Scientists learn how to make a “big bang” for forests

 2 October 2019, Curitiba, Brazil – It takes more than knowing your facts and figures to make a “big bang” in communication, scientists heard at the 25th World Congress of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) in Curitiba, Brazil.

A communication session organized by the Regional Forest Communicators Networks emphasized that a good story lies at the heart of all successful outreach – the kind that sways hearts and minds and inspires positive social change.

Simple is powerful

M&C Saatchi Abel founding partner Robert Grace explained that simplicity makes for good stories: communicators must boil down complex information into easy-to-grasp nuggets that will stay in people’s minds and, hopefully, sow the seeds of ethical and behavioural change.

Achieving that simplicity takes work but it can be done, the advertising expert told participants at the session, entitled “The Big Bang in Forest Communication”, a point he demonstrated with examples of successful campaigns that mobilized public opinion and raised funds for a variety of causes.

A good story based on clear and simple messages will also go a long way with decision-makers, normally beset by streams of information coming at them from all directoins, explained Ingwald Gschwandtl from the Austrian Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism, who also chairs the Global Coordination Group of the Regional Forest Communicators Networks.

Why gender matters

Maria De Cristofaro, Global Coordinator of the Regional Forest Communicators Networks, examined gender in outreach, explaining why it is important that messages containing vital information be designed to get through to women.

“Globally, women perform two-thirds of the world’s working hours and produce 50 percent of food grown, but make up only 24 percent of people covered by the media,” she explained.

“Gender equality in communication is essential because while they may be “invisible”, women are often at the forefront of social change.”

This is especially true among the over one billion rural poor who depend directly on forests for their survival: women are often the heads of household and the ones who gather the firewood, fetch the water, cook the food, care for the children – and are the first to notice if the environment starts to degrade.

Getting through to decision-makers

Engaging with decision-makers is a great way to make one’s voice heard and to call attention to issues of concern with those having a say on strategies, policies and resources. This is particularly relevant for the science community. However, it can be a challenge to make decision-makers pay attention and consider a case.

Gschwandtl presented seven guidelines for facilitating a productive exchange with top decision-makers.

He stressed that it is unlikely a scientist will be at the other end of the conversation. Therefore, when presenting a case, there is no need to provide a broader context upfront as is customary with a science audience. As decision-makers are action-oriented and short on time, it is advisable to lead with the key points and to get straight to the bottom line.

While it is helpful to provide a few compelling facts to support a position, one should refrain from overloading the audience with data and to avoid declarative statements, acronyms and jargon.

The power of forest excursions

Jennifer Hayes of the United States Forest Service and Deputy Leader of the FAO-UNECE Forest Communicators Network explained the need to communicate more effectively with the media about sustainable forest management to ensure that journalists write and broadcast about the issues that matter.

Finally, Kai Lintunen of the Finnish Forest Association and Leader of the FAO-UNECE Forest Communicators Network discussed the power of taking target audiences out into the forest to see sustainable forest management at work with their own eyes.

The overarching message of the session was that forest professionals must learn to wield the tools of communication more effectively if they want to cut through the noise and be heard by communities and policy-makers alike.

The session was organized with the financial support of Austria and Finland.

last updated:  Thursday, October 3, 2019