Communication tools and experiences
This was originally a Horizon 2020 project COOP+ deliverable on WP3 (Dissemination). The original project plan in that project included many individual experiments on creating new ways for environmental RIs to communicate and disseminate in and outside of Europe. For the final deliverable, we decided to include further information gathering also from the whole ENVRI community on different tools and methods, and to create a virtual "handbook" for use of these methods.
This is a living document, and should not be considered to be "finished" - indeed many parts of the document are technology dependent, and use cases are perhaps not covering all aspects of these potential challenges. This is the reason we decided to include this in the ENVRI Wiki, so that contributors have a possibility to include their commentaries and edits.
Ari Asmi and Päivi Haapanala, University of Helsinki
- 1 About
- 2 Target groups
- 3 Choosing a method
- 4 Basic dissemination methods/tools
- 5 Events
- 6 Scientific channels
- 7 Traditional and social media
- 8 Online tools and games
- 9 Conclusions
The overarching goal of COOP+ project is to strengthen the links and coordination of the marine science, Arctic research and biodiversity related Research Infrastructures (RI) that are part of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) with international counterparts. The project aims to leverage international scientific cooperation and data exchange not only within EU countries but also with non-EU countries. One part of the project was to create a dissemination strategy that positions COOP+ initiative in collaboration with the involved RIs as reference to the main stakeholders at the international level. The strategy included the dissemination of foreground knowledge gained during the project, identifying the specific areas in which the project results can have a genuine influence and the different target groups. Particularly, attention was dedicated to the dissemination of RI products to the potential target groups, mainly policy makers, researchers and academics, SMEs, and citizens in general. These tasks are partly described in COOP+ deliverables D3.1 and D3.2. The dissemination methods used and experiences gained through COOP+ project in addition to several environmental RI’s dissemination experiences are described in more detail in this document.
Note: The official title of this deliverable is “Second version of Dissemination and Exploitation Plan & Dissemination and Exploitation Report”. However, together with the project coordination, this deliverable has been expanded to include wide range of dissemination and communication methods used in the research infrastructures. We believe that in this form is far more useful for the research infrastructure community. We use for this report unofficial title “Community handbook for research infrastructure communications.”
What are target groups of an environmental RI and why it is important to communicate with them? How to ensure that the information to be disseminated and communicated derives from the specific information needs of that target group?
One of the main key points in RI’s communication is to identify its target audiences. The four most potentially important target groups for RI communications are perhaps scientific communities, enterprises, policy makers, and citizens. All of these groups can have sub-groups with their own special needs and requirements. Next it is shortly introduced why and who to communicate with different target groups.
Scientific communities. This target audience includes the research communities, other research infrastructures and infrastructures in the environmental fields. Perhaps the easiest to reach target groups are the research communities in the scientific field of the RI. They share the interest towards the scientific questions and problems to be solved and commonly are already integrated to the RI’s activities. It might be more challenging inform the different research communities outside of the integrated communities. The focus of the communication to research communities is to build and/or maintain and deepen the collaboration, exchange of good practices, sharing information on technical implementation, etc., and information flow, increasing the level of networking as well as providing access to RI’s products and services. One important aspect is also to engage and find synergies with new potential users. Raising the number of data users is often necessary for the RI to prove its role in the eyes of funding agencies.
In order to foster the innovation potential of research infrastructures, fluent discussion between the RI and industry and private companies (Small and Medium Enterprises; SMEs) need to be ensured. Creation of an innovation-friendly atmosphere can boost new novel products and technologies to be invented, and further have an effect on the economy. Thus, dissemination of the RI products and services as well as the potential to use SME products in RI’s activities and build jointly new technologies are one of the key points to engage with private sector. Ri needs to be aware of the challenges and differences in the working ways and time scales of academic and business fields.
Dissemination to decision makers and funders may help to engage with the different authorities in European and global level, and potentially attracts resources to the RI and related projects. The goal of this dissemination is often to raise awareness and understanding of the scientific knowledge and socio-economic benefits that the RI can offer. These dissemination activities will use partly similar efforts as for scientific communities, SMEs and citizens, but have their own specific details and limitations. The used methods and messages differ based on the level of the decision maker: local (town, city), regional (several cities), national, international, or global. A possibly important way to reach global policy makers could be via global organizations such as WMO (World Weather Organization), WFO (World Food Organization) and WTO (World Trade Organization).
Dissemination of RI and its products to citizens in a local and global level is to raise awareness of the RI activities, objectives, and it’s benefits to the civil society and create a positive attitude towards the RI. This dissemination can take place via several routes, the two considered to be the most powerful means are media (news agencies, tv, radio) and online tools and games. Providing educational material for school children has also been found important among RIs.
Choosing a method
The method(s) to use for communication depends both on message and the target audience. Even if the message is the same, the most efficient method might be different depending on is it RI’s internal or external communication. Different methods and tools are in general useful for several target groups with their own weightings. Table 1 gives few suggestions on methods how to reach different target audiences.
Table 1. Suggested methods to reach different target audiences.
|Online tools and games||x||x||x|
Next, we will briefly go through the commonly used dissemination methodologies and their pros and cons. The views are based on experiences gained in the COOP+ project and based on Interviews with RIs’ communication persons.
Basic dissemination methods/tools
Newsletter and email list
Emailing list are regularly used method. Most RI have several different email-lists, both for internal and external communication. List can be used for updates, advertising upcoming events, sending requests etc. Many RsI use emails as the primary way in which they keep in contact with project members and targeted email-list are established for example for different work packages/tasks. One should consider the need of each new list, but avoid too much on the “general” list which do not interest everyone. Remember additional work on maintaining lists (subscriptions, unsubscribes, moderation, etc.). There are tools available for sending out targeted emails for different target groups based on their interests (automatically send).
