GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 133-9
Presentation Time: 4:20 PM


STEWART, Iain S., Sustainable Earth Institute, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, PL4 8AA, United Kingdom

Motivated by pressing planetary concerns, geoscientists are increasingly taking their work into the public arena, with the aim of making Earth science more accessible. Yet despite a rise in engagement with lay publics - facilitated by specialist communication training – there remains limited uptake of geoscientific knowledge and understanding in societal decision-making around contentious issues like climate change, geo-resources, geo-energy and disaster risk reduction. Delivering geoscience for the public good, it seems, will require more than geologists simply getting better at being the planet’s storytellers. Instead, with society’s looming grand challenges in mind, there is a growing recognition that we need to rethink the purpose of geoscience communication.

Here, we explore a marketing-led approach to ‘selling’ geoscience to the public. Marketing lies at the intersect between an organisation and its stakeholders - translating the needs and requirements of each to match resources with . In the realm of geoscience knowledge production, geoscientists are the core marketers; they occupy the interface between the organisation (universities and research institutes) and its customers (funders and end-user communities). More than simply acknowledging that most geoscience communication is ‘doing marketing’, we argue that to be truly effective in addressing looming geo-environmental challenges, geoscientists ought to better understand the purpose and practice of marketing, and how it is shaped by their organisational context.

In that context, we redefine the recent sci-comm regime change from ‘Public Understanding of Science’ to ‘Public Engagement’ in terms of the classic 20th century marketing shift from ‘make and sell’ to ‘sense and respond’. However, we argue that both these marketing/ communication paradigms are deficient in engaging the public with long-term, complex and contested planetary change. Instead, we highlight the emergent ‘guide-and-co-create’ paradigm of the new ‘ethical’ or ‘sustainable’ marketing promoted by many global corporations and business leaders.

Adopting this new marketing lens, geoscientists and their organisations would become ‘purpose-driven’ - pursuing ambitious, clear and overarching goals that are meaningful in delivering long-term wellbeing for all. The first crucial step in this repurposing of science communication will be geoscientists themselves recognising that, at heart, they are marketers.