CommOCEAN Conference - It's not just what you say but how you say it

CommOCEAN | 6 & 7 December 2016 | Bruges, Belgium


CommOCEAN | 6 & 7 December 2016 | Bruges, Belgium | by Hester Whyte

It’s not just what you say but how you say it

CommOCEAN conference venue

Dissemination, outreach and communication of scientific knowledge are becoming more and more important in today’s society, where social inclusion is an integral part of environmental protection and sustainable development. This is particularly true for the world of ocean research, a world that is largely hidden from our view representing an added challenge to the communication of marine research. CommOCEAN as the International Marine Science Communication Conference, was launched by the European Marine Board Communications Panel (EMBCP) and organized in the first instance by its Portuguese partners (CIIMAR, Ciencia Viva) in Porto in 2014. It focuses on a target audience of young marine scientists and communicators who want to be trained in science communication skills. For 2016, with over 200 participants from 29 different countries over 2 days the CommOCEAN conference was held in the beautiful city of Bruges, Belgium.

3 is the magic number

In the opening address of the conference it was said that there is a need for 3 things:
1. Good science
2. Compelling stories
3. Political buy in

Eirini Politi next to her CoReSyf poster – biggest poster smallest girl

We came in three

There was representation from Hester Whyte (FEC Communication Officer), Aoife Deane (MaREI Communication and Public Engagement Officer) and Eirini Politi ( MaREI Marine Scientist). Coming from different back grounds meant we could ‘divide & conquer’ and disperse ourselves in the wide variety of sessions and workshops. Eirini not only took part in the conference but presented a poster on the Co-ReSyf (Coastal Waters Research Synergy Framework) project and was also selected to be part of the follow up training course on Ocean Science Communication Tools. The course focused on topics like How to tell a good story, tools to use in story telling (video, social media) and how to make your science communication more successful and impactful. Some top tips and take home messages for successful Science Communication are:

  • Assume your audience knows nothing
  • Simplify
  • Find an engaging hook
  • Illustrate, if possible (seeing is believing)
  • Share on appropriate channels
  • Avoid jargon (especially abbreviations)
  • English is better than Latin (e.g. kill, don’t exterminate; drool, don’t salivate, etc.)

Live-scribing: capturing the essence of what is being said in a cartoon like fashion

Both Aoife & Hester attended a number of sessions and workshops on the fundamentals of science communication, optimizing impacts, communication strategies and dealing with the media on the first day of the conference. As the day progressed live-scribing took place capturing the key messages of all the presenters. Social media was a major topic throughout people’s presentations , there was a CommOCEAN social media team present encouraging tweeting and retweeting and the power of sharing. We did our bit through the @FECoasts and @MaREIcentre accounts. An evening reception in the town hall was organized to get to know our fellow science communicators and those who presented in the sessions and what better way than with some fine Bruges locally brewed beer. [A reoccurring feature as it turned out]

The next generation poster

Conceptual diagrams: a great way to convey complicated messages

Report Cards as a tool for stakeholder engagement

The second day was focused on the more practical side of communication and was filled with presentations showcasing the latest technologies used to tell the ocean story like the next generation of Science posters by SciComLab. A session on visualization of science by Dr Heath Kelsey (Program Director, The Integration and Application Network (IAN), University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science and the communication partner institution for FEC) to up your game in engaging stakeholders was held in the morning session followed by workshops on toolkits for marine and governance outreach and creative ways of communicating your science. A good example of a tool are the Ecosystem health report cards,  as explained by IAN’s Graduate student Vanessa Vargas,  to help raise stakeholder awareness and influence behavior. Meeting so many like-minded people and having seen, heard and experienced so many different ways of conveying stories and how to optimize the impact of information has been really inspiring. The conference finished by revealing the winners of the best science poster and the Professor Mario Ruivo Prize for best initiative by young people in communicating ocean health. A city tour of Bruges lead us to the official closing of the event – where else than in true Belgium style  – Brewery the Halve Maan home of Bruges very own Brugse Zot ( Bruges Fool) facilitating even more flow of conversation.

A full glass at the Half Moon brewery

Exchanging ideas, seeing & hearing what others do and starting new conversations is what the commOCEAN is all about. To read more about the conference please visit the CommOCEAN website and also check out twitter searching for the #CommOCEAN hashtag to see what people were talking about.

Pictures of the conference and the training course can be found on these links:

Vanessa Vargas PhotoAlso check out this blog on CommOCEAN 2016 by Vanessa Vargas (Graduate Assistant with the Integration and Application Network and a PhD student under the Marine Estuarine Environmental Sciences Graduate Program of the University of Maryland). On December 6th to 7th 2016, Heath Kelsey and I represented the Integration and Application Network (IAN) at the 2nd International Marine Science Communication Conference (CommOcean) in Bruges, Belgium. The conference took place at the Provincial Court on the Market Square in the heart of the medieval Bruges, a historic UNESCO heritage site. It was my first trip to Europe, and my first conference to attend as both an IAN graduate student and session speaker.Read more….