RIs often publish 3 to 12 newsletters per year. Mailchimp is a popular tool used to make them. Content often describes the latest and planned near future actions of the RI, including events and new products. Newsletters target audience can vary from RI’s internal communication to general public and from researchers to policy makers. Some RIs have different newsletters for internal and external communication. Often the objective is to keep the current community involved in RI’s activities and to attract new data & product users and scientist to join the RI. The content can differ from news briefs to longer blog writings and impacts stories. For many RI’s, advertising upcoming events is popular in newsletters. Several synergies with other communication methods: input to and from website, material to be shared in twitter (whole newsletter and individual stories). It is important to follow up the number of newsletters sent out during a year, number of recipients to whom the newsletter was sent and how many of them opened it (both email and website). The effectiveness of the communication via the newsletter can be followed via clicks, shares and reaches in social media.
Advantages: Good method of disseminating summary info and maintaining direct communication. Via email-lists/Newsletters large groups can be reached if properly distributed. Synergy with other dissemination channels such as website and social media (e.g. Twitter and Blogs).
Challenges: Coordination of the newsletter can be time consuming if not large enough engaged group of people providing the material. Or if one editor is responsible for writing all the content, how to guarantee the continuum. Regular release can be challenging if not enough resources. Estimate the optimal content and amount of it in emails and newsletters (short or long stories/news, only few or several per number). Difficulty of reaching new user groups (interest of subscribing to lists).
Resources: Costs comes from the working hours. Good writing skills and little bit visual eye needed from the editor. Good coordinating and communication skills required to get researchers/RI local officers and other material providers engaged. Taking care of the mailing list, approval of submissions, GDPR rules etc needs resources.
Recommendation: Connect with other dissemination tools. Evaluate the amount of information per newsletter/email and if the newsletter is just short news with links for further information or stand-alone material. Follow up. Beware of GDPR rules so that you have people’s permission to include them into mailing lists. Use project resources to get people send their inputs. Often good idea to have moderated list (i.e. someone approves submissions) to avoid reply-alls.
It is a good practice to have the newsletter released regularly (e.g. first Monday of every second month) and to call for the content regularly (so your own internal community, mainly national communication contact points, are aware of the deadlines to send you their news).
Examples of newsletters. Left ICOS, middle ACTRIS, right TERN.
Printed and digital materials
Different kind of printed and digital materials (such as brochures, flyers, leaflets, reports, posters, infographics, videos, roll-ups etc.) are important part of the traditional dissemination methods. Materials should be tailored based on the target audience and dissemination method (electronic versus printed) and place. For example, private sector, policy makers and scientific communities are interested in different kinds of contents. In addition to advertise RI’s missions, impacts, data or other products, these can be used to advertise upcoming events. It is good to be aware that material planned for printing does not necessary look good in electronic form and vice versa. Printed and electronic versions of the same material might assist effective communication. Translation of some of the material to local language and/or RI’s member countries languages might be worth considering. This might help for example communicating with local policy and decision makers.
Flyers, leaflets, and brochures can provide quick-to-look information particularly for new user groups. They can include QR code, NFC chip or website address for further information. They can be distributed in several different scientific or policy relevant workshops, conferences and events. We see that using printed flyers to dissemination is a cost-effective as relatively large user groups can be reached. However, one needs to pay attention how to hand such a material as example scientists are often hesitant on taking flyers on subjects they are not very familiar with. The efficacy of the flyers is hard to evaluate in practice, but using e.g. QR code one might track the analytics. As digital material can be distributed via other dissemination channels (website, newsletter, emails).
There are several freely available tools to make a printed and digital materials. On option is to use commercial company (visual designer) to plan the brochures/flyers layout based on the RI’s visual identity. Some RIs make the material, both content, visual planning and layout by them self. This requires some special skill from the person as well as professional software for the graphic design (e.g. Adobe Creative Suite).
Advantages: Cheap (relatively low cost) method of disseminating basic facts. Can reach large groups if properly distributed (printed material eg. in events). Relatively easy to tailor for different audiences, including different language variants.
Challenges: Difficulty of reaching new user groups (interest of taking a flyer). Design is crucial; as is the way they are distributed. There can also be limited information content. Lifetime of the material.
Resources: Cost are from visual planning, providing content and printing. Printing costs depends on the design, paper quality, and amount. Often external companies have planned the RI’s promotion materials. The materials need regular update which increases the costs. Printed material: Cost to transport, weight, etc. Consider on-site printing.
Recommendation: Connect with other dissemination tools. To be used together with personal connection method (presentation, booth, etc.) and connected directly to the other sources of more detailed information (websites, documents). Consider in which of the participating countries the actual printing of the material is most relevant to do (printing and distribution costs and environment effects).
COOP+ has a flyer with brief description of the project aims, participants and main expected outcomes. It was distributed in several different scientific workshops and conferences (COOP+ events, ENVRI booths at EGU and ICRI 2016).
Examples of flyers and brochures. From top to down: ENVRIplus flyer, ICOS and AnaEE brochures
There are several options for promotional materials varying from the traditional pencils, memory sticks, key chains, and bags to something more unique like colouring book. If bought from normal suppliers, it can be hard to find something which is suitable for user. Ideally, these would be something which work both as attention getter (e.g. useful, fun, or interesting), but at the same time either represent the RI somehow, or have information content.
