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Challenge of advocacy for sustainability scientists

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Without scientific expertise, society may make catastrophically poor choices when faced with problems such as climate change. However, scientists who engage society with normative questions face tension between advocacy and

Without scientific expertise, society may make catastrophically poor choices when faced with problems such as climate change. However, scientists who engage society with normative questions face tension between advocacy and the social norms of science that call for objectivity and neutrality. Policy established in 2011 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) required their communication to be objective and neutral and this research comprised a qualitative analysis of IPCC reports to consider how much of their communication is strictly factual (Objective), and value-free (Neutral), and to consider how their communication had changed from 1990 to 2013. Further research comprised a qualitative analysis of structured interviews with scientists and non-scientists who were professionally engaged in climate science communication, to consider practitioner views on advocacy. The literature and the structured interviews revealed a conflicting range of definitions for advocacy versus objectivity and neutrality. The practitioners that were interviewed struggled to separate objective and neutral science from attempts to persuade, and the IPCC reports contained a substantial amount of communication that was not strictly factual and value-free. This research found that science communication often blurred the distinction between facts and values, imbuing the subjective with the authority and credibility of science, and thereby damaging the foundation for scientific credibility. This research proposes a strict definition for factual and value-free as a means to separate science from advocacy, to better protect the credibility of science, and better prepare scientists to negotiate contentious science-based policy issues. The normative dimension of sustainability will likely entangle scientists in advocacy or the appearance of it, and this research may be generalizable to sustainability.

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Date Created
  • 2015

Oui Nous Pouvons: Subverting the Single Story of Sustainable Development

Description

Effective sustainability communication is essential to the successful creation, implementation and maintenance of effective sustainability solutions. As journalists are often the intermediary between sustainability scientists or practitioners and the general

Effective sustainability communication is essential to the successful creation, implementation and maintenance of effective sustainability solutions. As journalists are often the intermediary between sustainability scientists or practitioners and the general public, they have a responsibility to learn how to tell these stories in a way that motivates audiences to design and support more substantive solutions. My project is an experiment in this kind of sustainability storytelling.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo I saw firsthand the harm that ineffective storytelling can do. There the dominant narrative of sustainable development – as something Northern citizens do in the South – has had a dampening effect on grassroots development efforts. In an effort to combat this narrative, I created a short-form documentary that follows the stories of one exemplary Togolese changemaker who successfully developed his own solutions to sustainability challenges in his community. The film was published online in both English and French; shared with staff, Volunteers and local counterparts of Peace Corps Togo; and modified into a shorter video profile for distribution via WhatsApp, the primary social media platform in Togo.

Focus groups organized to evaluate audience responses to the film indicated that it effectively elicits feelings of hope and inspiration in viewers, as well as an increased motivation to address problems in viewers’ local communities. Participants also noted that its emphasis on local-led solutions counteracted Western development myths. This early feedback supports a growing body of evidence that solutions journalism more effectively spurs behavior change than its problem-centric counterpart. It also suggests that shifting the focus of development narratives from foreign to local leaders can also shift audience’s perceived agency.

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Date Created
  • 2020-05-15