Since there are no currently active contests, we have switched Climate CoLab to read-only mode.
Learn more at
Skip navigation
Share via:


Shift the culture of research by improving research communication and translation for policymakers and the general public



In this new era of global environmental change, scientific research and its use in policy are crucial to establish a sustainable future. Despite this critical need, new research is often poorly communicated to policy makers (Lubchenco, 1998; Miller, 2001; Smith et al., 2013). This is especially true of climate change research: while there is strong scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change and an urgent need for policy action, frustratingly little is being done, and some mitigation policies are ineffective.

Climate change research is produced in many disciplines, including earth science, physics, chemistry, and biology. Other fields such as psychology, communication studies, political science, and business provide additional research on social interactions and behavior. However, numerous barriers impede the communication of this research, and thus prevent its translation and application. Barriers to the communication of scientific research include: the general lack of funding and time for translational and applied work; the academic publishing culture; the cultural divides between researchers, policy makers, and other end-users; and researchers’ lack of knowledge and training in science communication (Fischer et al., 2012; Smith et al., 2013; Naustdalslid, 2011; Weichselgartner and Kasperson, 2010).

How can we leverage existing and emerging research to mitigate and adapt to climate change? We review existing organizations and initiatives that communicate research beyond the discipline in which it is first produced. We then propose solutions to overcome the barriers to research communication and translation. Specifically, we propose an online portal, called the Climate Exchange, to host research translation and discussion, with the goal of fostering better science communication that will facilitate the application of the most recent research findings in public and private sectors.

Category of the action

Changing public perceptions on climate change

What actions do you propose?

We propose building the Climate Exchange, a web-based platform for communication between scientists, policy makers, NGOs, and the general public. We will create an online community through the Climate Exchange where scientists can paraphrase and translate their research for a lay audience. In addition, the Climate Exchange will also provide an online venue where policy makers, NGOs, the general public, and other parties can direct questions to researchers and contribute to the translation of research findings (with the consent of the original authors). Scientists or qualified volunteers can then provide answers in language that allows target audiences to both understand and apply the research of interest. If such answers do not exist, the dialogue could serve as a starting point for new research. These online exchanges will bridge an actionable gap between current research and policy-making. The site will have the format of an online wiki, with topics organized hierarchically by content (e.g., hydrology under Climate Science; attitudes under Psychology and Public Policy), and individual posts with comments and conversations below the main summary.

How Our Project Will Address Current Barriers

Barrier: the general lack of funding and time for translational and applied work

Solution: The Climate Exchange requires modest funding to operate. We propose that it be designed professionally and run largely by volunteers. While many scientists will volunteer to translate their own work into accessible language, this is not a necessity. When the network is running, volunteers could be recruited from Communications Studies, Media Studies, Policy, or Science professionals. Students committed to making research more accessible and useful could also be recruited. This framework will provide volunteers with the experience and satisfaction of contributing to society without requiring a substantial investment of their time. As an additional benefit, this approach reduces the communications burden on busy researchers and scientists. This has the potential to increase the involvement of both researchers and communication professionals. Successful examples of student-involvement in these types of online science communication initiatives include wiki-based projects (;;

The prioritization of funding for translational and applied work is crucial to incentivizing and facilitating these activities among scientists. Funding that is earmarked for research communication, translation and application will be crucial for shifting the culture of research to one that is accessible to everyone. We hope that the Climate Exchange will be a pilot project to show the importance and long-term benefits of translational work between scientists and the general public.

Barrier: academic publishing culture

Solution: Current academic culture emphasizes academic publications for tenure and promotion. Although there had been calls for greater social responsibility in science, researchers are often prevented from publishing in other forums due to various restrictions (Lubchenco, 1998). The Climate Exchange will create a space where interested researchers can make their empirical work better known, through their own efforts and with the help of volunteers. By providing another opportunity for public engagement and outreach, we hope to shift research culture so that scholarly communities will eventually consider the social impact of their research in addition to publication- and citation-based impacts.