Advantages: Synergies with other methods. Often distributed in events and booths. Visibility for the RI and its brand.
Challenges: Difficulty of reaching new user groups (interest of taking the material). Design and choosing the product is crucial; as is the way they are distributed. There can also be limited information content.
Resources: Cost are from visual planning, providing content and printing. Often external companies have planed the RI’s promotion materials.
Recommendation: Be creative.
ENVRI Coloring book: A coloring book introducing all the cooperating environmental research infrastructures has been developed within the ENVRIplus project. The idea is to introduce all the RIs and in the same time have there a coloring picture illustrating the specific field in which the RI operates. The colouring page describing the Atmospheric research infrastructures thus showed illustrations of clouds and balloons, an active volcano presented lithosphere, hydrology showed octopuses, waves and fish, etc. the illustrations were then, quite inconspicuously, accompanied by text describing and promoting the research infrastructures themselves. In order to design the book, the author needed the coloring pictures (vectorstock, approximately 50 €) and collect the text about the RIs. The costs for developing the material were therefore very minor. The major costs came from the printing and the crayons (with the project logo) that were distributed together with the coloring book. So far, about 2500 copies of the book were distributed
Website is perhaps the most commonly used and useful platform of dissemination. Web portal is one of the first things to build up when starting a new project or RI as it is often the first and main source of information and central access point to RIs activities. Well planned website provides relevant information for several target audiences: environmental research communities, data users, data providers, general public, policy/decision makers, and industry and private sector. Websites can include material on the background, objectives and efforts of the RI, introduction and access to RI’s products, services and supporting elements (like stations or data centers), shear recent news and advertisements of upcoming events, links to relevant projects, RIs, research institutions and companies. Website often contain access to newsletters, documents, publications, PR material, information to join newsletter and e-mailing-lists, and includes interface to access internal pages. On the other hand, the website can be promoted in other dissemination materials and methods (roll-ups, flyers, presentations, posters, newsletters, social media etc.). Providing links to websites to existing participating institutes/RIs/project websites might be a good way to further improve the collaboration and provide further information. As website is often the first source for target groups to search for information on RI, it is essential that RI’s contact information is easily findable.
Depending on the platform, its design and the content of the website, the updating and maintaining of it can be carefree or take some hours per week. However, the website needs to be renewed once in a while and that is time consuming and may require coding skills. Cost of the website depends on the service provider and if the technical support is bought from outside. In some RIs it is the one and same person making the content and technical solutions to the website and in other cases it can be science communicator providing the content and IT person implementing it and/or providing the technical support.
Analyzing the website statistics (which pages are most visited, how much time spend in each page, what information is searched, how people found their way to the pages, where from the visitors are etc.) is important part of the RI’s dissemination follow up. It helps RI to deepen its understanding of the website users, their needs and interests and to follow up the advertisement/marketing of contents and products. Based on the analysis, actions can be done and the visits on the website can be made more pleasant and engaging. Going through the statistics can be time consuming, but most RIs found it necessary and helpful, especially when planning updating the website. Google analytics is one tool to get a complete view the website and it is free.
Advantages: Relatively cheap, in many cases already funded activity (hosted by institute or university). Can contain large amounts of information to different target audiences and have synergies with other dissemination methods (twitter, newsletter etc.).
Challenges: May require constant maintaining (updating news feeds) or at least check on the timelines and validity of the provided information. Passive and very hard to create engagement. Renewing the website requires working hours, several skills and often external work as well.
Resources: Costs of depend on the service provider (often yearly feed) and if technical solutions are done in-house or bought. Renewing website increases the in-kind contribution of communication officer and scientist and may include paying from external services. Several skills needed: visual, technical and scientific. Often scientist provides or at least checks the main content of the website, but daily/weekly content may be updated by a communicator officer with only little scientific knowledge (basics news, conference/job advertisements).
Recommendation: Special attention needs to be made on the timeliness of the information provided and proper advertisement of the websites in other dissemination activities. Recent activities and news can be provided for example by social media interface. Thought carefully whether the provider of the content and technical support are the same or different persons. Analyzing the page statistics is a good tool for following up website user and improve pages and its content based on them. Evaluate the need of English proofreading. Consider having sections targeted to education teacher/students) and decision makers.
Two examples of just launched new websites of RI are ACTRIS and LifeWatch websites.
LifeWatch: The whole process took around two-three months, from which the last 3 to 4 weeks were implementation. Communicator officer planned the page structure and visual layout together with a graphical designer after which all work was done in-house. The key of the successful website updating in a short period was motivated, participative and well together working team including only in-house expertise. - Sara Montinaro (LifeWatch)
Arranging your own event or session
Arranging own event is useful when you want to gather larger groups of people together. The participants can be from one specific target group or a collection of several (project members/RI community/scientific communities/decision makers/general public/private sector). The theme of the event needs to be well planned and of the interest of the target audience. Well organized event can bring good reputation and visibility for the RI, can enhance collaboration, data and product usage, provide funding opportunities. However, they often require high level of planning, coordination, advertisement and plenty of practical organizational tasks to be successful. The requirement of resources depends on the organized event, its nature and number of participants. Next few different kinds of events and their special aspects are introduced.
Conferences and workshops
Advantages: RI can plan the topic, target group(s) and practical arrangements of the event to reflect its own needs and values. RI can influence the content of the sessions and choose the keynote speakers and session chairs.
