Science communication addresses major challenges in 2020

Never let it be said that The Comms Doctor® shies away from a challenge – bushfires, blue-green algae outbreaks and a global pandemic have provided ‘unique’ work circumstances for The Comms Doctor in 2020.

Commencing in early March this year – at the end of a horrendous bushfire season – The Comms Doctor® provided communication services for the North East Catchment Management Authority, based in Wodonga in North East Victoria.

These were challenging times for the CMA as it dealt with a number of communities in the region that were pounded by some of the worst fires in recent memory.

The whole local environment was severely impacted by these fires: from the loss of human life, homes, outbuildings and stock fencing; and the wholesale loss of wildlife and plant communities; the ensuing concerns for mental health and social costs; indirect environmental damage due to flooding, sedimentation, poor water quality and loss of endangered native fish in the region’s waterways; and increased pressure from invasive weeds and feral animals on Alpine wildlife and their habitats. The effects of these events are ongoing.

The subsequent advent of the COVID pandemic has added another layer of complexity to communication between organisations and their clients, stakeholders and wider audiences, particularly as organisations have navigated the ‘work-from-home-wherever-possible’ directives and highly modified work situations compounded by community lock downs.

The pandemic has also highlighted the vital role of science, scientists and sound evidence that can be and has been communicated in meaningful and appropriate ways to the right people.

It has also shown what poorly communicated scientific evidence or even misinformation can inflict on communities and nations with increased communal anxiety, transmissions and mortality.

It’s a hard lesson, but recent local, national and global events highlight the importance of the planning and appropriate funding of communication as part of any research, and the need to promote that research appropriately.

Coincidentally, the recent completion of my work with North East CMA coincided with the second wave of COVID infections in Melbourne and the subsequent closure of the NSW-Victoria border – perhaps it really was time for me to finish! (The Comms Doctor® is based in Albury, NSW…)