New age societies: from published research to public outreach

Academic societies are at the heart of research publishing with aims to further enhance the direction of their disciplines while supporting researchers through every stage of their career. An article in Learned Publishing states that societies primarily exist for 3 reasons: to promote understanding in their respective fields, to encourage interaction among people, and to use the resulting knowledge for the common good.[1] These aims can be fulfilled only if societies provide members with tools for personal development and settings where they can implement their expertise.

Researchers are increasingly being encouraged to communicate their research not only with their peers, but with the public to influence local and federal policymakers. However, while a public science communication movement is being encouraged, this does not mean that researchers and society members are necessarily comfortable expanding their “technical” communication habits beyond presenting their work at conferences or publishing in journal.

Academic societies have begun developing public outreach movements with resources, toolkits and professional guidance for their members to engage with a public audience. In addition to in-person communication, societies have also been positioning their online and offline content in non-technical ways for the public to consume the research.

Societies have been building strategies and programs designed to foster community discussion of important research findings and impactful scientific issues. The following societies have strong science communication and public outreach programs open to members and practitioners in their fields.

1. The American Geophysical Union (AGU)

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) runs a science communication program for their members known as Sharing Science.The program’s mission is to break down the barriers of scientific literacy between scientists and the general public through interactive workshops, hands-on support, and public engagement opportunities. Members gain valuable science communication experience by sharing their knowledge with diverse communities about Earth and space science.[2]

Sharing Science acts as an online community for AGU members to share resources and stay connected with best practices for science communication in their field. The program also opens doors for members to share their expertise in real-life to the public, K-12 audiences, and policymakers. Members will also be well connected with media outlets as subject experts and have the opportunity to be called upon for media interviews in their area of expertise. Universities and research institutions also are involved with Sharing Science and by hosting interactive workshops across the United States with the aim of strengthening researchers’ skillset in science communication.[3]

AGU also has a related program called Voices for Science, which is a rigorous 12-month training program for scientists that enhances members’ communication skills with diverse audiences. Members will have the opportunity to engage with political decision makers, media, and public audiences through outreach activities in their local communities.

Scientists can select between the Communication and Policy tracks. Those who go through the Communications track gain valuable outreach experience while engaging with peers in their scientific communities, journalists and the general public. The Policy track is for members who want to improve the dialogue between scientists and policymakers while communicating and sharing resources with political leaders during congressional visits.[4]

2. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

The AAAS “Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology” works with researchers to increase awareness of science within their disciplines as well as improve the scientific processes incorporated into their public outreach strategy via science communication training and resources to improve the dialogue between practitioners within their society and the general public.

The Center hosts workshops at institutions and science organizations to develop the public communication skills of scientists and engineers through modules relating to science communication fundamentals, public outreach with social media, and engaging the media and policymakers.[5] They also host a “Communicating Science Seminar” at the AAAS Annual Meeting, which provides a forum for exchanging best practices and for scientists looking to develop their public engagement and communication abilities on scientific and technological issues.[6]

Since AAAS supports researchers in multiple disciplines, they also have vast amounts of resources for communicating science to different audiences. The Center often collaborates with researchers from different fields to evaluate communication best practices and evaluating science in policymaking. AAAS not only publishes research in different scientific disciplines, but also leads evidence-based projects on science communication alone. The Center publishes white papers about the effectiveness of science communication among the public and policymakers, along with the barriers that researchers need to overcome when influencing these groups.[7]

AAAS model for public engagement with science[8]

3. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a broad target audience for its content and has been involved in shaping public policy and increasing awareness of pediatric health for decades. Since their content is relevant to both practitioners and the public, the society has many opportunities to make their research content consumable for a public audience and provide resources to their members who speak with policymakers during congressional visits. is one of many public initiatives backed by the AAP aiming to better communicate best parenting practices for infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. It is the only parenting website backed by 67,000 pediatricians and shares multiple resources and recommendations backed by scientific research to promote greater public health.[9]

Another major initiative supported by the AAP is The Julius B. Richmond Center of Excellence, which is a program committed to protecting children and young adults from the harms of tobacco use. The AAP provides educational resources to enhance the communication between practitioners, parents, and children backed by pediatric research in the form of factsheets, press releases, and videos.  Additionally, communication tools are provided for members and practitioners to voice their expertise to shape state and federal policy for more tobacco-free policies. Many of these resources have played an influential role over the past year while explaining the harmful use of e-cigarettes and alternative tobacco products.[10]

Public outreach and engagement activities are critical to finding common ground on scientific issues concerning the society we live in. Academic societies are bridging the gap between practitioners and the public through developmental programs that improve their members’ science communication skills. As a result, scientists are improving outreach strategies to promote understanding in their field, encouraging interaction with the public, and to using the resulting knowledge to better serve society as a whole.

More than ever, societies are pushing members beyond their traditional communication habits and creating opportunities for scientists and practitioners to communicate their science more openly with peers, policymakers, and the general public. This will not only expand the reach of their work, but also create a constructive platform to bridge the gap between the public and scientific community to foster greater discussion on the science and technology affecting our daily lives.

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