Challenges: Amount of needed resources and responsibilities is extensive. It can be difficult to reach the targeted number of abstract submissions and participations. Engage session chairs and advertising the event can be challenging as well.
Resources: Depend on the size of the event, venue, promotional materials, sponsorships ets. Organizing a conference of over 100 participant requires extensive resources, but a workshop of some ten participants can be arranged by less 10 hours of planning and cost only few hundreds. Working hours for planning the content, advertising and making the advertisement materials (flyer, video, infographic, news, emails), practical organisation (catering, venue rent, technical solutions etc.).
Recommendation: Invest on advertisement. Collect feedback from event participants. Consider additional registration fee to a conference dinner participation to avoid food wastage. In larger conference during the event, pay attention on the communication of organizers (example WhatsApp group for fast communication).
Most RIs aim to facilitate easy and efficient transfer of knowledge and sharing of the best practices among the RI service providers and their current and potential user communities. As many RI activities are concurrently taken place in local, national, regional, European and international level, it is important to ensure that the new knowledge is transferred efficiently across boundaries, such as spatial and disciplinary orientated boundaries, to allow maximum level of benefit for all the advancements and improve standardization and harmonization between similar RIs. Organizing a intensive or online course might be useful method for this.
Courses can be effective method for teaching internal to external communities (undergraduate and PhD students, scientist, engineers and technical staff) to use of RIs data, methods and/or instruments. Courses increase participants’ level of understanding of the RI and engagement with it. Depending on the courses, its main objectives and target audiences, it can be carried out as intensive summer/winter school, field course, online course or a mixture of these to guarantee the best learning outcomes and value for money. Courses can include lectures, presentations (posters, oral or something else), group works, field or laboratory excursions and hand on works.
Organizing a course requires several different types of resources. First, one need to have a clear idea of the purpose of the course including the main learning objectives and then plan of the best methods to achieve it. Expenses depends on the venue, teaching methods, honorariums, participation fees, sponsorships etc. Advertising the course both to the potential teachers and participant in right level and channels is important and requires resources.
Several platforms exist for organizing online course like Moodle and MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). A MOOC is an online course often aimed for large-scale interactive participation and option of free and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as reading materials, videos, and problem sets, MOOCs integrate social networking by provide interactive user forums that help building a community for the students, professors, and teaching assistants. With a MOOC course, large number of students can participate at the same time without the need to travel to a course venue (climate friendly). However, planning, coordination and implementation of such massive online courses is challenging and time consuming.
Advantages: Increase the visibility and create a positive impression of the RI and its products. Possibility to widen the community and enhance the use of RI’s data and products. Possibility to new scientific publications. Courses, especially online courses, can reach large number of participants and can be aimed for different target audiences. Online courses are often more ecological than intensive courses (no need to travel to the venue).
Challenges: The amount of needed resources can be challenging, money and time wise. Planning a MOOC course can easily take a year and include working hours from several persons. After the course, the maintaining an online course requires resources. It might be challenging to engage and attract experts and teachers to give (online) lectures, hold workshops, be course assistants or otherwise provide material to the course. Communication and control between local and remote co-organizers can be challenging.
Resources: Planning and organizing a course requires several resources and is often time consuming and expensive. A good overview of the logistics is needed to make all the practical arrangements. Experience in organizing events or courses (having the right contacts) might come in use when contacting different venues and local organizations (catering etc.). Capability to attract good prospective teachers is a needed talent and often personal contacts help in this. From the teachers, solid knowledge of the field is needed. Expenses depends on the venue, teaching methods, honorariums, participation fees, sponsorships etc.
Recommendation: Co-organization of a course brings several benefits (saves resources) but can be challenging and final outcome might not be the best for all organizers. Collecting feedback from the participants to further develop the course is highly recommended. Check beforehand the availability and quality of the to-be-used data and materials and that all technical solutions work as they should. Especially in China there might be challenges with internet-based services (Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Skype, Google). Engage companies and establish sponsorships. Consider whether contact teaching is necessary or would distance learning (online course) be an option.
A hackathon is a design event in which programmers and others involved in software development, often including subject-matter-experts, collaborate intensively on software projects. Hackathons can provide visibility for the RI’s data and in best case provide new tools and ways of using the RI’s data.
Advantages: High potential to find new users of RI’s data and new ways to use the data. Positive impact on the relationship between local organizers, companies, institutes and RI and can support their future collaboration. Can bring different disciplines together and deepen their collaboration (through potential collaboration between mentors, mentors and participants, organizers and mentors etc.). Bring visibility to the RI and other organizers in media and social media.
Challenges: Choosing attractive and useful topic and advertising it to right target audiences. Teamwork and communication with different organizers is critical but can be challenging. Reaching the potential participant and attract them to participate. Finding the sponsors and engage them. To find a suitable venue which has space for group work, eating and sleeping. Needed resources are extensive.
Resources: Working hours of coordinators, mentors and other staff. Expenses include planning and coordination of the event, catering of the event including all meals, advertisement of the event, promotion materials and potential costs of the venue. Coordination can take several months working hours of few persons even some of the task would be outsourced.
Recommendation: Find a suitable partner with experience on organizing hackathons and existing network to reach potential participants. Training of the mentors to use the data and be familiar with the topics and active communication between organizers before and during the event. Guarantee the data availability and quality.
Side events are a practical method to “piggy-bag” with some existing major event. The major benefit is that the participants do not need to specifically travel to your event. However, timing and location can be challenging in such events. In some cases (e.g. EGU), the event organiser even has a system to reserve rooms for these purposes. Considerations to keep the meeting inside the main event (convenience, access), or outside of it (no need to e.g. registration fees, but need space, etc.).
