Coalition-Building for Science Communication - Transcript

Coalition-building as a path toward more effective science communication practices.

by Jena Barchas-LichtensteinElliott BowenEd GreeneMelina Sherman
Apr 14, 2023

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Kiki Sanford 02:21

Hello and welcome to this panel, Coalition- a panel, Coalition Building for Science Communication, first panel of our virtual panels that are available for this year's Science Talk '23. I'm Dr. Kiki Sanford, the Association of Science Communicators who were Science Talk, and are now the Association of Science Communicators who put on the Science Talk conference, as we have for many years. We're so glad that you are here joining us today. And just some housekeeping notices. If you have any questions for this panel, please ask them within the Whova Q&A. The chat can take place also within that Whova interface. We appreciate you keeping it in that location so that it avoids confusion. And additionally, if you're going to share any thoughts, any screen captures, any ideas or things to social media, please use the hashtag SciTalk23. And we do hope that you add to the conversation and that you enjoy the panel to come. I am so, so honored that we have you all joining us today, and Elliot and the rest of the panelists, if you would please unmute and start your video, we will get to your panel. Thank you so much.

Elliott Bowen 03:56

Hello, everyone. Thank you for having us. And thank you for being here. My name is Elliott Bowen. I am a medical historian, and the writing and communications lead at Knology, which is a social science research organization. I am joined today for this panel by three of my colleagues, including: Dr. Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein, who is a linguistic anthropologist and also Knology's lead media researcher; Dr. Melina Sherman, who is a communications scholar and Knology's lead wellbeing researcher; a Knology Research Fellow, Dr. Ed Greene, who is a child development and early learning specialist and an independent consultant in children's media.

As you know, the title of our panel for today is "Coalition Building for Science Communication." We have designed this hour to be rather informal and discussion based. We're each going to share some of our ideas and experiences from our work on this topic. And to get things going, I thought I would provide a little bit of an introduction before we turn it over to Jena, Ed, and Melina for their comments.

So, to start: science communication is often seen as a one-way street–that is, a process in which experts disseminate the results of their research to non-experts. This is a unidirectional model. It's one in which communication is usually thought of as an afterthought in the scientific process – something that happens only after research is done. Critics have pointed out that this is a deficit-based model. It assumes that the public is uninformed and ignorant – that they're just blank slates that need to be filled with the knowledge experts provide through science communication. To break with this model, communication theorists today advocate for things like knowledge co-production and participatory action research – that is, things that put the public not just on the receiving end of scientific research, but also involve them in research design, hypothesis testing, the gathering and analyzing of data, etc. So in this session, we're going to explore some of these things. In particular, we're going to learn about how coalition building can help us get past the old, unhelpful, deficit-based model of science communication. And to start things off, I'd like to ask each of our panelists a basic question. And that is, tell us about a coalition that you've either been working with recently, or are planning on working with in the future.

Jena 06:57

All right, I'm gonna take this one first. I am going to talk about two different coalitions that I work with today. The first one is the PBS NewsHour/Knology Participatory Research Lab, which I've been leading since I joined Knology six years ago. Excuse me, I've been leading the research side, not the journalism side, I should make that very clear. And that lab really is what it sounds like. It's journalists and researchers working together to think about the impact of journalism, to think about learning, and to move beyond journalists focusing primarily on their own knowledge of their content into how people understand it. That work has been funded by a number of different groups. We've been lucky enough to have funding from the National Science Foundation and the Lemelson foundation as well. Stay tuned, because we'll be putting out something really big in about a month that we're very excited about. Spoiler, it's a guide for journalists about statistical communication. So that's one coalition.

The other coalition is with WNYC, which is public media based in New York, and the Bodega and Small Business Group, which represents a number of small community grocery stores, primarily in northern Manhattan and the South Bronx. The goal there is to build a community participatory polling infrastructure. It's funded by the Rita Allen Civic Science Initiative. And we've been working with store owners to do polling in the stores. Because the stores really are community institutions, the fact that the stores are letting us be there, in and of itself, gives us a certain amount of cred, for lack of a better word. And I've been doing the polling directly in combination with a community member who is truly fantastic and has been a delight to work with.

