When you start thinking about doing science communication, one of the first things to come up is your target audience – in fact, it’s right in the beginning of our Basics of Science Communication workshop! But deciding on that audience can be tricky. In this blog, we’ll discuss the essential question you need to ask yourself before you settle on a certain public:

Where is the locus of control when it comes to my message?

This question is important, because it helps you to decide who needs to hear your message if you want to make a change, have impact! If the average citizen can take action and have results by themselves, then they have the locus of control. If they need the government to take action for them to benefit, then the locus of control is with the government. The same goes for companies and other potential stakeholders.

Who is in charge of changing behavior?

Let’s say you want to have a positive impact on the health of the population by changing their diet for the better. This means that you can speak to and influence the control that citizens can exert over their own lives: knowledge might make them change behavior, as does taking away barriers that keep them from changing behavior. The best is to combine the two:

‘If you eat this and this you lower your risk of heart disease – and here is a recipe to help you incorporate it into daily practice!’

Of course, there can and often will be multiple centers of control. That just means that you may have to take various routes with your efforts to make the biggest ripples. In this case, the government, restaurants and food companies could have a role to play as well. Each has their own control over or influence on the diet of citizens, and each has to be persuaded in their own way. The government should be sensitive to moral and ethical arguments, but healthcare cost reduction is a big driver as well. Industry is generally mostly interested in money, and will only seem moralistic if they can’t avoid it anymore.

Tailor your message to each audience

In short, in this example you’re looking at – at least – three or four different audiences with their own interests, and their own sphere of control. This means that to get the most out of your outreach efforts, you have to play into those differences. So one PowerPoint presentation or one story you repeat everywhere won’t work. But now that you’ve gotten an idea of who your audiences are, you can start defining them and work on the best way to convey your message in those different ways and really make that impact.

We have some workshops to get you started with this, and if you need help, we’re here for you!

About the Author: Stephan van Duin

Stephan enjoys the process of understanding complex matters and being able to present them in a comprehensible way. His vision is that science and society can benefit from clear science communication, and that technology can aid this development in various ways, from science websites for the public to academic e-learning for students.

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