official who must respond to specific legislative mandates? What is the focus or mission of this organization or agency? What cultural issues do you need to consider when addressing communities and concerned citizens? Every audience interprets information through their own lens. Understanding that lens will help you frame your message as effectively as possible, so that your audience to takes home the message you want to convey.
Remember, communication is a two-way street. It’s not about perfecting a monologue. Effective communication requires listening to your audience, understanding their concerns and having a conversation. A conversation can help you discern the So What that matters most to them and frame your message in a way that will resonate with them. In some cases, those conversations can shape the research questions you choose to ask down the road.