#MySciComm: Diogo Veríssimo on how to market good news about the natural word

This week, Diogo Veríssimo updates his responses to the #MySciComm questions! 

Man smiling at camera
Photo by Laure Cugnière

Diogo is a biologist turned scientist turned marketer! He decided that he could have the cake and eat it, and so focused his research on the fledgling field of conservation marketing, the use of marketing theory and techniques to help promoted biodiversity-friendly behaviors. He is currently an Oxford Martin Fellow, based at the University of Oxford, UK, working primarily on the design and evaluation of behaviour change interventions focused on the illegal wildlife trade. Connect with him online at www.diogoverissimo.com and @verissimodiogo.

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Okay, Diogo…

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

Everyone likes a good story.

I am no exception. When I was a child, I had a book of “Extinct species” which featured many species that no longer inhabit the Earth, from the dinosaurs to the passenger pigeon. The book had however, a more mysterious last section which talked about those species that could be extinct but for which there was uncertainty, such as the ivory-billed woodpecker. I was fascinated by the mystery surrounding the existence of these species and could not help but envy the intrepid explorers tasked with searching for them on the most remotes parts of our planet. But beyond the adventure, I remember just how hard I wished that those species where still in existence somewhere, somehow.

Ever since, I have remained interested in species rediscoveries.

There is something deeply inspiring about the notion of recovering something you thought not only unique, but also lost forever. To see these species return from limbo, snatched from the jaws of extinction, was a nearly cathartic experience for me. Could these stories be as emotionally powerful to others as well?

I started collating these stories whenever I came across them in the media and even read a couple of books about some of the higher profiles species searches, like the one focused on the Tasmanian Wolf. I soon realized that there are no shortage of these stories, across all taxa and all regions of the world. And some of them are not just about animals and plants, they are stories of incredible human courage, dedication and selflessness which need to be told as a way to honor the inspirational work of those involved. This means that they can appeal not only to those interested in nature but also to those more broadly interested in broader narratives of people who overcome all odds for something they are passionate about.

For these reasons I decided to start the scicomm project Lost & Found.

The goal was to use the inspirational stories of species rediscoveries as a way to communicate to those outside of the science and conservation communities that talking about nature and biodiversity does not need to be all about extinction, threat and decline. There are also positive stories that we can use to inspire people to care about other forms of life on Earth.

We launched online on Earth day in 2016 at the Earth Optimism Summit in Washington DC. Since then we have had nearly 10 000 visitors from over 120 countries. We have received contributed blogposts from scientists all over the world, from the United States to Sri Lanka, and Ukraine to South Africa, all telling the stories of species they rediscovered in the wild. In March, we re-launched our website to include automatic translation options in all major world languages, bios of our team of writers, and a series of new blogposts. Soon, we will be releasing five more stories, this time focused on plants! Please stick around for some new Lost & Found inspiration.

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

1. Walk a mile in your audience’s shoes.

As a scientist and inveterate nature-lover, I am conscious of just how different my world view can be from those I am trying to reach. This is why I decided early on not to write the stories myself but to bring in people with expertise on writing to non-specialists. This helped us produce stories that are more geared towards the worldview of those that are not professional scientists of conservationists. Which leads me to my second point…

2. Build a team.

Conservation scientists often think other people should listen to what they have to say because conserving nature is the right thing. In reality we need to be able to produce content that is captivating and aesthetically appealing if we are to get any traction. It’s very rare that one person will have the around writing, web design and illustration skills to produce content that can compete for the attention of our audience. That is why Lost & Found has been a team effort, involving at any time five to six people, based places like the UK, USA, Australia and Portugal.

3. Stay your course.

It’s often difficult to find support for outreach projects. This means that things often take longer that we hoped for. 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 but also because I needed to find additional time outside my day job to manage it. I’m nonetheless really happy with what we have achieved thus far and am looking forward to our next stage where, amongst other developments, we will turn our stories into video animations!