Ed Greene 09:04

As a research fellow, I have been recently working on an NSF grant proposal with Elliott and Jena and other members of the Knology team to increase Black representation in authoring STEM stories for climate risk preparedness and culturally responsive STEM learning. And one of the major goals of this particular proposal was to find a way to lift the voices of people of color whose work included interest in child development, early learning, and children's STEM content. That includes the knowledge and skills of interdisciplinary voices. And that's the key piece here–getting a cross section of voices from individuals who are professionals, specifically African Americans. This is in part because climate related environmental disasters often hit people of color the hardest, yet racial minorities have historically been underrepresented in public discussions of climate. So this coalition of participants is specifically focused on engaging those whose work includes often overlooked intersections between climate change, race, racism, along with Black social-ecological resilience.

Along with Knology, there are three co-creators for this NSF grant that I think are really relevant to this coalition building and to the notion of science communication. That includes: (1) the National Black Child Development Institute, which is an organization at the forefront of engaging leaders and policymakers and professionals and parents around critical and timely issues that directly impact children; (2) the Highlights Foundation, which holds diversity as one of its core values, and works with supporting Black storytellers as part of its mission through its work with Brown Bookshelf, which is an organization whose mission is to amplify the voices of Black storytellers; (3) the Association of Children's Museums, which is a co-creator with us, as the world's foremost professional society supporting and advocating on behalf of museums. The Association also supports practitioners in creating resources for families to talk about difficult topics, including climate related disasters such as fires, floods, heat risk, loss of permanent housing, etc. So this proposal is really going to be focusing on communication from the standpoint of what I call "representation scarcity" in science communication. Participating organizations have agreed to be part of an emerging coalition from diverse disciplines and fields of study. That coalition includes Black authors, Black illustrators, Black climate scientists, Black developmental psychologists and mental health practitioners, and media professionals. And they will be engaged in co-creating, and building a community of practice around these knowledge, skills, and areas of work.

Melina 12:23

I guess it's my turn. I want to talk about coalition-building within the context of a recent research proposal that Jena and I just submitted to the National Science Foundation. And the proposal is focused on examining how people with long COVID are created or erased in public health guidance and in expert discourse. So we decided pretty early on that we wanted this project to be constructed by, with, and for people who are living with long COVID. So to that end, we've teamed up with long COVID advocates who also live with the condition, people with other chronic illnesses, public health experts, as well as clinicians. And we did this to be able to better speak to the structural inequalities of long COVID. That's also one of the reasons why our coalition is primarily made up of women and femmes, who have historically been more impacted by long COVID. And two of our co-PIs are women of color. So I am incredibly excited about this coalition and eager to talk about it today.

Elliott Bowen 13:35

That is really cool. I think one of the things we've seen from your responses and your respective research projects is that it's possible to build lots of different kinds of coalitions. The people you're talking about partnering with range from media outlets, business groups, individual advocates, etc. As a follow up to that, I'm wondering if you could say a little bit about what coalition building actually looks like in these respective projects? And how do you actually go about building coalitions? What does the process look like? And are there differences between these different projects that you're speaking about today?

Melina 14:20

Yeah, so for me, coalition building looks primarily like transparent communication, and also active participation. Especially with regard to topics that can be difficult, that can cause tension, these kinds of things. Then, speaking to that, listening has to be a key first step in every coalition. Also, remaining open-minded by considering the situatedness of knowledge and experience. You know, you may not agree with everyone you team up with, but if you stay open-minded, you might find that they have real experiences and real reasons for thinking what they think. So with these things that I've mentioned, with transparent communication, active participation, and listening, I think coalition members will have a better shot both at formulating and at achieving a shared goal.

Jena 15:14

I agree with literally everything Melina just said. I'm going to get into the weeds a little bit in terms of working with the bodegas because I think it's a really helpful example. I also want to highlight, two of the three partners are basically people who sit at a computer all day, and one partner is people who stand up and work in a store and drive things around and are on their feet -- are basically never at a computer, may or may not own a computer. And our workstyles are really incompatible in some basic ways. I have a lot of inter-organizational projects that use a shared Slack channel. Almost all of our project communications here take place on WhatsApp, just to give you one example.

But there's three things in particular that I think we did really, really, really well in this case, that I want to encourage other people to do. The first one is about money. We really, really insisted that we get money for some very open-ended exploratory conversations. The bodega group in particular is completely soft money and initiative focused. We had to get money to pay people to even be in the room to talk about what we wanted to do together. Because unlike the other organizations, they had no budget for that kind of time. People just wouldn't get paid otherwise. So that was a huge piece.

