One of the biggest ideas that drives Impact360 is the importance of collaborative communication between researchers and practitioners. We believe elevating the interconnected nature of research and practice will help reduce the impact of natural disasters and hazards. With our collective decades of experience in this field we know how difficult this can be, but we also know it is critical to moving the natural hazards and disasters field forward.

Pieces of the Puzzle

On this blog, we’ve previously discussed some of the barriers to communication between researchers and practitioners, such as internal bias and lack of access to resources. Research has shown “disaster risk reduction policy and practice require knowledge for informed decision making and coordinated action” and that “ integration of multiple scales, different societal actors, various knowledge sources, and diverse disciplines into disaster risk research will increase its relevance for decision-makers in policy and practice” (Weichselgartner, Juergen & Pigeon, Patrick, 2015).

However, an important piece of the puzzle is also the means of communication used. Or, rather, the art of communication. We recently tuned in to an interview between the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science and a seemingly unlikely source of science communication education: Alan Alda, of M.A.S.H. and The West Wing fame. He is also the CEO of Alda Communications Training Company (ACT), as well as a visiting professor at Stony Brook University in the Alda Center for Communicating Science.

Making Progress

Alda and his team are working with a network of universities, research institutions, and The Kavli Foundation to research effective ways of communicating science and teach those lessons to scientists and engineers. The core of their method is listening and connecting. They continue, “Effective science communication happens when we use empathy. Communication is headed for success when we pay more attention to what the other person is understanding rather than focusing solely on what we want to say.” One big takeaway is their approach to communicating science to the public: maintaining clarity, creating vivid detail, and highlighting the passion of those working on these projects. By combining detail and passion together the end product keeps readers engaged through storytelling while still sharing important facts and figures.

In an interview with The Conversation, Alda states, “If you’re not accustomed to telling stories, sometimes you can reduce everything to the bottom line [and that’s] not much of a story. Communication is not something you add onto science like icing on a cake. It’s the cake itself, it’s of the essence of science.”

Impact360 Alliance Director Scott Miles had an opportunity to practice empathy building and storytelling techniques with Alan Alda and ACT this past January. (Here is a video about the workshop he attended.) We are applying these lessons to our approaches to facilitating communication and collaboration between researchers and practitioners. One example is our free guide to designing researcher-practitioner communications to be inclusive, integrated, inspiring, and impactful.


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