What To Say And Whom To Say It To

by R. Bruce Hull and Paul Angermeier

Making global change science relevant and impactful often requires more than careful scholarship and robust methods.  It can also require getting that science to the people who matter and presenting it in ways that motivate those people to care and act.

As members of the Interfaces for Global Changecurriculum committee, we’re always seeking new, relevant material to use in the IGC seminars.  Here we summarize a few readings recently shared with us by conservation professionals. For more details, review these guides for talking about energy and climateand about water and wildlife.

Use the “Right” Words
Use words that connect your science to topics your audience finds personally relevant and meaningful. Unfortunately, with the occasional exception of clean water, opinion polls repeatedly show that few environmental issues make it onto the list of the top 10 public concerns, so connect your research to issues that are always in the top 10:  health, safety, security, jobs, faith, fairness, family, and quality of life.  For example:

  • Clean Air and Water: Relate your work to air and water that are clean, healthy, and safe for people(rather than healthy for ecosystems or biodiversity).
  • Clean Energy: Connect climate change research to the benefits of clean energy.
  • Place-specific Impacts: Be specific about the places and impacts associated with pollution or key regional trends.  People identify with place.
  • Quality of Life: Emphasize how global change impacts the character, economy, amenity, and identity that define local communities and so add to quality of life.
  • Security: Voters, especially conservatives, are worried about how national security is undermined by dependence on foreign oil.
  • Economy: Find a connection to jobs, employment, and community vitality.
  • Fairness: Point out how some people are benefiting or being harmed more than others.

Avoid terms like “biodiversity,” “watershed,” and “sustainability” because most people don’t know what they mean.  

Target Key Stakeholders
Conduct a simple back-of-the-envelope analysis of stakeholders to plan your communication strategy. Don’t worry about people with low interest and little influence.  Focus your efforts on stakeholders who have lots to win or lose and who can bring considerable resources to advance or derail your efforts. 

Stakeholder Matrix

Low InterestHigh Interest
 High Influence Keep Satisfied,
Enhance Interest
 Fully Engage,
Don’t Offend
 Low Influence Ignore Keep Informed


Keep in mind this stakeholder stratification is probabilistic and dynamic. Thus, effective communicators invest in knowing their audience’s contexts. For example, a few years ago many disinterested people living along the newly revealed path of the Mountain Valley Pipeline suddenly became keenly interested in protecting water quality and endangered species.

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