Similarly, we really focused on relationship building over any sort of particular outcomes early on. We had agendas for our first handful of meetings. But we met over dinner at a restaurant, we met in the conference room above, I think it was a restaurant supply store though I don't remember, over snacks. Maybe you're sensing a theme here, there was always food. And the conversations were always allowed to be a little unstructured. We generally ended up breaking into twos and threes at some point. Part of that was due to language challenges, where we've always had at least one monolingual English speaker, at least one monolingual Spanish speaker, and a bunch of bilinguals in a room, in varying proportions.

And I think the third thing that we've done really well that I'm really proud of, is we had a very tight, very manageable scope, which we are on track to succeed. I don't want to say "aim small." That's not the advice I want to give. But especially in terms of making things sustainable, you're so much better off underpromising and overdelivering. People trust you more that way. You just don't want to overpromise. And it's really easy to overpromise in the early stages. So whatever you think you can do, take a step back and commit to doing a little bit less. You might be able to get there and that's great. But you're so much better set up for success with really small goals at the early stages.

Ed, you gonna jump in?

Ed Greene 18:28

Yeah, I'm gonna jump in there. I think that what you're describing helps me to have hope, because the proposal that I'm working on is in progress. It's been submitted. And much of what we've done around coalition building had to do with how to pull together these informal learning divisions of the NSF grant. Elliott and I worked a lot on this together. And so the coalition building effort reflects the reality that racial minorities have historically been underrepresented in public discussions of climate change and positions of authority in large environmental NGOs.

Based on the initial letters of support from those whom we've asked to join the proposed project, there's been enthusiastic willingness to engage in this co-development and building of a community of practice, which is a requirement of the informal learning division grants at the NSF. And so the shared goal of increasing Black representation in children's climate literature is a major focus.

But it also is occurring in tandem with a very recent project that was launched by the Aspen Institute and Capita, which is the US Early Years Climate Action Task Force. The Task Force would include highlights of experiences of Indigenous and Native communities and people of color. But that's a footnote. For our grant, the building of this coalition of participants began with seeking and identifying African American practitioners from diverse fields of disciplines. And initial contacts were through emails and follow up telephone calls that modeled transparent communication and active engagement in getting their participation. It was my role to situate each of the potential coalition members' contributions as an essential ingredient to fostering a trusted cultural bond between scientists, developmental and mental health practitioners, and children's content creators (primarily storybooks, picture books, and e-books).

The background information included examples of climate risk preparedness goals associated with this practitioner- and community-driven project. This information was used to help contextualize the conversations, to get buy-in, as we were working to create this particular kind of coalition. The contextual information was explicitly shared, indicating that we are co-creating a space that centers Black belonging, Black knowledge, and Black dreams – in tandem with establishing a community of practice.

So, giving people something to hold on to, and also giving them the ability to say that that's something that they could see buying into, I think, is an essential part of coalition building. And so for me, the things that we were doing to create an application in line with what the AISL proposals are required to do for coalition building, is what we were actually engaged in doing. And we have looked at this from the standpoint of establishing a community of practice, that will open an acknowledgeable Black space in environmental education for young children.

Elliott Bowen 22:16

Okay, so that actually gives us a great sense of not just the different kinds of coalitions that we can build in science communication through our research, but also the nuts and bolts of what goes into them–both in terms of relationship building and in terms of the specific things that we need to do with partners. Now I'd like to switch gears a little bit and bring in the science communication piece a little bit more directly. So when you're doing this kind of work, what are some of the challenges that you have faced in these coalitions, specifically when it comes to science communication?

Ed Greene 22:57

Some of these challenges related to science communications had to do with the What, the Who, and the How. Science communications concerns included the topic area of "what" (that is, the climate focused content) and the "whom" and "how" (the developmental appropriateness and pedagogy). These are serious challenges, but they're also incredibly important opportunities to pursue. We're facing challenges regarding the limited amount of climate change literature for children ages three to eight–and specifically, with visual and textual storytelling that centers Black presence in a way to affirm Black life and nurture children's relationships with the natural world.

Another major challenge is that there is not enough agreement in the field of child development and early learning about the best way to teach the youngest children about aspects of climate – including the increasingly prevalent occurrences of powerful storms, wildfires, rising seas, extreme heat, and drought.

And there are also questions about the type of information that's most appropriate, so that we're not scaring children or raising issues of climate anxiety and trauma. Should the focus of the content be on basic information about the science of climate change? Or should it address the psychological, physical, and social harm? There's not a lot of information about what young children are capable of understanding. That in and of itself is one of the things we face as a challenge when it comes to science communication.

