By Reyhaneh Maktoufi
If you turn on the TV, some channel is likely broadcasting a nature documentary. If you look it up on YouTube, you can watch a long- or short-form documentary film or show on almost any topic in science.
Science documentaries are a powerful tool to change attitudes and behaviors if used correctly. The Blackfish, for example, is a 2013 documentary that brought attention to captive killer whales at SeaWorld and gave rise to many conversations and the engagement of politicians around that topic and eventually led to SeaWorld ending its orca breeding programs and live shows.
However, not all content has the impact the producers hope for, and not all impacts the producers hope for are necessarily effective in changing a belief, an attitude, or behavior about science. For example, while “educating the public” about a scientific topic can be a valuable expected outcome, science communication research has shown that education on its own might not be enough to change an attitude and behavior (Brossard et al., 2009), especially as it relates to controversial science topics such as climate change and vaccination. Outcomes that the researcher might advocate in these scenarios might be mainly to build trust with one’s audience, elicit hope for the future, or make the audience more curious about the topic.
With the science communication research network having data on communication best practices, and the science video content creation having years of experience in the field, the tools to access the public and to convey messages, one strategy to improve the impact of such endeavors is to connect the two networks of researchers and content creators.
Such connections can help producers choose strategies with more impact and help researchers communicate their findings and become more aware of gaps in research that they can study in the future. For an effective collective impact, in this case, the collective of research and video content creation networks, we first focus on the following factors for the network of science video content creators based on the Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 1991) and recommendations from Kania and Kramer (2011):
- Know thy network: what is the demographic of this network? How do they identify themselves?
- Know what motivates and hinders connection to the network of researchers and what attitudes they hold about such connections.
- Know the agenda of the network: What are producers’ goals and expected outcomes? What communication strategies do they already use to communicate science?
- Know the strategies the network members use to measure their impact.
By examining the answers to these questions, we can produce an action plan that considers the identity of the content production network, design network connection strategies that address attitudes, lower barriers to connection, and build bridges between the two networks based on the producers’ preference.
A shared agenda helps the networks identify common problems and work together with a shared language to address changes collectively. And finally, through sharing common measurement tools and scales, the network members can share a common language to compare results and help one another using proven most effective strategies.
The following report is mixed-method research based on a collection of interviews and surveys, mainly of members of one of the US’s large science filmmaking festivals. You can find the executive summary and the report below:
The sample community of science media content producers is dominantly between the ages of 30-39, with higher education. The majority are white and female and produce on the YouTube platform and identify as liberal.
Content creators generally have a positive attitude towards using science communication research and while in the past they mostly were exposed to the research around once a year, they would like to have exposure at least once a month.
Content creators identify the main barriers to using science communication research as inaccessibility of research and researchers, limited time to use this research, and not being aware that such research exists.
To receive information on the science of science communication, the top three preferred modes of access were socializing with researchers, watching SciComm-related videos, and using guidelines and toolkits.
Content creators’ main long-term goals in production are to elicit behavior or attitude change in their audience, gain personal satisfaction. In some cases, creators explicitly noted that their goal is NOT to change behavior.
Creators’ main short-term objectives, as a direct outcome of audiences watching films, can be categorized into these categories: building empathy with their audience and showing care, helping the audiences see the relevance and importance of the topic, building trust with the audience, eliciting different emotions about science such as joy, awe, and curiosity, showing that particular positive behavior is the norm, educating the audiences, helping audiences reach self-efficacy and equip them with the ability or attitude to make changes, and showing the process of science.
To reach these short-term objectives, creators use four main tactics: storytelling, rhetoric such as metaphors, examples and removing jargon, use of beautiful and helpful visuals, and choosing tones such as conversational or serious.
Content creators mainly measure their impact through social media metrics and anecdotal evidence and have very little information about the ethnicity of their audiences.
Cite APA-style as:
Maktoufi, R. (2021) Landscape of Science Communication in the Video Content Creation Community. Network for Nonprofit and Social Impact. https://bit.ly/ScienceVideoContent
 Brossard D, Scheufele DA, Kim E, and Lewenstein BV (2009) Religiosity as a perceptual filter: Examining processes of opinion formation about nanotechnology. Public Understanding of Science 18(5): 546–558.
 Kania, J., & Kramer, M. (2011). Collective impact (pp. 36-41). FSG.