Design the communication activity and how it will be evaluated.
Element 3 involves developing content for your event (in line with your goals and resources) and developing an evaluation plan that will enable mid-event modification and will ultimately determine whether you achieved your goals. Relying on intuition about which messages or engagement mechanisms will be most effective is not likely to succeed. Science communicators must understand what participants hope to gain from the experience and what they bring to it. Participants might, for example, be filling a gap in their understanding of the topic, might have misconceptions about it, or might need specific information. Use the questions in this section to brainstorm appropriate content, activities, delivery, and evaluation for your event.
How do I design an event that fully engages participants?
Many chemists rely on a presentation format to deliver information. However, event designs that encourage participants to think, play, and interact (with one another, with the science communicator, and with the materials and content) tend to generate the excitement,
wonder, and surprise that make the event more meaningful. Chemists can learn to effectively engage audiences from institutions that regularly engage with the public (for example, museums; see Sidebar 2).
Ensuring that content is suited to the audience is key. Analogies and visual representations, such as animations and simulations, are especially useful in helping novices understand abstract ideas and phenomena that cannot be directly observed. Also, consider having participants use the language and tools of science, for example, by choosing a problem to study, developing hypotheses about the problem, and collecting or analyzing data. Such activities foster knowledge of the scientific process, improve understanding of the relevance of science to everyday life and social issues, and develop relationships between scientists and the public.
Continuing with the content ideas you had as you considered your resources, you could decide to incorporate a hands-on soil-testing demonstration into your event. You could decide to bring soil samples from a variety of locations so that participants can compare the soil near their local lake to soil from more and less polluted areas.
How can I test the event in advance to see whether it is suitable for my participants?
A test of the communication event before the event date should be planned if possible. Testing may entail setting up a full rehearsal with test participants in the event space itself, inviting a small group of friends or colleagues to try the activity, or even just running the presentation with the event organizer. Testing will help to expose technical errors, determine whether the content
(amount and level) are appropriate, get a sense of possible participant responses, and identify space constraints or resource limitations. Testing can uncover political, social, or cultural issues that could limit participants’ engagement and learning, and can inform strategies to address those issues.
You could rehearse your presentation with your colleagues and encourage them to think of the potential participants (environmental activists, local farmers, etc.) and ask a range of questions. You could have them practice the hands-on soil-testing demonstration to expose potential issues and ensure you have all needed parts.
What methods should I use to evaluate my activity?
How will you know if your communication activity is effective? Measurement approaches range from casual discussion, surveys, and follow-up interviews to professional assessments. Many approaches
are quantifiable, and others are qualitative—providing insight into the value of a participant’s experience. Examples for how you could evaluate an activity are provided in Sidebar 3 and below.
For example, you decide that you might offer your fertilizer presentation again in the future, perhaps in other locales; thus, you want the evaluation to assist you in refining it. You would also like to continue your conversation with participants on the Internet. You can set up a Twitter account and plan to pass out your Twitter handle at the event or set up a blog where you will post relevant articles and accept comments and plan to pass out the website address to participants.
There are several ways you could evaluate the activity. You could simply conduct exit surveys or (if you have staff resources) exit interviews. You could pass out preprinted, self-addressed, stamped postcards with simple questions like “Did you like this event? Circle: Yes, Sort-of, No” and “What else would you like to have heard about?” Because you will have a Web presence, you could post a survey online and direct participants to it. You could ask for feedback during your continued conversation with participants. Or, if you intend to turn this activity into a professional endeavor, you might partner with a professional evaluator.
Have I planned for the necessary organizational and promotional requirements?
If you are the event organizer, you must publicize the event. Use the participant information you gathered (see Element 1) to consider how to properly advertise the event, both to get the word out and to attract the desired participants. If analysis of the participants’ backgrounds identified common interests, ask relevant groups (such as neighborhood email groups, Facebook groups, or hobbyist organizations) to aid in spreading the word. Other options are announcing the event through partner organizations and posting alerts on relevant social media outlets. Advertise through platforms that the target participants access regularly, whether in virtual or physical spaces, to increase the visibility of the event. Do not assume that participants will find out about the event on their own.
For your fertilizer presentation, you could begin outreach efforts with a search for local groups that are active in local environmental issues or that
regularly use the lake, and for individuals who are interested in agriculture (such as farmers and gardeners). Think about your topic broadly: perhaps visitors to a local zoo would be interested in the potential effects of fertilizer on wildlife, or perhaps visitors to a local science museum would be interested in the science of eutrophication. Invite the faculty and students of local high schools and community colleges to attend; also consider elementary and middle school audiences and parent groups. Contact local news outlets and add your event to community calendars. Do not leave outreach until the last minute; make it easy for participants to plan ahead to attend your presentation by promoting the event early.