Success, Maybe, I think ...

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Communicating science can be tough. There are some pretty complex concepts, ideas, problems, and success stories to get across to the public, media, and politicians. I'm not talking about what a journalist or broadcaster has to do to get the message  across. I'm talking about people like me. PR folks (go ahead and call us flacks - I won't be offended )  who have to cover a lot of ground without raising undue expectations, squashing hopes, raise that dreaded brand awareness, and yet still be interesting and informative. There has been lots of effort and words spilled in the fight to find the magic solution and we've all had some great successes and embarassing failures but there is another battle to be fought. I'm at a meeting today with Communication Managers and Directors from Canada's 7 Genome Centres and one of the items on the agenda was the inevitable 'best practices'.  I shared our experiences with Facebook, Twitter, and blogs and I'm still not sure if they 'got it'. Aarggh ... failure to communicate with Communicators. Which probably was a perfect example of what we all seemed to agree today was a common and consistent problem with some science communication efforts. As non-profits ( and I'm sure many academic and gov't institutions are in the same boat ) we don't have sales of equipment, products or drugs to track. Patents for the most part don't rest with us so aren't a true measure. Published papers? Maybe but not exactly a communication function and generally not reaching a general audience and the number of readers could be depressingly low.  Some of our work is pure science or basic research  and with project timelines measured in years updates can be few and far between. Not a lot of media releases to notch our belts with. Revenues about what you'd expect from a not-for-profit so let's not go there. All of the Genome Centres and many other organizations funded by the public have a strong outreach and education mandate however. You can count the number of people you touch with those efforts. Bums in seats, presentations given, people through the door of a public forum, science kits distributed. They're all countable and suddenly by default we find a way to measure our success.  But it isn't really a valid measurement is it ? So time to start a new quest for measurement while continuing the science communications sojurn and I really want to know what others think. With some our partners including Alberta Ingenuity we're even looking at forming a Science Communicators group of some sort that is focused on the quest for science PR and we're open to ideas. Drop me a line and let me know what you think and help us out. Or tell me you don't quite get it ...