Graphic recording of a Message Box training by A Visual Spark. Illustrated notes of key points from the Message Box presentation.
Graphic recording by Amy Sparks, of

Choose Your Own SciComm Adventure

By Stephen Posner

Mar 15, 2018


2 Minute Read


Talking about yourself and your science can be hard. Where to start? For many of our workshop participants, it’s like embarking on an adventure out of their comfort zones and into uncharted territory. As a facilitator, I like to guide and accompany participants as they venture into new, as-yet-to-be-explored terrain in communicating their science. Each workshop is different, and I especially enjoy when a workshop helps me see our work in a new way — sometimes literally.
Last month, I led a COMPASS workshop for the inaugural Speaking Science Conference at the University of Minnesota. The agenda for this full-day event, organized by The Boreas Leadership Program at the Institute on the Environment, included our workshop, a session led by the Alda Center for Communicating Science, and a keynote talk by Carl Zimmer. Our workshop took place in a university theater, and we had the good fortune of having Amy Sparks, a Minnesota-based graphic recorder, in the room ready to capture the workshop with drawings on the fly.
The final visual image from the workshop is beautiful and flowing. The image illustrates many key points from the workshop: core ideas from the science of science communication, how to distill the complexity of scientific research when framing a message, and the importance of knowing thy audience. The visual also features the Message Box and neatly mirrors the nonlinear nature of this tool — something that can befuddle an analytical, causal-relationship-seeking, scientific mind.
But don’t let the fluid nonlinearity of science communication deter you from exploring. You can start anywhere.
When you use a COMPASS Message Box to prepare to communicate your science, it’s important to first decide on a specific audience and a topic. But after that, you don’t need to follow a prescribed linear order of steps. You can proceed with drafting the pieces of the Message Box in any direction you choose. The same holds true when you communicate the messages you want to share. You can similarly start anywhere, and you can move from one part of your core message to another in any order you like. In fact, we encourage scientists to practice arranging the main points of their message in different ways, and to consider how one ordering of ideas may be more appropriate than another, depending on the audience.
As a guide for scientists on this communication journey, seeing the visual map of the workshop was exciting and gratifying. This image includes waypoints from our workshop outing — the iterative practice to help scientists find their voice, the challenge for participants to reflect on their purpose as they prepare to share their what and their why, the review of cognitive research that teaches us how people respond to different kinds of information, and how we can frame effective messages. The image also shows my approach. When I guide a workshop, I disrupt complacency in how participants think about communicating their science and I support the exploration of new, unfamiliar terrain. That’s where transformative growth and breakthroughs can happen.
This visual image offers just a glimpse of the workshop. It reflects the opportunity to begin on a nonlinear path in learning how to better communicate your science. You can start anywhere, and you can choose your own adventure. Just get started — don’t get stuck between 0 and 1.

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