Along with these general questions and concerns about developmentally appropriate content, there are also social-cultural contexts challenges related to science communication. Climate-related environmental disasters often hit people of color the hardest. Despite this, racial minorities have historically been underrepresented in public discussions. Representation of Black voices and stories and experiences is minimal. So this science communication challenge relates to the often overlooked intersections of climate change, race, oppression, along with Black social-ecological resilience.

These issues are challenges related to what I call "representation scarcity." They are social-cultural sensitivities that are needed in science communication. And this is not just simply a challenge involving the inclusion of pictures of Black children and families in different media. There are issues related to portrayals that are built on stereotypes, and there are context-related concerns about visual and textual storytelling bias. For example, presenting traumatizing visuals of Black people's suffering, rather than including themes of care, hope, and belonging, might come from a deficit model approach to telling the story. Another example of bias is content that presents White children as innocent and in need of protection, while Black children are seen as responsible for environmental disasters not of their making.

So sensitivity and awareness of confirmation bias are all potential challenges associated with science communication. We want children's STEM content that includes input and contributions from interdisciplinary voices of senior professionals of color, including Black writers, Black illustrators, Black researchers, and Black mental health and behavioral practitioners. And these voices need to be included in various forms of communication, including within the children's climate change literature. Those are a few of the ways in which I've come to look at some of this communication strategy challenge that we're dealing with.

Elliott Bowen 27:22

Thanks for those insights. It sounds like in this project, we're dealing with some very basic, kind of fundamental communications challenges. You highlighted the Who, the What, and the Why. What are we going to communicate, and who are we going to communicate it to? And also, it has to be the right kind of communication, right? Dr. Sherman and Dr. Barchas-Lichtenstein, I wonder how that compares to things that you found, in terms of challenges pertaining to science communication?

Jena 27:47

Do you want to go first, Melina, or do you want me to go?

Melina 27:50

Sure, yeah, I'm happy to go. So I think part of the challenge, a real challenge of communicating science is that you also have to communicate its uncertainty, and its susceptibility to change, which is a super tricky thing to do. Since, you know, science communication has traditionally been pretty focused on relaying facts and diminishing doubt. But we have to find ways now to account for reasonable doubt, and skepticism, especially in the context of long COVID and this project that Jen and I have been working on. And especially in the context in which we're all living of ongoing pandemics and viral spread, where the facts are constantly shifting. And, you know, especially in a moment where doubt has evolved into denialism among a pretty big and growing segment of the population. So this, for me, means communicating science should not be just in the lab, but also outside of it. Which means, like I've said before, you know, being transparent. And being especially transparent about this evolving uncertainty, and considering how the changing facts are actually differentially and unequally experienced by different people in different groups, harkening back to some of what Ed was saying.

Jena 29:12

I really, I really appreciate that. Right. That we need to be very clear that science is always based on our best current knowledge, which is subject to revision, and so on.

I also want to come back to some of what Ed was saying about representation. For those who aren't familiar with New York City, the South and West Bronx, where we're doing the bodega work, are some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. They are also some of the -- they have some of the highest concentrations of people born outside the US in the city. And I mentioned both of those things because they're, frankly, not very well served by media. And there's not a ton of people in the media space who come from similar backgrounds. So there are, there are some and it is growing. So that in and of itself poses a challenge, primarily because of trust, and susceptibility to misinformation.

And I want to be really clear. When I say trust, trust is not an attribute, it's a relationship. It's not a trait of me or of you or of some institution. It is fundamentally social and relational. You don't ever want to be asking the question, "How do I get them to trust me?" You want to be asking, "How do I become worthy of their trust?" And thinking about that as something that has to happen in relation to that specific group. It's not about "Oh, but my reputation is so good." It's about relationships. It's really fundamentally about relationships.

And so many of our challenges, particularly with misinformation, come from that same problem. People are getting misinformation from people they know, or from people they don't know but who seem like people they know. I can't tell you the number of emails I've gotten from family members that "a friend of a friend whose husband is a doctor." Right, it sounds like someone you know, and that's good enough … in a way that can be really challenging.

