#MySciComm: Diogo Verissimo on the importance of hope in scicomm

Today, our contributor, Diogo Verissimo, launched a major #sciomm project. Keep reading for details, as Diogo explains the Lost & Found project in his responses to the #MySciComm questions!


Photo courtesy of Diogo Verissimo

Diogo is an educator turned scientist turned marketer! He is currently a David H. Smith Conservation Fellow, based in the Washington, D.C., area. He works primarily on the design and evaluation of conservation marketing interventions around issues such as coastal fisheries, wildlife trade or human-wildlife coexistence. Connect with him at @verissimodiogo and www.diogoverissimo.com.

The #MySciComm series features a host of SciComm professionals. We’re looking for more contributors, so please get in touch if you’d like to write a post!


Okay, Diogo…

1) How did you get into the kind of SciComm that you do?

My very first conservation job was as an environmental educator at the Lisbon Zoo, in my native Portugal. 

I was 17 at the time. It was an amazing experience, but I felt we could do better when it came to how we designed our programs and evaluated our impact. Meanwhile, I completed my undergraduate degree in environmental biology and got to know places around the world where biodiversity conservation happens.

The more I travelled, the more deeply I understood that our knowledge of species and ecosystems is pretty adequate. It’s the people we don’t understand!

It turns out all threats to biodiversity are the direct results of human behavior, so people are the critical element in any conservation strategy.

Indulging my love of research and interest in human impacts on biodiversity, I went on to do a PhD on the use of marketing theory and techniques to help promote biodiversity conservation. This is a little different from what traditionally comes under the banner of SciComm, but the focus on people and their behavior is similar.

That is why I am about to launch my latest outreach project, Lost & Found.

This project tells the stories of species that were thought to be extinct for more than a human generation but were subsequently rediscovered.

Our goal is to spread the message that it’s not all declines, extinction, and threats when it comes to biodiversity.

There are glimmers of hope, and we need to make sure those get attention.

2) What are your top 3 SciComm tips and/or resources?

1. Acknowledge and connect with what your audience cares about.

As a scientist and nature-lover, I am conscious of how easy it is for me to live my life in a bubble of my own making. This can have a strong influence on which things I ignore and which I care deeply about. Acknowledging this is key to understanding just how different I am from my target audience. It is particularly important since Lost & Found is hoping to reach those not ordinarily interested in nature and the environment.

This is why I decided early on not to write the stories myself. Instead, I brought into the project team someone with expertise in writing who did not have a professional science or nature-related background. This writer has helped us produce stories more likely to be aligned with the worldview of our target audience. It also links in nicely with my second tip …


2. Build a team.

Those of use working to conserve biodiversity often think that people should listen to us because we are doing the right thing. But, things are not that simple, and we need to produce content that is captivating and aesthetically appealing if we are to get any meaningful traction with our target audiences. It will be rarely the case that one person has the skills in writing, design, and video (for example) to ensure a product looks professional and successfully competes for the attention of our audience.

I would encourage all project leaders to build a diverse team that can help deliver a product that is more likely to reach its goals. In the case of Lost & Found, we had a team of about 5 to 6 people throughout the initial project stage, based in the UK, USA, Australia and Portugal! Of course this can and will be challenging, which segues into my third point…


3. Stay your course

It’s often difficult to find support, both financial and institutional, for outreach projects. This means things often take longer than we hoped for and have negative outcomes. Still, if you have an idea you believe in, stick with it. Lost & Found has taken about three years to develop, largely because it was difficult to find funding for it, but also because I need to find additional time outside my day job to manage it. I am really happy we managed to get this far and am really looking forward to our next stage where, amongst other developments, we hope to get our stories translated into multiple languages and into short video animations.