Published 2018-06-26

This post is also available in Swedish

Expert group propose environmental communication programme

‘Communicating research, especially environmental research, is crucial to meeting today’s environmental and sustainability challenges,’ says Alan Irwin, Professor at Copenhagen Business School. Irwin chairs the expert group currently working on a background report, ahead of a possible programme on environmental communication, for Mistra.

Communication is a success factor, regardless of whether it is about global climate change or more local issues that concern health impact or emissions to air and water.

This is a conclusion from the international expert group that, on Mistra’s behalf, have drawn up guidelines for a possible new research initiative in environmental communication.

The group’s work has included compiling relevant research and submitting recommendations on how to design a new research programme. The group have also assessed the challenges facing society. According to Irwin, there is a great need to increase understanding of the prevailing, partially new prospects both for environmental and research communication and for communication as a whole.

‘Communication is changing with the emergence of social media and decline in more traditional forms of communication, such as television and newspapers,’ Irwin says.

Environmental and sustainability issues are discussed in many contexts, and involve more and more participants at different levels, he adds.

‘They may be citizens expressing their concern or researchers speaking face to face with decision makers. But they may also be campaign organisations trying to convince target groups to act in a particular way on individual environmental issues.’

It can be difficult for recipients to distinguish facts from opinions or understand underlying purposes.

‘Sometimes communication is well considered and balanced. On other occasions, both what’s actually said and what’s not said are important,’ says Irwin.

In view of these challenges, the expert group propose an interdisciplinary research programme. The starting point should be Swedish research in the communication field, but the programme must also connect with relevant research in social sciences, humanities, information science and natural sciences.

‘We believe in an initiative with both Swedish and international dimensions that includes professional communicators, government agencies, businesses and environmental organisations,’ Irwin says.

The expert group’s conclusions will form the basis for Mistra’s Board when, this autumn, they decide on a possible new research initiative. If the Board follows the expert group’s recommendation, a call for proposals may be issued in late autumn.

The expert group’s discussions have been very interesting, Irwin says. The group consisted of five international experts with backgrounds in science and technology; research and environmental communication; and research relating to both sociological aspects and decision-making in the environmental field.

‘Our group discussions generated many new thoughts and ideas — so many that we plan to write a joint research article based on what we talked about.’

Text: Henrik Lundström