Elliott Bowen 31:27

Yeah, thanks for that. Listening to you talk about all these different kinds of challenges that we're facing, I'm now interested in learning more about the extent to which coalition building actually helps address some of those challenges, whether we're talking about institutional reputations and questions about trust, or trustworthiness, or if it's a challenge pertaining to communicating uncertainty and science and the nature of the scientific process, or what you were mentioning, Dr. Greene, having to do with just some of these basic questions about who and what, and what kind of science we're going to communicate. In your work, how has coalition building actually helped you meet some of these challenges? In other words, what are some of the benefits that you see when it comes to effective science communication?

Ed Greene 32:26

As a research fellow at Knology, my opportunities to engage with the team at Knology itself is, a kind of coalition-building activity in terms of how we collaborate. One of the things that this proposed project has included is an opportunity to conduct an "un-conference" experience, using open space technology. For those that are not as familiar, this is a method for organizing and running meetings or events around a central topic where participants create the agenda themselves.

This opportunity for coalition-building was greatly enhanced in the development of this proposal, and Elliott and I had a lot of conversations about this. We were able to think about how to engage a cross-disciplinary coalition that includes Black researchers and authors and illustrators and media creators. Based on the initial coalition building activities (through phone calls and emails and exchanges), what we've heard from people is that they're looking forward to this kind of engagement – especially in relation to the goal of increasing Black representation in children's climate literature. It provides an opportunity to explore and contribute to the limited information and consensus about young children and what they can know, do, and understand about climate issues.

It is also an opportunity to contribute to improving effective science communication related to young children and those who care for and work on their behalf. Our proposed two-day series of workshops will give people an opportunity to engage in this way. Though the project is not yet funded, the coalition-building process that has taken place thus far has really opened the door to getting documentation on ways to produce interactions where people are co-creating situations that will bring their knowledge, skills, and understandings together. They will also become familiar with each other's work. A climate scientist might be able to provide information to kids about the kinds of threats climate change poses, in terms of fire, flooding, excessive heat, etc. But they might not know how to think about that in a way that's appropriate in terms of kids' cognitive development or social-emotional mental health. Hopefully, we will better improve the kinds of approaches that are used to get information into the hands of people, through a process that provides information as it is unfolding.

So I think there are some positive indications that science communication will be enhanced and strengthened because of this coalition building. I also think that this is due in part to the way in which Knology does its work, and the conversation that we're having here today. It is important to bring people to the table who are from diverse backgrounds, in order to create these approaches to new knowledge, skills, and understanding.

Jena 36:44

I have a really short answer about the benefits of coalition building. I'll give you my one sentence version: You can't know what people care about until you talk to them. And you can connect anything to what people care about, but you have to know what that is. Sorry, that was two sentences.

Melina 37:07

Yeah, I agree completely with Jena, that you have to talk to people, you have to hear what they have to say, otherwise there is no starting point. I also think an important part of coalition building that can be really helpful for science communication has to do with trust building. I've seen a lot of models of trust out there, but I have yet to see one that accounts for certain kinds of power relationships that I think coalitions do a good job to deconstruct. So for example, I'm thinking, again, about the context of long COVID. I think a lot of folks with long COVID don't always feel that they're in a position to choose whom to trust because of a power imbalance between them and their physicians or some other health practitioner, where they might need that diagnosis in order to get health care access, so you are forced to trust someone. And bringing it back to coalition building again, I think coalition building is actually really beneficial, because it brings people together in a context that's not as burdened by this kind of power relationship that makes people feel robbed of agency or robbed of choice. And it's specifically beneficial to science communication, because it can help the field start to resolve what I think is a growing crisis of scientific expertise that's fundamentally based on trust, broken trust. So by creating non-hierarchical trust relationships between credentialed scientific experts and others that I like to call experts of experience, coalition building can actually really help science start to resolve this crisis. That's my idea.

Jena 38:54

Can I jump in and just add something?

Melina 38:56


Jena 38:57

One of our colleagues at Knology, John Voiklis, has a fantastic model of trust that I really love, which I'm going to leave aside the identity questions and likeability for a minute, which are also in this model. Primarily, there are five dimensions. They are competence, reliability, sincerity, integrity, and benevolence. And benevolence is the one that's so often missing, because it is about "Does this person have your best interests at heart?" And one of the conversations this colleague and I have been having that I think really speaks to what Melina was just saying is, without benevolence, the best you get is strategic trust. And I, the kind of thing you're talking about is so perfectly the kind of strategic trust we mean, where -- I wouldn't necessarily say that people, long COVID patients trust the medical establishment, but they're willing to put a certain amount of -- I'm trying to think of the word. Yeah, that they're making a strategic decision to at least act as if they trust them, because they don't have a lot of other options. We could probably all talk about this one for weeks, though, so I'll stop.

