Three years in...
That picture looks old mostly because it's scanned from a Sunday Business Post article that featured us in the early days. It certainly seems like a long time ago.
When we had our first conversation about the idea that researchers and academics might benefit from some media training, we never thought that three years later we would be working together full-time, travelling the country delivering training and engaging with organisations about their communication strategies. It has been a real privilege and it has been quite the learning curve.
So what have we learned?
Well, when it comes to individuals and communicating with the public, ability is not the problem. We haven't met any fusty old professors who are unable to hold a regular conversation about their work. Most people are well able to talk in basic terms about their research.
The challenge actually comes down to two main issues - time and confidence. Researchers are busy, overloaded in fact with the different aspects of their jobs. Outreach and engagement takes time and the official rewards are few and far between.
Confidence is complicated. Contrary to popular opinion, simply believing you can do anything doesn't quite cut it. We have found that for researchers, preparation is key to building that confidence. Thinking about their audience, crafting a message and leading out with the most important part of that message are the aspects of our training that people find most useful. The individuals are fine. Communication and outreach is increasingly being seen as part of the job. An exciting culture shift is happening in research in that regard.
From an organisational perspective, many research and academic institutions need to take a more strategic approach to their communication output. Communication may be a 'soft skill' but it is a powerful tool. Every communication action an organisation takes should have a desired outcome in mind. Organisations need to utilise their researchers in their effort to reach the public, and they need to start rewarding those people who stick their heads above the parapet and write an opinion piece or who say yes to the interview request. Those individuals are at the forefront in the war against anti-intellectualism and lies. They are also the best advertisement that an organisation could wish for. They should be incentivised to speak out.