Barriers to understanding and Strategies to overcome barriers

I’d like to share our findings on barriers to understanding and strategies to overcome barriers from the class of communicating science. These findings are collaboration of all mindful thoughts of classmates and professor.

Barriers to understanding

  • Lack of understanding of relevance or applications — or that research can be worthwhile even with no immediate applications in sight
  • Complete lack of understanding of a field (e.g., biology, physics, have never been in a lab, have never heard of implementation science, don’t know what materials science encompass)
  • Complete lack of understanding of a concept (e.g., ecosystem services, string theory, important of soil)
  • Invisible, intangible, or microscopic (chemistry, molecular bio, bacteria, time scales)
  • Lack of background in various fields, lack of basic education, lack of foundational knowledge
  • Negative stigma associated with field or part of it (e.g., bacteria aren’t all bad, insects aren’t necessarily “ick”) or judgements get in the way (e.g., are some fibers “bad” and others “good”?)
  • People think they already know all about it (are familiar with topic in general or in fuzzy way) but don’t really understand it, have preconceived notions, or hold opinions not based on evidence
  • Lack of familiarity with processes, acronyms, concepts, scientific names, field-specific terms, words that people think they DO understand but that have different specific meanings in this field
  • Lack of basic understanding of facts, the importance of basic (vs. applied) science, the process of science (e.g., people may think there is only one right and one wrong answer or way to do something and lack the basic understanding that things can be complicated)
  • Fear of math, equations, theoretical works, graphs, figures, numbers; intimidated by or distaste for ivory-tower academicians
  • Difficulty in communicating, lack of facility with English, no motivation on part of researcher to communicate and reach audience

Strategies to overcome barriers

  • Use analogies (but make sure they aren’t misleading), metaphors, and imagination; define terms; provide background; simplify without losing content/accuracy
  • Use case studies and specific examples, relate research to everyday lives and events in the news, show how research findings may or may not have direct applications but still advance knowledge, communicate global importance or specific value of work
  • Use simple and specific terms; avoid belittling, condescending, or intimidating language and concepts; organize information logically; simplify and categories; explain something first and then give the “big word” for it
  • Use graphs, diagrams, flowcharts, cartoons, animations, videos, photographs, physical models, simulations, drawings of structures (but make sure they are user-friendly)
  • Start small and work up; start big and work down to small; start with the familiar and move to the unfamiliar; introduce concepts slowly; include audience in the process (participatory and collaborative approaches); repeat yourself; slow down when need
  • Be aware of how much basic background information people might need, and think about how to give it to them
  • Always include the information you know to be a problem; be sure you understand things thoroughly yourself
  • Engage in public and try to see your field and research from their point of view; introduce yourself and your field of study to a variety of people; incorporate talking about your work into everyday life; keep trying
  • Work to remove judgements and value attributions from conversations about your research; avoid controversial topics if it means your communicating will get lost in it
  • Communicate love for discovery, connect at a personal level, show your passion and enthusiasm, tell stories (all of that can be contagious)
  • Make science more fun!
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