Research is irrelevant if we can't communicate it
Guest Chronicle by Devy Kartika Ratnasari
In November 2021, the KTH Energy Platform organized a poster competition during the KTH Energy Dialogue. Finally, I had the opportunity to share my research at a live event. Summarizing my research concisely and attractively in a poster turned out to be a tough row to hoe. Yet, interacting with the audience while presenting the poster was rewarding, and I got the contact details of a potential research partner. My sole intention with entering the competition had been to get feedback from other experts and develop a network for collaboration, so I was over the moon when Lina Bertling Tjernberg and Christophe Duwig announced me as one of the poster competition winners. The prize was a full day of communication training by the public science organization Vetenskap & Allmänhet (VA).
On 5 April 2022, we met up at VA’s office in an affluent borough of Stockholm, Grev Turegatan 14, Östermalm. Cissi Askwall, the secretary-general of VA, gave a warm welcome and opened our training session by asking why science communication matters. After a good discussion, we agreed that effective science communication contributes to our well-being and the environment surrounding us. It informs and educates the public about science-related topics, spreading awareness about how researchers use funding and taxpayer money. As researchers, we serve the public interest. If we make a discovery or innovation, it is our duty to share it with the world.
VA researcher Martin Bergman brought an amusing fact on researchers’ views on communication and open science in Sweden: researchers want to communicate with the outside world to a greater extent than they currently do, but fail due to too many high-priority tasks and a lack of resources, opportunities, and rewards. As a researcher, I am aware of the importance of communicating my research with the public. But this takes time and effort, and is a distraction from the nitty-gritty of doing science and publishing papers. As it is, my works are primarily published in academic journals. It is a shame that the public will never even have heard of it, let alone have access to, let alone understand it. Truth be told, I first heard about the concepts of co-creation and citizen science during the communication training. To me, engaging citizens in the research process still feels a bit peculiar.
But if I am to communicate my research to the public, what could be more fascinating than doing it with videos? Ben Libberton, communication consultant and project manager at VA, shared how to keep CALM and carry on. CALM stands for Composition, Audio, Light, and Movement – factors to consider while recording videos. Video communication makes a message easier to remember, conveys large amounts of information, and depicts scientific procedures that would otherwise require pages of written text to achieve the same level of understanding. Creating a video communication takes more effort than designing a research poster. Libberton asked us to make a 1-minute research video, and I have been racking my brains on how to make it since then. But I’m not giving up!
Creating non-technical communication is another challenge. VA researcher Fredrik Brounéus told us to write in simple language and without technical jargon for a popular science (PopSci) article and to use active verbs. I like writing and have my blog as an outlet, so I was convinced that I could write a PopSci article for sure. Brounéus introduced a readability tool called lix.se to check whether a text is easy or difficult to read. I checked my text, and got a readability index of 43, which is pretty good. A LIX-value between 40–50 is classified as moderately difficult and suitable for a standard newspaper text. In comparison, an easy-to-read article, including fiction and popular magazines, has an index of 30–40.
The last session was brought by Lena Söderström, a project manager and press officer at VA, on how to interact with journalists. I have never been contacted by a journalist, and as a complete novice in this matter, I genuinely thought it was beyond my reach. Yet I am pleased to now be prepared to engage with the media. As researchers, we can get the ball rolling by contacting journalists ourselves – our research concerns the needs of many people, is vital for society, and is an innovation. In the words of Shane Huntington, a successful broadcaster, business owner, academic and strategist: “Research is irrelevant if we can’t communicate it”.
I am always eager to learn and improve my communication skills. But going into the training I felt skeptical, as I have attended similar programs over the years. However, the training by VA turned out to be both well organized and easy to follow. The session materials were so much more than I expected. I found them very insightful, and I thoroughly enjoyed the communication training. Thank you VA and the KTH Energy Platform, for making the training worthwhile.
Do you want to learn to communicate your research better? Then, win the poster competition at KTH Energy Dialogue 2022!
Devy Kartika Ratnasari