Advantages: Lighter to organize than an own event. Synergy with the main event. Visibility.
Challenges: Attract people to participate. Participants often need to register for the main event even only planning to participate the side event.
Resources: Similar than in organizing own event, but less expensive and less working hours. Planning of the event, advertising it and participation to the event (traveling costs).
Recommendation: Synergy with other methods.
Participating in events
By organizing a booth, the expenses to participate an event can increase by a few thousands of euros depending on the size of the booth. Although costly, they have high potential to increase visibility with the scientists and other communities. Shared (joint) booths with strategically important collaborators can decrease the expenses and increase the booth visitors and the visibility of each RI. The booth should be in-line with the RI’s branding and all handed (leaflets, flyers) and shown (from screen, tablet, roll up, posters) materials should support the RI’s visual identity.
Advantages: Possibility to meet potentially crucial people from the RI scene in the location. Joint booths can bring more visibility for individual RI. Jointly the RIs attract more audience, they can demonstrate their collaboration and been seen as a part of a larger community, and the booth can serve as a meeting place for the entire RI community. The RIs do not necessarily need to send their manpower to the event, even though it is preferable that each RI has a professional capable to explain more complex scientific questions present. Booth can act as a “centre of operations” for other communication and dissemination activities in a conference.
Challenges: To have an inviting booth in a good location and get event participants to visit the booth. Choosing the right events and right way of approach in inviting people to visit. Time consuming to organize, at least when doing it for the first time. Joint booths need a talented coordinator to plan and organize the booth so that each participating organisation is satisfied with the end results. Additional booth programme (e.g. speeches) require further planning.
Resources: The cost of booth depends on the event and venue. For example in EGU conferences the price has been around 3000 to 4000 €, in AGU even higher but for example, in ICRI 2016, the booth was free of charge. Participation to joint booth can cut the expenses from thousands euros as low as 750 €. In addition to the cost of the booth, there are the expenses from planning the booth, planning and producing the handed materials, and traveling. It can be several months work to plan and coordinate a booth.
Recommendation: Joint booths together with other RIs to lower the cost and need of man bower and to increase the visibility. Train the booth personals on the subject so that they deliver consistent message and they know how to take the best out of the booth materials (promotional materials, tablets and screens). Use creativeness in planning the booth, what could be done differently, how to take advance of technology, what would be the trick ior hot topic to get participants attention. Develop a strategy for approaching user communities (see examples boxed).
ENVRI Booths. ENVRI community has organized several joint community booths at different conferences, with EGU being on the top when it comes to organizational efforts and resources. In 2018, 20 RIs have participated in the joint booth at EGU. Even though the total costs were high (16 000 €), the cost per RI were actually quite minor considering the visibility they gained. The EGU booth was well-located combination of two booths with a total size of 18 square metres, which gives a space that would not be affordable by a single RI. One speciality in ENVRI booths are so called lunch-talks organized around different grand challenges (e.g air quality - Atmospheric RIs, food security - Ecosystem/Biodiversity RIs, etc.). These lunch-talks offered RIs a great opportunity to present their mission, data and services, in addition to gain more visibility.
Tablets were also tested in COOP+ participating booths as a visual and information aid. They can be used to show the booth visitors presentations (e.g. via Prezi) containing so information about all the participating RIs, reducing the need of paper material. ENVRI community has found that showing the information on iPads is more cost effective and often better received than renting the screens from the local organizers. The iPads used in the booth at EGU 2018 were later reused again in the booth at GEO week 2018.
ENVRI and COOP+ booths have also shown the importance of proper booth-strategy. Combining together different communication and dissemination methods together in a booth increase the impact significantly. For example, the EGU booths were typically connected (and advertised in the booth) with additional Townhall meetings and side events, organised conference sessions with invited talks, and specialised booth material (videos, brochures, leaflets about Townhall meetings, etc.).
A part of a successful booth strategy includes also the way to approach conference participants. Thinking about how to use booth material can be useful, as passively sitting in the booth is not typically most effective method. In the ENVRI Booth, the use of ENVRI coloring book (see printed material section) was used as the initiator for conversation, leading to discussion on potential use of RIs.
In addition, screens playing the videos of different RIs were rented. Different visual elements, together with the iPads, screens and lunch-time talks made the booth a lively place.
Cost considerations for booth can be reduced by planning. The ENVRIplus project (together with ICOS) also purchased a set of 8 cardboard chairs. The costs were smaller than those for renting the booth furniture from the local company and they can be re-used in future. Transporting this foldable furniture is very simple.
Participating as a contributor
Participation to conferences, workshops, fairs and other events is one method of dissemination and communication. The activities in these events can account for oral presentations, posters, session chairs or presentation booths. In each case, active conversations during coffee breaks and social events is in key role. RI’s participation to events and its main messages to disseminate there needs to be well thought beforehands. In different meetings different target audiences can be reached. Even without physical participation to an event, RI can be involved via social media (# in Twitter) and this way gain visibility for RI and its data/products/objectives.
