Science philanthropies could amplify their impact considerably if, as a central part of their strategy, they invested more purposefully in communications, a report from the John Templeton, Rita Allen, and Albert and Mary Lasker foundations finds.
The report, Identifying Best Practices for Communications Workforce at Science Philanthropies (17 pages, PDF), argues that while effective communications are critical to science philanthropies achieving their goals in a rapidly changing scientific and political environment, current organizational practice in this area lags. Based on interviews with nineteen officials at U.S.-based science philanthropies, the report recommends that foundations engage professional communicators rather than rely solely on scientists to handle their communications tasks; consider goals, audiences, and tactics from the outset of an initiative through its implementation; increase shared learning and partnerships to foster professional development and collaboration; diversify their communications teams so as to reach a broader audience and generate deeper insights; and prioritize communications-centered professional development to respond to rapidly changing information environments.
"Advancing the public's understanding of science and its role in society, and ensuring that the important work being conducted by our grantees and their colleagues informs broader public debate, is a collective responsibility," write Heather Templeton Dill, Elizabeth Good Christopherson, and Claire Pomeroy, the heads of the Templeton, Rita Allen, and Lasker foundations, in a joint op-ed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. "Scientists and their supporters must learn to have more meaningful conversations — rooted in listening — with a wide range of people, including parents, patients, local officials, nonprofit executives, business owners, and people from communities that have historically been excluded from decision-making about science."