SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
17 March 2016
Volume 17 Issue 2
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Revisiting Communication Strategies at SETAC Europe

José-Julio Ortega-Calvo, IRNAS-CSIC, and Thomas-Benjamin Seiler, RWTH Aachen University

SETAC Europe started a process for strengthening communication strategies last September during the long-range planning (LRP) meeting with the newly formed SETAC Europe Advisory Group on Science and Risk Communication (SCIRIC) in Antwerp, Belgium. Following this dialogue, the participants achieved consensus on several major initiatives and developed actions for implementation as a result.

To be able to provide clear messages, we first need to get a clear picture on who we are, what we are aiming for, and how we want to be seen. Encouraging a positive SETAC Europe image (and that of SETAC more globally) requires fluid communication among all subgroups and parties (academia, government, industry, students, branches, science disciplines). Second, we need to set the right strategies when communicating outside of SETAC, otherwise our message could get lost or might not be well perceived, or even be misunderstood and thus potentially damaging to our organizational reputation. Sustainability (e.g., Berlin declaration, which was developed at the last SETAC World Congress), responsible research and innovation, and realistic risk assessment are just some of the societal topics that are a major part of SETAC programming – discussed and debated at many of our annual meetings. But how certain are we that our research findings reach the outside world? An integrated approach to communication could, for example, contribute to successfully reaching the target audience when organizing meetings and workshops, participating at events, fueling discussions online and offline, etc., which are all important aspects of our programming and major influences in the SETAC brand. SETAC Europe encourages tripartite member involvement in this iniative, especially from members in the language branches, and is building strong administrative and organizational support for this initiative. For efficient communication, however, it is crucial to establish a clear picture of what SETAC research is and what we aim for in our mission to provide Environmental Quality Through Science®.

As part of the LRP initiative, we performed a critical analysis of the discussions within SETAC Europe, evaluating, re-arranging (when appropriate) and interconnecting the various ideas, with an aim to define specific actions to be taken in the near future. The goal of these specific actions needs to be integrated in the existing global strategies of SETAC, implemented at the geographic unit level, and vice versa. We focused the discussions on five questions:

  • Which incentives would work for increasing internal communication in SETAC Europe?
  • What are the specific target audiences we would like to reach (and why)?
  • What general message should be communicated, and which specific topics from research performed by our members can attract the interest outside the community?
  • How can we get these messages to the target audiences?
  • How can we verify that our efforts are being well received? How can we ensure our communications are not being misunderstood?
SETAC Europe target audiences
Figure 1. Potential target audiences for SETAC Europe communication strategies.

A detailed document with all relevant ideas produced can be found here. The potential audiences outside SETAC Europe were classified in three layers or circles, each with specific reasons why they need to be reached (Figure 1).

  • Inner Circle

    These audiences would be contacted to:

    1. Broaden the network and possibility to exchange
    2. Build professional recognition and create a community
    3. Increase the influence
    4. Bring in novel and fresh views for increased synergies

    Here we can consider scientists in general who can make use of the knowledge in SETAC, universities and other professional societies (e.g., societies with a focus on biology or human health) who are not already in SETAC. Chemicals and ecotoxicology are becoming more of a concern to biologists and ecologists, but they are involved in biological or ecological societies and may not know about SETAC. Our goal is to build partnerships and explore organizing joint meetings and sessions at complementary annual meetings. Another example are environmental engineers with interests that are easy to integrate in SETAC.

  • Middle Circle

    These are the audiences that can really use the science for improving environmental quality. They are regulators that are not directly involved in SETAC (employees at EU agencies, national and regional public health and environmental health departments), researchers in industry, risk managers, risk assessors, professionals in product stewardships, farmer associations.

  • External Circle

    These audiences are the general public, primary and secondary school teachers, journalists, politicians, socio-economic analysts. The potential goal is to create general awareness of scientific topics and SETAC, which could then feed back (at least) to the middle circle. However, the LRP discussions left open the issue of whether the general public as a whole should be considered as a target audience.

SETAC Europe communication actions
Figure 2. Specific actions foreseen to improve SETAC Europe communication strategies. Arrows depict interconnections between certain tasks.

Suggested Actions Based on the Outcomes of the Discussions

The results from the discussions generated multiple measures and ideas that could inspire the activities of the SETAC Europe committees in different ways. The perception that communication strategies both within and outside of SETAC are important is a result by itself. In addition, we propose three specific actions in an interconnected, three-pronged approach, to be implemented for all three identified circles (Figure 2).

We would make a strong leap forward in improving the recognition of our members as acting members of the SETAC community. This could be done by giving the members increased opportunities to participate as part of SETAC, additional to participation as a council, committee or advisory group member. Three possible actions to get there:

  1. Questions and Answers SETAC Helpdesk
    Ask an ExpertWe recommend establising a publicly available Q&A section on the website, structured like a helpdesk. Members could register as a SETAC expert on certain topics and also be involved in advisory groups. This would contribute to the members’ recognition in the SETAC community and be part of their professional visibility. Being consulted as a SETAC expert with defined limitations, they would be able to identify themselves as members of SETAC but would be speaking as themselves. This  is important because SETAC is an organization of many perspectives generated through our tripartite participation (i.e., regulatory, regulated and academia).   

    It is expected that the first customers of the helpdesk would be the media, teachers, students or authorities  – hence, the middle and the external circle. A physical extension of this desk could be organized at annual meetings, for example at the SETAC booth or our recent Reddit Ask Me Anything events, with selected helpdesk representatives. Select Q&As could be further developed, for example printed in booklets and posters or presented as on-line media.

  2. Short Introductory, Multi-lingual Video Clip
    Members would use this video at events, when giving presentations and on websites as a way to introduce SETAC. The video should be entertaining and invite the viewer to know more about SETAC. This way, members can act as part of SETAC and are regularly reminded that they belong to the society. The video should be easily found on the SETAC website, and it could be edited by the regional branches in their native language (English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and other languages depending on demand). It is expected that the middle circle representatives will be the first interested audience.

  3. SETAC Environmental Quality Report
    The report would offer regular and easily perceptible information on what SETAC does for environmental quality and illustrate examples of major achievements that impact everyday life. To this end, a survey would be sent out to all members annually to collect thoughts and feedback on “How did we maintain or improve environmental quality through our science?” and “Why should people be happy that SETAC is there?” The report would gather this feedback. The most important achievements could be published in press releases, posted on social media and shared by members on their institutional websites. Similarly to the promotional video, the report could be translated into the main geographic unit languages. All communication about these achievements would direct the reader (eventually also from the external circle) to online resources to receive more specific information. Once on the website, users can be directed to other content leading to the discovery of other parts of www.setac.org and to learn more about our society.

If you want to learn more about these communication strategies or would like to contribute to these efforts, contact Delphine Delire.

Authors’ contact information: jjortega@irnase.csic.es and seiler@bio5.rwth-aachen.de

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