Teaching The Message Box In Michigan
Since the release of the Message Box Workbook (check it out here), we’ve been thrilled to see how scientists are using it, both for themselves and within their communities. We’re excited to share a guest post by Rhett Register, Communications Program Leader at the Michigan Sea Grant, about how he recently used the Message Box Workbook at a workshop for the Sea Grant community—even though he hadn’t used the Message Box before himself! To learn how he did it, and how it went, read on.
Michigan Sea Grant supports research and outreach that addresses pressing coastal and Great Lakes issues. We strive to be an impartial convener of stakeholders and an honest broker of the best available science. Since science can be complex and the stakeholders varied, I have found that the COMPASS Message Box activity is a great way to focus a message for a specific audience. Earlier this summer, Michigan Sea Grant and the Michigan State University Office for Outreach and Engagement hosted a Sea Grant Community-Engaged Research Institute training workshop. Community-engaged research is an approach to conducting research, creative activities, and scholarship in partnership with others. Because so much of Sea Grant-funded research is conducted in partnership with others (e.g., agencies, communities, NGOs, industry, etc.), we hosted the 4-day event to bring together early-career researchers, students, and partner organizations from throughout the Great Lakes to discuss methods for conducting research that meets community needs. On the last day of the workshop, we spent two hours going through the COMPASS Message Box activity. I have to admit, although I was teaching the activity, I too was a newbie to the Message Box. For homework, I had asked attendees to choose a research topic they were involved in and to give a first crack at filling in the Box prior to our meeting. The workshop session consisted of going through the workbook, discussing examples from the homework, then breaking into groups. The table I joined had young researchers still narrowing down their research focus seated next to an agency official that works on the state's 30-year water strategy. Both parties benefited from the activity. For the students, the Message Box helped them fine-tune their research question by having them consider potential audiences (users) of their research. For the agency official, it was a good thought exercise to try and mesh portions of the strategy with the needs of different audiences. I like how the activity tailors messaging to a particular audience. A large part of the discussion throughout the training—and a large part of what I do as communications director at Michigan Sea Grant—is determining just who it is we are talking to and what they need to know. I found the COMPASS Message Box activity to be a great way of focusing those few vital points that need to be relayed and creating an appropriate message. The workshop group did as well. The two hours we had flew by and comments from the workshop survey indicated that the activity was useful to the participants. I can testify that the old adage “if you want to learn it, teach it” is true. I am glad to have learned about the Message Box and keep a folder of blank Message Boxes on my desk. They are good for helping me make sure that I have an audience in mind when crafting a message, be it fact sheets for research projects or key points that recreational fisherman may need to know about our fish habitat restoration activities. Michigan Sea Grant is one of 33 Sea Grant programs, housed at state universities, that provide outreach and research to address coastal issues. Our 48-year-old program brings communities together with researchers to solve coastal problems. If you would like to learn more, please visit michiganseagrant.org. We’re always delighted to hear how you’re using the Message Box Workbook, from honing your own messages, to sharing it with your colleagues, to training others with it. Got a story of how you’re using the Workbook? Interested in sharing that here on the blog? Contact our Managing Editor for the blog, Sarah Sunu, to be featured!
Image provided by Rhett Register.