Science for Peace and Development: How Research Societies Can Leverage Content in Advocacy Efforts
One of the key activities of scholarly societies, beyond creating and disseminating knowledge through print and digital avenues and interactive means (e.g., conferences), is advocacy efforts. Advocacy means representing, promoting, upholding, or defending an interest or opinion. Advocacy areas often focus on funding, education, and policy reform on urgent matters related to health and wellbeing, the environment, and sustainability.
Scholarly societies are a crucial cog in supporting advocacy efforts because evidence-based knowledge, which is their chief asset, can fuel decision-making and policy-making. Government bodies and the general public want authoritative sources of knowledge to inform their opinions on pressing matters. Scholarly societies can leverage their wealth of peer-reviewed research to engage with stakeholders and make a difference in critical issues related to their field.
Initiatives by scholarly societies to support advocacy campaigns
Scholarly societies and publishers often include advocacy efforts in their portfolio because they can be considered “advocates” for their disciplines. Let’s look at some notable initiatives where academic societies have capitalized on their resources to push advocacy campaigns.
Healthy Air Campaign: ALA
The American Lung Association (ALA) runs a “Healthy Air Campaign,” advocating strong laws and policies to cut down air pollution and stem climate change. Drawing from reliable evidence, ALA urges stricter limits on pollution, cleaner vehicles, and better energy efficiency. Their healthy air advocacy is deeply rooted in scientific evidence. Information is put out in the form of reports, which garner wide media coverage. Thought-provoking and persuasive advertisements are another way by which they create impact.
Advocacy efforts for numerous causes championed by ALA have led to encouraging success stories, including legislations and policies related to lung health, tobacco use, and clean air.
In pursuit of issues threatening Australia’s biodiversity: RZS NSW
The Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales (RZS NSW), Australia’s oldest zoological society, takes a position on various topics for advocating change, such as the use of poisons to control mouse plagues or the impact of tunnel construction activities on marine biodiversity. They routinely provide comments in the form of letters and declarations and even run independent inquiries into issues such as frequent bushfires.
Striving to reduce preventable maternal mortality: ACOG
Leveraging its long-standing expertise in maternal health, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) spearheaded an advocacy initiative to counter preventable maternal morbidity and mortality. This initiative supports federal and state legislation to this end and offers resources to improve maternal safety. ACOG provides resources such as an easy-to-understand “Patient Safety Tool,” FAQs, and infographics to equip users with knowledge of urgent warning signs that could indicate a life-threatening situation.
Endorsement of One Health: CABI
The Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI), an international, inter-governmental nonprofit, deals with global issues such as food security and climate change. CABI advocates a “One Health” approach, which aims at improving human, animal, and environmental health in a holistic manner. Over the past decades, CABI has been carrying out research and advocacy services in plant protection and livestock health to help tackle the latest challenges faced by the agricultural sector. CABI has launched One Health Cases, a curated collection of examples of One Health in practice that seeks to serve as a resource for academics, public stakeholders, and industry practitioners.
Improving advocacy campaigns with impactful content strategies
The rich repertoire of research findings held by scholarly societies can be utilized for expertise, advice, and influence. However, these repositories of information need to be transmuted into content packages that are easy to assimilate, use, and share. Further, advocacy campaigns require a focused and structured strategy. When planning advocacy and content strategies to deploy, societies may consider the following:
- What are the society’s strengths as an advocacy organization?
- What are the usual approaches used for advocacy and how effective have they been?
- How can these approaches be improved to maximize influence?
- What new avenues might be adopted?
Different approaches to advocacy might include advisory efforts (e.g., design and delivery of expert advisory reports, developing and updating position papers and guidelines) and media campaigning. Digital communication and multimedia offerings today offer a plethora of options for disseminating content, engaging with users, eliciting rapid responses, and mobilizing change. A combination of different content strategies can help societies maximize reach and impact. End users, who might not necessarily be regular readers of journal articles, can benefit from offerings that are easy to access and put to use.
Below are some real-life examples of content strategies used by academic societies, as well as some innovative opportunities to consider.
Podcasts and webinars
Podcasts are becoming an increasingly popular and compelling medium to connect to target audiences. One of the leading academic publishers, Brill, hosts a podcast series #HumanitiesMatter on themes around contemporary global questions. This series is part of Brill’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including zero hunger; good health and well-being; quality education; equality; climate action; and peace, justice, and strong institutions.
Podcasts, webinars, e-learning courses, and knowledge toolkits are valuable ways to dispense knowledge as a part of advocacy efforts.
Databases and online tools
Similar to One Health Cases, CABI is also planning to launch a One Health Knowledge Bank, which will place journal articles, book chapters, datasheets, and even grey literature in a searchable database. Free access to such resources of valuable content can go a long way in informing crucial action plans.
Interactive online tools, such as the CABI-led Fall Armyworm Research Collaboration Portal, can help solve problems at the grassroot level and foster collaborations. Similarly, the Legislation Tracker by the American Society of Aging (ASA) provides useful information about policy-related and legislative issues concerning older adults, such as Social Security and the Affordable Care Act.
Social media platforms
Social media posts and memes are an exciting way to disseminate information on crucial issues. Memes are images, phrases, or short videos with a humorous or memorable message, with the potential to spread widely online. Memes have been used in public health campaigns on social media. Millennials and Generation Z individuals who are passionate about environmental issues are increasingly creating and sharing memes on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram.
To appeal to the growing audience of millennials and Generation Z (including a cohort of newly minted professionals), putting out content on Instagram and TikTok is promising for scholarly societies dealing with issues like public health, climate change, sustainability. In an article in The Guardian, Professor Alistair Griffiths, Director of Science and Collections of the Royal Horticultural Society, remarked, “It would be wonderful if there were a way for RHS scientific content to be co-created with the key environmental influencers of TikTok.” Social media strategy would need to consider trending hashtags and memes. One flipside, however, is that in certain parts of the world, some of these platforms might be inaccessible.
Alternative content formats
Graphic novels, comics, and similar narrative devices combining imagery and text have been found to be an effective medium for communicating information. Scholarly societies can use comics to relay information to both academic and non-academic audiences as a means of persuasive communication.
Infographics, videos, podcasts, blogs, and social media posts are powerful tools to engage the community. Societies that continue to innovate and use exciting and upcoming modes of information packaging and sharing can increase their effectiveness in influencing policy making.
Academic societies have a unique opportunity to be part of global change. Depending on the discipline, issue and scale of the issue, and wherewithal of a society, advocacy campaigns can take on different formats. The rapid uptake of digital and multimedia formats underscores the need for advocacy campaign planning to incorporate diverse and emerging formats to generate awareness and incite action.
Advocacy campaigns by reputable scholarly societies have the power to spur collective thought and action for transforming public health, the economy, and energy systems for a more sustainable world.