Elliott Bowen 40:18

I think at this point, it would be good to open things up for general discussion. So if anyone who is listening in has something they'd like to ask any of our panelists, I know we have a couple of questions in the chat here. And I think that's probably the best place to start. The first one we had is for you particularly, Ed, though I suppose anyone can respond if they want. The question has to do with communities of practice. Specifically, there's a question about what it looks like building a community of practice? What do those look like in practice?

Ed Greene 41:04

What comes to mind for me really is grounded in the work of Bruce Tuckman – particularly, the forming–storming–norming–performing model of group development. In order to create a community of practice, you have to develop a sense of expectations about how people come together. And so these stages of group formation begin with forming. The formation stage is when you're getting to know who each other happens to be in the room. It may not necessarily be a particularly productive period, but it gives you a chance to really hear and listen to what people are bringing to the table. So, with a community of practice around a theme, it really helps to have that forming stage in mind, so that you're using it as an opportunity to listen to how people perceive things–because people perceive differently!

Another stage is storming, when you begin to have conversations about the ways people perceive differently. It's important to get people involved in listening and engaging in understanding what the similarities and differences are between what people think and feel.

And then there's the norming stage. It's during this stage where you decide, "what are the things that we can agree upon and that we can go deeper with?" And "what are the things we need to put in the parking lot?" Then there's the performing stage, which is when we ask, "how do we take those things and run with them?"

When I'm thinking about forming a community of practice, I have group formation stages in my head, because you have to be able to facilitate an environment that is open to hearing what people say, but also creating a culture of listening and sharing that will allow you to get to that norming stage – where you actually can say, "Well, there are two things that we really all agree upon, that we can focus on." And you don't get bogged down in the things you can't do anything about. For me, having an understanding of group formation is really important to creating this kind of learning community.

Elliott Bowen 43:40

I was just going to say that that really aligns very nicely with my own understanding of a community of practice, in that it's really a group of people who are learning from each other and sharing their experiences and using those as a learning resource. And as you mentioned, Ed, listening is a huge part of that, which gets to another question that we have – this one for Melina specifically (although, again, anyone feel free to chime in here). When it comes to listening, in a general sense, how do we actually promote listening? Particularly when we're dealing with people who might have very different backgrounds or when stakeholders have widely varying positions in a coalition. What does listening look like? What forms does it take? How does it actually work? How can it be done effectively?

Melina 44:41

That's actually a really hard question. For me, my basic understanding of this question, "why should we listen?," especially if there are variances of opinion or divergent positions on certain matters, is that listening is a path to learning. And listening plus learning is a path to more effectively intervening in those areas of conflict or in those differences, to hopefully find some kind of shared space of understanding. Or at least, if you're actively seeking the perspectives of other people who are different from you, have different backgrounds, may not agree with you, then maybe you have a better chance at finding this space. But obviously, it's not guaranteed. I definitely struggle with this in a variety of domains. But I think ultimately, coalition building requires members to at least be willing to listen to one another. And if you're not, it probably won't work.

Elliott Bowen 45:49

Yeah. And as you said at the top, open-mindedness is one of the keys.

Melina 45:53


Jena 45:55

This actually gets into one of the other questions that's in the chat from Sheeva Azma, about whether it's possible to build a politically inclusive community of science communicators, can I take this one first? I feel like everyone can say a lot.

There's an organization called Braver Angels that does depolarization workshops. And the long and short of it is that they basically teach people to be curious about why other people believe the things they believe, rather than arguing to win. And they also give you permission to walk away. You can set your own boundaries around, "I will just not have a conversation with someone who believes that some group of people are fundamentally inferior," for example. Whether on account of their race or their gender, or you know, whatever. So that you don't have to be inclusive of everyone, you can decide that there are positions that you are just fundamentally not willing to engage with. I think we probably all have some bright lines about things that are not up for debate. As I said, I'm not interested in debating the humanity of anyone, I just, I won't have that conversation. If you want to have it, you can have it with someone else.