Scientific conferences and other forums are important means to reach scientific user groups. Examples of suitable scientific conferences are the European Geosciences Union (EGU) general assembly and American Geophysical Union (AGU) meetings, where scientists with different backgrounds are typically present. Many RI considered these to be one of the best means to reach scientific user groups. Similarly to research communities, SMEs can be reached in scientific conferences. Often the SMEs participating scientific conferences have a clear interest in the collaboration and the instrument-maker – RI interaction is natural and easy to facilitate. This applies particularly to the larger events like EGU and AGU as commonly in these instrument manufacturers are present with their own stands. Thus, these can provide a useful mean to reach new SMEs and inform them about the activities of different RIs. This can particularly support the initiatives in producing new technical solutions related to e.g. environmental monitoring.
Fairs can provide potentially powerful tool to reach relevant SMEs as here several companies can be present. Examples of such a fairs include International Energy & Environment Fair & Conference and Environmental Connection. It would be possible for RI to buy a booth on such a fair and get visibility among the different SMEs. The downside is that these are typically expensive and as the results are not necessarily clear, participation needs to be carefully estimated.
It is important the RI representatives report on their activities/new findings, etc. during the event back to Communications Manager - these key messages/activities can be then communicated using different dissemination methods. A dedicated report template is a useful tool for this.
Advantages: If properly chosen venue and participation method, high chance of getting good audience and important two-way communication channels, including personal contacts. Several options for participation: oral/poster presentations in regular or special sessions, organizing splinter meetings, booths, side event, or special session. Participation to selection of key meetings can be effective communication channel to reach scientific communities and SMEs.
Challenges: Presentations (oral/poster/booth) are not automatic in larger and more effective meetings. Perhaps not always worth of the expenses as as participation to some events can be expensive.
Resources: The costs vary from few hundreds up to 10000 euros depending on the contribution and traveling expenses. The expenses cover conference registration fee (commonly around 300-500 euros), plane tickets (less than 400 euros within Europe, 700-1500 euros between continents), hotel (100-250 euros per night) and other running expenses. In some conferences, abstract submission can cost, which e.g. in the case of AGU is 70 dollars.
Recommendation: Participation can be expensive and careful planning needed in which events to participate. Evaluate the RI’s best participation method and message to communicate. If not physically participating certain conference, social media appearance can be considered.
Participation in networks
Participation to projects can give visibility and enhance cooperation between different RIs and organizations. Participation to network activities requires resources thus RI needs to plan which projects and networks to participate and belong. For example, participating to Group of Earth observations (GEO) calls for in-kind working hours.
Knowledge generated through the project can also be dissemination to scientific communities as publications. We have plans to use Open Access Publications and a special issue on GC. These require plenty of work and thus money, but on the other hand can be a convenient method to reach different scientific communities.
Advantages: Publications are (if properly done) permanent methods of widely disseminating information to key target groups in science. They have potential for high level of quality and acceptance due to peer review and publication reputation.
Challenges: Extremely cost (time) intensive, and require a very good reason for publication. Self-publication is not very efficient method of dissemination, and existing series (if good quality) will require a lot of work to be published. Publication costs in OA journals/books.
Resources: Requires several months working hours, scientific knowledge and good writing skills. Publication fee.
Recommendation: If key findings of the RI are suitable for publication, this avenue should be actively used. However, the limitations on resources must be considered. Favoring of peer reviewed open access journals is highly recommended. Active advertisement of publications (ie in social media) is essential.
One way to disseminate particularly to the scientific communities is to use existing scientific journals, particularly via creating special issues related to RI relevant needs. This is convenient way to have relevant articles together, to gain some control on the editorial work related to the articles, and to help on targeted communication to science communities. However, the method does only work for results which can be published in such journals, including the need for passing editorial and peer review.
Advantages: Visibility for the RIs, knowledge transfer, deepen collaboration.
Challenges: Convince the potential, good reputation journal to open a special issue for the chosen topic. Advertising the issue and engage potential authors to contribute. Negotiating the time schedule with the journal can be challenging. To get a good balance of topics covered in the special issue.
Resources: Person with good contacts to potential journal(s) to convince the journal to open a special issue. Communication responsible to advertise the special issue to scientist. Person to coordinate and attract scientist to contribute.
Recommendation: Good contacts to well appreciated scientist and convince them to contribute to the special issue.
Media can be used as a dissemination channel through press releases, news agencies, articles and other press material to engage with citizens, policy makers and industry. It can be used to raise awareness of the importance of the RI. Global news agencies and press releases can be used for disseminating information of the different products and services of the RI.
Social media (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Research gate, Twitter, and blogs) can be a powerful with facility dissemination method, but often it requires constant activity. Social media provides tools to quickly disseminate information, interact with many different groups, including specialists, and receive feedback from audiences. In best cases, it can be a good tool to promote the RI, its goals and materials like videos, catalogues or data products, advertise upcoming events and conferences, inform users about updates, find new users for its products, make new contacts and to share recent results or publications. Maintaining social media account, either Twitter or Facebook, requires often more personal effort and more frequently than maintaining a website. It is not enough to create a social media account, but RI need to promote it to its target audiences. Find people, projects, institutes, companies and other RI who to follow and to provide relevant, informative and appealing content for them. Following the news feed and finding the relevant news to share and make own content can be endless job.
It is good to recognize the target audiences of each of the social media platforms and take this into account in the content of the news shared. It is worth considering can the exactly same piece of news be shared in several social media accounts or does it need to be fine tuned based on the target audience. Via social media RI can reach general public (especially Facebook and Instagram), scientific communities (LinkedIn Twitter), decision/policy makers (mainly Twitter). It can be difficult to get different target audiences (example researchers or policy makers) to follow RI in the social media and if they do, the messages can disappear to the constant flow of information present e.g. in Twitter.
