Understanding Impact Through Media With NSF Support

“Impact” is an important word to those of us in the media industry. It can mean the total number of viewers for a film, or the number of countries a film has screened in. It can mean the amount of money raised for a wildlife conservation NGO, or the depth of emotional engagement a story inspires in its audience. And so, when I introduce myself as a Science Impact Producer I’m often obliged to explain what it is I do, even to my colleagues in the industry.

Impact Production is modern day alchemy – the crucible where the craft of storytelling and the science of  communication can give birth to impassioned initiatives that shift world views and change the course of history. The best examples challenge our scope of imagination, constructing complex webs of collaboration that become the scaffolding for powerful new movements.

As an emerging professional in the industry, I’m still building a professional reputation and learning how I most want to fit into the industry landscape. I’ve been lucky enough to contribute to terrific projects, like the BBC’s Emmy-nominated feature-length exposé on giraffe (Giraffes: Africa’s Gentle Giants), and Wild Lens Inc’s multi-award winning short on vaquita (Souls of the Vermilion Sea).

But I also want to impact the industry as a whole – to craft tools that make it smarter, more nimble and strategic at creating media to combat political apathy, environmental illiteracy, and social inequality. That’s how I found an intellectual home at Jackson Hole WILD, where – as a freelance collaborator – I can hone my skills and build collaborations that shed light on the industry landscape itself.

Earlier this month we were awarded our second National Science Foundation grant for research on understanding Media as a tool for Science communication and impact. I’m privileged to have Lisa Samford, JH WILD Executive Director, and Dr. Louis Nadelson of Colorado Mesa University as my Co-PI’s. With this second round of support we are scaling up our previous award, advancing our understanding of how filmmakers become adept science communicators, with the expertise to craft stories, as well as impact and engagement initiatives, that increase science literacy, inspire action, and motivate change.

The 2017 JHWFF is next month, but already we are hard at work, bringing media expertise from the leadership at Terra Mater, Windfall, Genepool, CuriosityStream, and more, and combining that with insight on cutting-edge communication science research from experts at MIT, YaleAAAS, and beyond. Our immediate goal is twofold: 1) to discover what the world’s leading media producers believe about expert science communication through film, and compare that to evidence-based best practices as defined by the world’s leading science communication experts; and 2) to craft research-based professional development through formal learning sessions and informal networking opportunities that addresses the needs identified through our first objective.

If you’ll be attending the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival next month, watch the schedule for a number of NSF-aligned workshops, panel discussions, and case-studies that have grown out of this continued research. If you are inspired to contribute your own expertise to our growing body of knowledge, there will be two opportunities to participate in a Delphi study forum on Tuesday and Wednesday (Sep 26 & 27).


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