Oct 19

Understand your hazard or issue, then find a story to tell

Every successful outreach program tells a story. This story needs to form the kernel of your program messaging. For our earthquake and tsunami program it is, “Be a survivor.” This simple phrase comes from a wealth of understanding of the issue, the science behind earthquakes, and even more importantly the science of marketing and branding. Because really? You are selling a product just as much as Coca-Cola is. And you are competing for the consumer’s attention span and dollars just as much as Coca-Cola is, although I doubt you have millions of dollars to spend on your campaign. So study the competition and how they do things, but more importantly study your own issue or hazard.

Before you even begin to think about your outreach program, you will need to thoroughly examine and understand your hazard or issue. If you aren’t excited about this prospect, you may need to find another line of work. Because if you are not thoroughly enamored by your topic, then it may be hard to sustain the curiosity and energy needed to successfully complete your program. I’m going to go on the assumption that you are passionate about your issue. Otherwise, Pinterest is calling you.

In order to know the best way to find a path forward, you have to know where that path has been. Assemble a history of your program or issue. Who were the early adopters and creative thinkers? Are there seminal works of research or publications? What are the methods and theories at work in your field?

Spend time with the experts and scientists in order to learn from them. They will be great resources as you move forward with your program. Hang out with them at conferences; take opportunities to go have a meal or beer with them. Scientists love beer. Want to make a scientist a friend? Buy them a beer. Just don’t make it a cheap beer. And if you are buying one for me, I prefer a stout. The idea here is to create the networks of knowledge that will support your outreach program later.

Educate yourself on the science so that you don’t have to rely on others for your opinions. You may not be a geologist, or a biologist, or a rocket scientist, but that doesn’t mean you can’t educate yourself enough to speak authoritatively on your chosen subject. Because you will be asked questions along the way that will require a somewhat technical response. It is always ok to say you don’t know the answer, but at least be able to direct them to those who can answer technical questions. So depending on what your hazard or issue is, you could be faced with the following questions:

  • How do hurricanes form and what is the role of the warm ocean temperatures?
  • What makes subduction zone earthquakes so big?
  • Why is it not a good idea to try and surf a tsunami?

You don’t have to be a scientist to educate people on a subject. You don’t need to have a doctoral degree in a scientific field to answer these questions. You just need to have done your homework. And learning is fun. So get out that big brain of yours and learn something new today about your hazard or issue. The more you know the more effective advocate for your cause you will be.

As you educate yourself, keep track of questions that are raised and their answers. These can become the basis of a FAQ which will be a valuable tool in your kit. You don’t want to have to keep looking up the same information. Then, you can post this on your website to help educate the public during your campaign. It’s a win-win situation.