How Can We Help You? An Invitation to Collaborate

This photo shows a crowd of people of mixed ages and nationalities, laughing and reaching their hands out to one another.
This scene is a definite no-no during a pandemic, but our specialty is helping people to connect and communicate. Let us know how we can help you–in coronavirus-appropriate ways, of course! Photo credit: Alexandra Freeze

In a February presentation to the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment, Arthur Lupia, head of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences for the National Science Foundation (NSF), described our nation’s crisis of credibility and the responses proposed by NSF: greater transparency, better communication, and greater engagement.

We believe that the Center for Communicating Science can help with all three.

Our courses and workshops help participants communicate more personally, directly, spontaneously, and responsively, with transparency and engagement core outcomes of such communication. Our focus is on genuine human connection, building personal relationships of trust and collaboration, empathy and emotional expressiveness, and helping people connect across differences of all kinds—academic discipline, race, religion, age, socioeconomic status. Our work to help researchers distill their messages, find language appropriate for the audiences they hope to reach, and turn their data into compelling stories provides a path toward communication, engagement, and transparency.

Lupia called for rethinking the “broader impacts” sections of grants and said that in all proposals it should be clear how the research itself, and its broader impacts, will improve quality of life. What will be the communicative products associated with the research? Who will be empowered by these communicative products? And how and for whom will that empowerment improve quality of life?

Beyond workshops and courses, the center has been exploring the power of arts-science collaborations to produce performance pieces and exhibits that convey spontaneous understanding of complex subjects. Communicating research through the arts can result in depths of understanding and human connections not achievable through more traditional forms of information distribution such as public lectures, newspaper stories, and flyers.

With arts collaborations, community members experience “information and data dissemination” in new ways. Interactions with artists and scientists can provide opportunities for understanding, discussion, relationship-building, and decision-making. Collaborative artistic products and associated community conversations can illuminate complex quantitative research findings through accessible artistic metaphors and compelling stories, allowing scientists, artists, and community members to work together to understand scientific evidence and explore issues of scientific uncertainty. With transparent and engaging communication, community members gain agency, come away with a clearer understanding of research, and are empowered to make decisions and take action based on such understandings.

In a collaboration with researchers in Coastal@VT (now the Center for Coastal Studies), Center for Communicating Science faculty fellows Al Evangelista and Daniel Bird Tobin, along with other performing artists, created performance pieces that communicated climate change research. “Animating and Embodying Science” presented two of these at the Moss Arts Center last fall, and grant support from the Equity and Social Disparity in the Human Condition destination area will allow us to create three additional pieces this fall.

The Center for Communicating Science has been included in grant proposals

  • to provide professional development workshops;
  • to help develop communicative products, including video presentations, children’s books, in-person presentations, and printed materials;
  • to educate graduate students; and
  • to design and create artistic responses that will help communicate the research to public audiences and community stakeholders.

We have provided workshops—ranging from a couple hours to a couple days—to The Nature Conservancy; the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; the National Science Foundation’s Science and Technology Centers; the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry; Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences; the Organization of Fish and Wildlife Information Managers; the Entomological Society of America Eastern Branch; the Virginia Chapter of the Wildlife Society; the American Society of Consulting Arborists; the Universities Council on Water Resources/National Institutes of Water Resources; and other groups.

Our fees are reasonable and we work with our clients to tailor the experiences to their needs. Let us help you achieve greater transparency, better communication, and greater engagement through arts-science collaborations, consultations, workshops, and trainings. Contact center director Patty Raun (praun@vt.edu) to start the ball rolling!

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