But that is, the politically inclusive question can be tough. We're doing some work on a different project where -- it's not strictly around science communication, but the same principles apply, where we'll be gathering focus groups from across the spectrum. And each group will be homogeneous within itself, because we want people to feel free to say the things they might modulate in a more mixed group, and really get their feedback on media and get a sense of- specific pieces of media. So they're all looking at the same thing. And getting a sense of what are the triggers? What turns off this group, what turns off that group? Because there are always ways of framing things that aren't going to hit the hot button. Not always, but often ways of framing things that aren't going to hit the hot button. And it takes a lot of work to find them. My go-to example comes from our former CEO, Johnny Fraser, who did research showing that the way you get people who are skeptical about anthropogenic climate change to pay attention is that you frame it around nature.

There's almost always a way in, it's just more work. But urgency often is the enemy of doing things well, so do the extra work. Did I answer the question? Jump in, y'all. (You're muted, Melina. We can't hear you.)

Melina 48:54

Yeah, sorry. I was just gonna say I think that was a really great answer to that question. And I feel like I might be repeating myself a little bit. But building a politically inclusive coalition is an incredible challenge. And obviously, as Jena said, we all have our own limits of who we're willing to include as part of our coalition, based on their values and beliefs. And if you absolutely don't align with someone in terms of values and beliefs, then maybe a coalition isn't actually the way to go. Maybe there's some other way to gain some kind of understanding of that person's perspective without actually becoming members of the same kind of coalition, because you might not find a shared goal. I don't think it's always possible. Like framing, I think, can go a certain way toward making coalition-building a possibility. But even this has its limits. Maybe Ed wants to jump in too.

Ed Greene 49:53

No, I agree. I think that there's some instances where you have to put in the extra time to find ways to open opportunities for engagement that tone down some of the things that are most antagonistic. You have to focus on the things that might be related to everyone. You know the idea, Jena, that you provided about Johnny's way of looking at and talking about things in nature, and put together some kind of an analogy or – or a way of talking about something to get at some key points without triggering some of the other aspects of the contentiousness. So I agree with both you and Melina about that.

Elliott Bowen 50:43

And that gets at another of the questions I see here in the chat. Of course, for the entirety of the hour, we've been talking about the benefits of coalition building for science communication, but a larger question looms, and I guess that has to do with this: are there instances in which a coalition is not the option? And how do you exactly know, based on the project, based on the kind of research that you're doing, when it's best to attempt to build one? Have you had instances where you thought, "Well, maybe not right now, not for this, maybe something other than a coalition is the best way to proceed"?

Ed Greene 51:24

I've been involved in some instances where I've had to deal with difficult issues, just simply because of the political climate around anti-bias education. In some states right now, there are literally laws that prohibit conversations that are explicitly about that. And so in one of those instances, an association I'm involved with had to move to creating study groups on topics like "crisis and human development." But within it, they talked about different kinds of ways that people perceive the world. They turned it into a book club / study group, because that way, the book becomes the conversation. It may not have anything to do with anti-bias education people, but instead, how people make certain decisions about who can plant certain kinds of things during certain seasons, in a farming analogy or context. So sometimes I think you have to use things like study groups, as a way of getting people engaged, as opposed to trying to build and coalesce around a topic where there may be much less consensus and much more antagonism.

Jena 53:01

I've definitely had a couple experiences where it turned out at some point that folks were not committed to the outcomes or values or goals [that] they said they were early on, and I have walked away from partnerships. I'm not sure if I would call them coalitions but -- definitely have had that experience too.

Melina 53:24

I'd just say, maybe when it's time to pull the plug is when trust and trust building becomes no longer possible. That's it.

Elliott Bowen 53:41

We have two other questions here that I'm hoping we can get to before the hour closes out. The first has to do with the fact that we're in this internet age, we're all virtual, online now. Are there differences that you've noticed in coalition building when you're working with people in online spaces versus physical, real world settings?

Jena 54:04

It so depends. It so depends. I have folks that I've been working with online for six years. I just can't give a blanket answer to that. It really depends on who they are and all kinds of access questions and all kinds of comfort questions and cultural questions. And -- yeah. Anyone?

Ed Greene 54:45

I think it's probably more difficult now than it was 10 years ago, or 20 years ago. I first taught online in the late 90s with an institution in Pasadena, California, and it had to do with difficult conversations about issues. At that point, it was an asynchronous environment, and people were much more open to sharing their thoughts. Now that we've converged, and are no longer just typing in a machine and hearing, people are much more likely to go off on tangents in ways that are different than they were when we first started doing asynchronous online. So I'm with you, Jena, on this one, I think it really, really depends. And you have to do things in an online environment to create guardrails. Whether you break people into groups around something very specific, and then have them debrief out of them, using the Zoom techniques that you can do, you have to find different ways to use the technology to put up the guardrails that you need in order to create safe space and to encourage certain kinds of conversations. But it's very difficult.

