The importance of #upgoESA experiment by @DrHolly #ESA2016

The ‘Up-Goer Five Challenge: Using Common Language to Communicate Your Science to the Public‘ session was an experiment.  It was a brilliant success. Enjoyable and profound because of the direct and indirect discoveries in how we communicate and share. Semantics are important. Scientific language conveys complexity. Complexity can become a barrier. Simpler language tends to highlight emotions. Using simpler words can change meaning but make the narrative more powerful.  The main direct discovery was that we function, as scientists and communicators, on a continuum from jargon to overly simple, and we need to find the sweet spot in using complexity appropriately in sharing our findings with others (and one another).

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However, I propose the ‘experiment’ need not have been successful for us to learn. Experiments are about discovery. We learn as much from error as success in science. Trials are useful. The most exciting element of the up goer five model for talks was the fact that Dr. Holly Menninger proposed the session, it got approved, and many people participated (in speaking, attending, and the discussion). We need to try things out. We need to experiment with scientific communication just like we experiment with research systems and test hypotheses and predictions. There is a field of research in communication studies, and I am not proposing we must also become experts in that too. However, ESA meetings are a safe place for ecologists.  At the minimum, we can try some new things in how we communicate with one another and explore efficacy and potential for different audiences. There is likely no one best way for every context. Importantly, we can practice taking risks. Each of us needs to decide what we are comfortable with. Oral session, poster, or ignite for instance each come with different risks and challenges. The upgoESA model provided an alternative opportunity that came with new risks. However, we benefitted from the experiment and made some discoveries. Consequently, I propose we continue to look outward like Dr. Holly Menninger did and continue to bring new opportunities to future ESA meetings that explore how communicate. PechaKucha, slide karoke, video abstracts, streaming, micro-writing groups, hackathons, datashareathons, and more meetups are all viable experiments too. The session ‘Ecology on the Runway: An Eco-Fashion Show and Other Non-Traditional Public Engagement Approaches‘ was also an experiment with risks, entertainment, and a different set of messages.

We need to continue to hack the conference model and treat it like our own collective experiment to become better communicators. Plus, experiments are fun.

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