Weather and Society Watch
Working Together to Inform the Public about Weather: Collaboration Between Communication and Weather Related Disciplines
The discipline of communication and the weather and climate communities can learn much from each other, as we both engage in research that is related to public health and welfare. This relationship between our disciplines will certainly be highlighted during the 91st annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS), as the chosen convention theme is “Communicating Weather and Climate.” Moreover, collaboration between our disciplines is essential if we are to better inform the public about weather related issues.
While there is already a good deal of research shared by the two disciplines (risk and crisis communication, the effects of climate change, and environmental communication, to name a few), there are other, less obvious ways in which our two disciplines can collaborate: during the private creation of science, and the public dissemination of science, where the results of creating science are both adapted and communicated to lay audiences. Communication scholars can team with weather related researchers to ensure that both the creation and dissemination of their scientific findings is an effective process.
What is Communication?
Based on these premises, we have the expertise to guide scientists in both the private and public phases of communicating science in ways informed by the process and complexity of communication, coupled with a focus on messages and the context in which they are communicated and interpreted. Researchers in our field have spent decades studying communication dynamics in organizations and, as such, we are well equipped to offer the expertise needed to facilitate communication, collaboration, and complex problem solving in organizational contexts.
The Creation of Science
To work collaboratively, scientists must demonstrate interpersonal communication competence, teamwork (which includes problem-solving and decision making), manage conflict, and often communicate across cultural and language differences. They must deal with the reality that how a message is communicated is as important as the message content. Being able to communicate effectively in a team is the foundation for successfully communicating results to the public.
However, the creation of science is not just about collaborative teamwork. It involves communication and collaboration with other constituencies, most importantly those people who are often the “face” of science created in weather related disciplines: the on camera weather forecaster who often translates scientific findings for the public.
The public and private phases of communicating science are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are overlapping, ongoing, and continuously impact each other. That said, the implications for studying the communication of science in the private and public phases are profound and far-reaching. Achievements realized during the public dissemination phase are largely dependent upon the successful creation of science in the private phase. Conversely, the clear communication and public understanding of scientific findings will also have an impact on the private creation phase. Positive or negative feedback from the public, and actions taken on the basis of the findings, will determine how (and indeed whether) the teams continue to work together in the private phases of science creation.
The public and private phases, as well as the mutual influences between them all warrant further, and collaborative, investigation by communication and weather and climate scholars. Such investigation can help to train weather and climate researchers to realize the impact of their private behavior in the creation of science. It will also shape the impact of weather related messages on the public.
If this is a topic of interest to you, please consider attending the special communication session scheduled on January 22-23 (just prior to the AMS general meeting) on “Integrating Communication, Weather and Climate: More than Just ‘Talking about the Weather.” At this workshop, scholars from both the communication discipline and the weather and climate community will share perspectives relevant to weather and climate, and discuss a series of questions on how our disciplines might collaborate on a number of different weather related issues. If you are unable to attend the communication workshop, please look for a summary after the completion of the AMS annual meeting.
*Betsy Wackernagel Bach, Ph.D., is associate director for Research Initiatives for the National Communication Association.
Thompson, J. L. (2009). Building collective communication competence in interdisciplinary research teams. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 37, 278-297.