With the science about climate change abundantly clear, Climate Outreach’s public engagement Ambassador programme supports new and diverse voices from across the climate research community to connect the science with what matters for people. Find out more and how you can get involved below.
The facts about climate change have never been clearer. Earlier this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest major assessment report on the science of climate change. You just have to look at the headlines rippling all over the world to know that climate change is affecting every part of the globe, from deadly heat waves to floods and that every extra bit of warming will intensify what we’re already seeing.
Whether it is policymakers, community groups, civil society, or school children, we all want to know what climate change means for us. Increasingly, polls show that we want to hear directly from scientists. But we know that although a lot of scientists are motivated to talk about their work with a wider audience, many find they don’t have the language or experience to feel confident doing so, beyond reverting to authoritative ‘sound bites’ from the IPCC reports.
At Climate Outreach we’re running a public engagement Ambassador programme to train and support climate scientists (and other experts) to talk with a wider audience about climate change. The training is built on the understanding from decades of social science research that facts aren’t enough on their own – our values, worldviews, and ideologies influence how we respond to information about climate change, far more than how much we know about science. So just as science is driven by evidence, scientists can (and should) draw on the evidence base about what works (and doesn’t work) when it comes to communicating it.
What does the Ambassador programme involve?
This year, 2021, is the first of Climate Outreach’s three-year Ambassador project. We began in January by recruiting experts for our 60 fully-funded places via the COP26 Universities Network, a group of more than 80 UK universities and research organisations providing academic support for COP26.
Our Ambassadors span universities from Exeter to Edinburgh and we’re very pleased to have a range of career stages, from Master’s students to Professors. Between them, the Ambassadors span a huge range of expertise. Modelling how much future warming we’ll see, how carbon cycles through the land, atmosphere, and ocean, and how different species and ecosystems are affected is critical to understanding the nature of climate change. But connecting the dots to people’s lives and how we respond to climate change – at an individual and societal level – is about so much more. Among the Ambassadors, we have economists, psychologists, public health professionals, educators, policy experts, engineers, and more.
The programme takes individuals through a three-step process.
- First, all Ambassadors are invited to take part in a 1-day workshop, in small groups of 10-12 people. We talk about why, as climate experts, they might talk with non-specialists about their work – the motivations, the rewards, and the potential impact of doing so. Then we talk about how to do it – drawing on the social science evidence to find practical techniques and strategies for making climate change feel relatable and relevant for their audience.
- Now, in stage 2, we’re finding all the ways we can to support our Ambassadors to practice their public engagement skills and explore the techniques and strategies that we’ve discussed. So, for example, we’re organising group practice sessions on different themes (i.e. engaging young people or policymakers), networking sessions, drop-in clinics, and ad hoc personalised support whenever they want it.
- Finally, we’re looking ahead to the UN climate change conference in November for the culmination of year 1 of this project. Each Ambassador will be encouraged to take part in a speaking event or other forms of public engagement. For some, this might be a public talk or an event in their local community. For others, it might be a podcast or an art exhibition. We’re helping our Ambassadors to think through what kind of event and audience they’re interested in and to prepare for it using the techniques and strategies that we’ve been practicing.
At the end of the year, we’ll evaluate with our Ambassadors how they found the programme, refine the plan based on their feedback and repeat it all next year for another group of experts.
What impact will the Ambassador programme have?
This programme is not like any other training that we know of. The training and support is evidence-based, tailored to realities of being a climate expert in today’s society, takes place over a period of time rather than as a one-off event, and is designed to be flexible enough to respond to what our Ambassadors tell us they need.
Scientist-led engagement: Now more than ever, we need to hear from trusted experts with the skills to connect the dots between the science, the need to tackle climate change, the consequences if we don’t and the need to adapt to impacts we can no longer avoid.
Adaptable skills: Our training provides a toolbox, not a script. Climate experts learn practical strategies for adapting scientific information into meaningful messages for any audience – whoever and wherever they are – by taking a ‘values up’ not ‘numbers down’ approach.
Promoting best practice: Values as a basis for translating scientific evidence for different audiences is recognised in this week’s IPCC report – a first for the part of the IPCC that deals with physical climate science (see Chapter 10; page 10-6, for example).
Real-world relevance: Our training is grounded in the reality of being an expert in today’s society. We take time to understand Ambassadors’ motivations (so that we can work to strengthen them) and the barriers that exist (so that we can work to reduce or remove them).
Empowered messengers: Communicating climate change effectively is as much about supporting the individual expert to find their own voice as it is about understanding what the audience needs. We’ll help each Ambassador find their comfort zone.
New voices: Communication training and opportunities tend to be offered to senior or ‘known’ scientists, resulting in a narrow pool of spokespeople in terms of diversity. Our training aims to enhance the visibility of early-career scientists and experts from underrepresented groups.
Confident spokespeople: We recognise that opportunities to practice new skills with peers, over a sustained period of time and in low-risk, supportive situations are more helpful than jumping from one high-pressure media ‘moment’ to another.
Legacy: Our vision is that each Ambassador can act as a mentor for the next generation. The result of the Ambassador programme will be a community of expert spokespeople – with many new and diverse voices – who are skilled in public engagement, savvy to the opportunities and challenges associated with their role, and confident participants in public and policy discussions about climate change.
This programme is being delivered with support from the Marmot Charitable Trust. If you’re a climate expert interested in taking part in the Ambassador programme next year or a funder interested in supporting it, please contact us below.
Interested in getting involved with the Ambassador programme?
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