Social media are very helpful when organizing the events. It is recommended to create a communication plan before the event’s kick off to start thinking of the timing and key messages to be communicated during the event (e.g. welcome and closing messages keynote speakers during the conference, practical information concerning the event organization, etc.)
Dissemination follow up in Social media
- Number of followers. This is an indicator of the number of users directly following RI in social media.
- Number of shares per post. This indicates whether the reached audience feels the message important enough to be distributed further and attached to the user’s own name and profile.
- Number of people reached. This is the total number of people reached by social media as a result of the first two social media KPIs above.
- Number of link clicks. In social media the space available or realistic for an individual post is limited, and the more detailed information is provided via a link. This indicator provides information how many of the reached persons have deeper interest to the content of the post.
- Monitor the traffic from social media to the RI’s website to follow how the promotion through social media converts to further actions.
Traditional (print and broadcast) media
Magazines and Newspapers are useful tools to reach a large number of a specialized audience group (e.g. policymakers, land managers, citizens). Writing press releases is one option to reach news agencies and get visibility for the RI. However, major global news agencies should be directly contacted and a story offered. This dissemination is free of charge, but the downside is that it can be challenging to get them interested on a story. Another mean to reach the news agencies can be via different events where media is also present. Third option is to hire a freelance journalist to write a story for your RI. The cost depends whether the story is sold only to one media (newsletter, magazine) or if the RI boughts all the rights to its self (website, newsletters etc.).
Advantages: If successful, the news agencies can be very effective way of disseminating information to the public. Writing press release costs only the working hours, but the same material can be used in other dissemination (website, newsletter, blogs).
Challenges: News agencies can be extremely difficult to engage. Chance of misunderstandings and lack of control during the process can occur. RIs are often on quite low in the science “supply chain” and may not reach the the news agencies interest. Writing appealing press releases is not easy.
Resources: Writing press releases need scientific information, writing skills and understanding on media and target audiences. Not necessary one person needs to have all the required skills: scientist can provide the context and communication person modify it to press release. Clear message and story line in respect to target audience (citizens, decision makers).
Recommendations: Good ways to engage news agencies must be developed. Using the science problem first could be one way, another would e.g. be using technology as the main concept for a story. Need to build storylines together with reporters.
Facebook can be used similarly to Twitter by sharing recent news, upcoming events, advertise RI’s goals and activities. However, the target audience is different. Most of the user have personal accounts, not work related. That may be the reason why Facebook is not widely used social media among RIs. If RI has a Facebook account or group page, it is mostly used to advertise events.
Advantages: Possibility to very wide area of dissemination to civil society. The material created for social media account can be automatically connected to the RI’s website. Synergies with other dissemination methods: post from newsletter material, blogs, publications, and events. Can be connected to Instagram.
Challenges: Hard to get committed involvement. Number of followers/friends in a project-based Facebook page/account is often quite limited. Even though the costs of running this is low, the requirement of constant updates can be challenging.
Resources needed: Working hours of a person who is familiar with the RI’s scientific background and objectives and knows the social media.
Recommendation: Synergies with other social media. Advertisement of social media account in all RI’s presentations, website, and materials like flyers and brochures. Promoting members of the RI to connect their RI relevant post to the RI’s social media account. Check frequently your social media analytics, which type of news has reached the most clicks, profile views or other actions. In once in a while, it is good to check that the social media content is in line with the dissemination plan and the overall goals of the RI.
Instagram is a powerful platform to share RIs visual content. Reach different target audiences than in other social media. Instagram followers are often more engaged than in Twitter. Target audiences are citizens, researchers.
Advantages: Possibility to very wide area of dissemination to civil society and business. It can strengthen the visual identity of the RI and the content can be used in other dissemination methods (newsletter, website, Twitter, Facebook, press releases, publications, printed material). The material created for social media account can be automatically connected to the RI’s website.
Challenges: Hard to get committed involvement. Number of followers in a project-based Instragram is often quite limited. Even though the costs of running this is low, the requirement of constant good quality updates can be challenging. Engage professional photographer is expensive.
Resources needed: Working hours of a person who is familiar with the RI’s scientific background and objectives and knows the social media.
Recommendation: Use synergies with other social media. Advertisement of social media account in all RI’s presentations, website, and materials like flyers and brochures. Use only good quality pictures. Connect your pictures to the RI. In any case, it is good to protect your brand and reserve the account name.
Screenshot from ICOS Instagram. Dated 20 Dec 2018. Photos by Konsta Punkka, copyright ICOS.
TERN's Instagram account (instagram.com/tern_au): 231 post, 179 followers and 210 following. The account concentrates on sharing stories with nice looking pictures from the field work. Each post includes a short introduction with relevant hashtags. Scientist doing the field work maintain the account and TERN’s Communication Officer is not involved.
Screenshot from TERN Instagram. Dated 20 Dec 2018.
ResearchGate and LinkedIn
Different social medias have a different target audience. ResearchGate is platform to discover scientific knowledge, and make your research visible. There the target audience of RI is mainly scientific communities. Whereas, LinkedIn is the world's largest professional network with more than 562 million users in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide. There RI can make a group page or join as a company and reach private sector and scientific communities. Both of these platforms can be used to share recent publications and results, ongoing projects, blog writings and advertise job opportunities.
Advantages: Possibility to wide area of dissemination to scientific communities and private sector.
Challenges: Hard to get committed involvement. Number of followers in a project-based account can be quite limited.
Resources needed: Working hours. Not as much expertise needed as is Twitter.