Melina 56:12

Yeah, I agree with both of you. I really don't have anything to add.

Elliott Bowen 56:17

One final question here I'm seeing in the chat has to do not with building coalitions, but joining them. What role does that play in your research? If you're thinking about an existing project maybe expanding? Or a new one just beginning? Are you also thinking about existing coalitions that are out there that you can plug into, become a part of, and what does that look like?

Ed Greene 56:43

I think that's really, really important. Shortly after I began the work on this proposal, there was more information about this Early Years Climate Action Task Force that the Aspen Institute created. And it's a very interesting cross section of people; they've had a series of listening sessions that they've done, the last of which was last weekend, and was concluded by Chelsea Clinton. I had no idea where they were going to go with what they were doing. But I now see that they're a group that we will definitely tap into, to try to become part of our coalition building activities around this climate change theme, but specifically related to topics around climate action. So whenever you can find those kindred spirits, once again, I think you reach out and try to see if there's a way to work collaboratively.

Melina 57:43

Yeah, just adding on a little bit. The proposal that I spoke about that Jena and I worked on and are still working on - we've submitted it, but we hope to continue submitting it to other funders and working on it in the future. One of our PIs is the founder of a long COVID group online. And so that is an existing coalition that I think would be incredible for both of us to be able to plug into. And in terms of what you would need to do to do that, or what skills you would need, this is not a skill, really, but for me, joining any entity in particular requires a certain amount of humility. You have to first walk in knowing that you don't know everything, even if you are a health researcher or a chronic illness researcher, even if you are someone with chronic illness. You have to enter that space with a certain level of humility. And just going back to what I said before, that open-mindedness, that transparency, especially around what your goals are, what your intentions are for being there…What do you want to get out of this coalition? You know, why are you there? What can you contribute to that community? All these things would be really, really important. Maybe, maybe Jena wants to add something too, because yeah, we're both doing this together.

Jena 59:05

You said everything I was gonna say, but I love this question. The first step in building a coalition should always be, make sure someone hasn't already done it. And if they have, go plug in there, don't reinvent the wheel.

Ed Greene 59:20

Yeah, I would agree. And then I also think: collaborate with your colleagues! It's been amazing to work with Elliott on this particular project. Through his own explorations, he found and shared an incredible individual who's from Canada, who's doing work on this whole area of ecological precarity around science and children. And he just went right out there and said, "Okay, here's one that I think we can work with. Let's see how we, how we can, how we can capture the interest of this particular person." So I think you have to also work at elbows with your colleagues, especially those you trust, to get access to things. Sometimes we may not know quite what to do, and you put your heads together, and you come up with some ways of doing that. So I think it's really important to collaborate with your colleagues.

Elliott Bowen 1:00:29

Well, on that note, as we are approaching the end of the hour, I just wanted to thank all of our panelists, Dr. Greene, Dr. Barchas-Lichtenstein, and Dr. Sherman, for being here with us this hour. And of course, everyone who's attended as well. We've got some really great insights, I think about science communication, and the benefits of coalition building. And let's continue the conversation as I see we're already kind of doing in the chat. This was great. This was wonderful. Thank you so much for having us. On the way out, if we have any websites or resources that any of you'd like to share, please feel free to do that. And also, I think our contact info is out there. So please do feel free to get in touch.

Jena 1:01:21

I'll share in the conference app a link to some work that some of us have been working on recently, that really heavily informed a lot of what we've been talking about today, which was a conference that brought together moral theorists and science communicators across a bunch of different areas. I'll put that link in the conference app after this. So if folks are interested. And thank you also to the Association of Science Communicators, and to Dr. Kiki for having us. Thanks, everyone, for showing up.

Kiki Sanford 1:01:57

Thank you all for joining us for this panel. I just want to say thank you, I have been just in the background, listening and learning so much. And you've all had such incredible, insightful things to say and I hope we can all take this conversation and grow it to something bigger. And I really appreciate you being a part of our virtual conference here. Thank you for your time. Very much. And everyone, we hope to see you at further sessions. Science talk '23. Take care. Thank you.

Photo by Nick Fewings @ Unsplash

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