Recommendation: Use synergies with other social media. Advertisement of social media account in all RI’s presentations, website, and materials like flyers and brochures.
Twitter (https://about.twitter.com) is perhaps the most used social media channel among RIs. TweetDeck (tweetdeck.twitter.com) is a convenient tool to take care of several accounts at the same time. It provides the possibility for a team to maintain one twitter account without all the members knowing the account’s password (account owner manages the team). Team members can tweet and re-tweet from the account. Timed tweets can help to keep the RI constantly in the news feed of its followers and better reach followers in another time zones.
Table 1. Examples of RI’s and project’s Twitter account’s statistics. Dated 20 Dec 2018.
Advantages: Possibility to very wide area of dissemination and reaching different stakeholders. The material created for social media account can be automatically connected to the RI’s website. Synergies with other dissemination methods: tweets from newsletter material, publications, blogs, and events.
Challenges: Hard to get committed involvement. Number of followers in a project-based twitter feed is often quite limited. Even though the costs of running this is low, the requirement of constant updates can be challenging. Daily activity might be required, at least if trying to reach new followers. There is a risk to be swamped with the constant flow of news and spend too much time in the social media.
Resources needed: Working hours of a person who is familiar with the RI’s scientific background and objectives and knows the social media. Active presence in twitter can take several hours per week!
Recommendation: Timed tweets can be used to keep your RI in the news feed and that tweets appear at appropriate time considering the target audience. Use relevant # and @ in your tweets and retweets. Advertisement of social media account in all RI’s presentations, website, and materials like flyers and brochures. Promote members of the RI to connect their RI relevant post to the RI’s social media account. Check frequently your social media analytics, which type of news has reached the most clicks, profile views or other actions. In once in a while, it is good to check that the social media content is in line with the dissemination plan and the overall goals of the RI.
Videos can be an effective way of communication, providing basic information, get people’s attention and strengthen the visual identity of the RI. High synergies with other methods as videos can be promoted on website, social media, flyers, presentations, booths etc. RI can make several videos for different target groups (general, technical, scientific) and purposes (advertisement of an events, data, facilities etc).
Advantages: Possibility to wide area of dissemination to different target audiences.
Challenges: Hard to get committed involvement. Number of followers in a project-based account can be quite limited. Cost of making professional videos is high. Need to update videos.
Resources needed: Free online tools to make simple videos available. Making a proper video needs graphical/visual planning, fluent acting in front of a camera, editing skill if not external company used.
Recommendation: Use synergies with other social media. Advertisement of social media account in all RI’s presentations, website, and materials like flyers and brochures. Provide short description of your RI in the channel with links to further information.
ICOS (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCutdSsds3zt7uYP4x7d7lRA/featured) including 12 #ICOScape videos made together with professional Konsta Pukka. These videos introduce ICOS stations in different countries. These videos are part of ICOS visual identity and are used in booths and presentations. The channel has 30 ordering and videos are watched 4 487 times.
LifeWatch has a YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCP6ag3SoJ6oeisE7ibg4-pg/featured) with 46 videos including general introduction, laboratory tours, tutorials and other RI introductories. 9 persons are ordering the channels and videos are watched 2 399 times.
Online tools and games
Online interactive tools and games can be used via Internet or mobile apps and such tools should be easy to use and interesting to general audience and could be used e.g. in schools in teaching. Below few examples are introduced in more detail: carbon tree (http://www.hiilipuu.fi), which is an online tool to learn about photosynthesis and respiration of a tree; Deep Sea Spy (http://deepseaspy.ifremer.fr), which is to raise awareness towards species living in deep sea and supporting greatly the work done in EMSO RI and serious gaming competition for school kids supported by LifeWatch (https://www.lifewatch.eu/serious-games). One very appealing topic is citizen science, were online tools could be used to involve citizens into the Global Challenges. For example, an app for smartphones that is useful to collect information for multiple purposes. All of the mentioned tools and games require funding to be developed and maintained, but can potentially reach global audiences. However, to attract people to use these online tools and participate in the competitions require advertisement and good connection to schools.
RI can organize online gaming competitions like those LifeWatch is coordinating and ENVRIplus project used. The competition can be based on a scientific gaming, whose content and target audiences can vary. Serious games are one of the most interactive tools to teach young people, in an engaging way about the key subjects of the RI (marine, ecology, biology etc).
Advantages: Potentially hugely important ways to communicate and get wide visibility for the RI. They can have educational aspects and create positive atmosphere towards RI. Good way to reach school children and their parents, educate them on RI related topics and to get visibility.
Challenges: Require significant investments. The online games are hard to make successful and need special attention to gain interest. Can be challenging to engage people to use the tool or game. Often tools and games need simplification of the scientific facts and results. Need of very motivated development team.
Resources: Development team needs to have knowledge both on the subject and technical solutions. In planning competitions for school children RI needs to understand the school year schedule and collaborate with the schools which requires involvement from schools (teacher and students).
Recommendation: If possible considering the requirements, these activities are of high interest. Possibility of direct interaction with the public is invaluable.
This "Community handbook for research infrastructure communications" is the first collection of such information in the ENVRI community. It does try to provide ideas and results of COOP+ experiments with these methods, but is not considered to be a fully descriptive analysis of all potential communication and dissemination efforts. However, due to interviews with the ENVRI community (which includes the COOP+ community) communication officers, it can be considered to be the starting point of community knowledge base on the subject.
It is important to note that the published version of this document was a COOP+ project deliverable and just the starting point of a living document. The content can be further distributed and edited after the COOP+ project.