Barrier: research is isolated from policy makers and other end-users

Solution: The unidirectional flow of information from scientist to the audience has long been the norm. However, there is a need for greater dialogue between policy makers and the scientific community because it is often difficult to identify actionable projects or apply research findings to specific social challenges. Greater dialogue between policy makers and scientists can improve decision processes and increase the social value of policy outcomes. In addition, researchers produce large volumes of information in academic journals, yet these are often inaccessible to users due to paywalls and specialized language. Weichselgartner and Kasperson (2010) recently found that consumers of climate change knowledge tend to source information from government publications, websites, and sometimes social media, rather than academic journals. Critically, these sources do not offer the highest quality information. Scientists and users can break down this barrier with the Climate Exchange and make research more accessible. Furthermore, the Climate Exchange can show how research is relevant to current problems or policy debates, while ensuring that the quality of the scientific information is not degraded during the communication process. Such an open-access culture shift, from an isolated to an interactive model of research, will serve to produce the most applicable and high-quality climate science.

Barrier: researchers lack knowledge and training in scientific communication

Solution: On the Climate Exchange, researchers with knowledge and training in communication will be valuable. However, those without such training are still encouraged to participate. We will provide others interested in such areas to work together with researchers to develop their key messages. Such volunteers may be students in the researcher’s field or another field specializing in communications; both parties will benefit from these relations by gaining knowledge and experience, while also making research more widely available. It is our hope that the Climate Exchange will provide useful information for all those concerned about climate change, and that it will become a model for other areas of research as well. The Climate Exchange model could also motivate institutions to incorporate science communication and translation into research training, which will help ensure that science generates the greatest benefits for society.

Barrier: Inadequate media representation of climate change science

Solution: Actively contribute to the dissemination of new scientific knowledge and research to the public, as current structures are not sufficient. Journalistic sources are the foremost communicators of scientific research and new knowledge, yet they often misrepresent this research in a variety of ways. For example, media outlets often assume causation from correlations. While the result may be a compelling narrative about causation, the misrepresentation of scientific information in media accounts contributes to confusion about climate science. At its worst, this inaccurate reporting of scientific information can erode trust in climate science by making media consumers feel misled or deceived. Actively involving researchers and scientifically adept translators in the public communication process will help prevent this kind of misrepresentation, and will therefore improve the quality of the “science communication environment” by shifting the culture of information sharing and engagement.

Potential Partners

Our model for the Climate Exchange is based on translational climate change materials from the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) (2013). They host a free guide for non-scientists on how to communicate findings from climate change research ( This is an excellent resource for scientists, policy makers, and the general public. However, the initiative is limited by only containing research conducted by their group, being static, and being one-directional. We can improve on each of these limitations. The Climate Exchange would contain peer-reviewed, published, and then translated research from scientists at any institution; the resources would develop and grow over time; and the Climate Exchange can provide an interface and opportunity for communication between scientists and the public. This dynamic, two-way communication is critical to developing effective policy solutions for different political and geographic contexts.

Another group doing similar work of research translation is The People’s Science ( Scientists are encouraged to translate their own work into a “pop” version for the general public, who can then comment and ask questions. This is a strong initiative. It is limited, for the purposes of climate change science, by the lack of a focused topic and the absence of volunteer support. On The People’s Science, the scientists are required to translate their own work without the help of capable participants. Although it fosters conversation between the scientists and the public, it does not provide an organized method of asking new questions that may direct future research. Additionally, their current content is very limited. This suggests that the initiative may have failed at creating a burgeoning conversation. We can learn from these design challenges and missteps.

A third group doing work in our proposed area is the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). This group is a nonprofit partnership of scientists and citizens that combine scientific analysis, policy development, and advocacy to achieve practical environmental solutions ( UCS has collaborated with journalists in an effort to publish research findings in plain and useful language (Byrne & Union of Concerned Scientists 2003). This initiative is similar to the one recommended in our proposal. However, it seems that USC is not specifically focused on issues of climate change, though many of the other areas that the focus on relate to energy or the environment. Consquently, there may be opportunities for new collaborative acitivies between the USC and other organizations that focus specifically on climate change research.

Who will take these actions?

Site Operations:

A part-time worker will identify and communicate with scientists, as well as potential volunteers, about translating scientific work. The part-time worker will also invite the participation of researchers and volunteers that can contribute to the Climate Exchange's mission. This worker will be responsible for maintaining the Climate Exchange site. These responsibilities will include design and information updates.


Psychologists and economists have studied factors that contribute to individual motivation as it relates to voluntary activity. Intrinsic motivation refers to those that come from within the individual, a satisfaction in doing the activity for its own sake; whereas extrinsic motivations comes from the outside, either in recognition or monetary rewards (Wasko and Faraj 2005). Specifically, in online communities, Wasko and Faraj (2000) have found that learning, enjoyment, interaction with other community members, returns such as answers, future reciprocity, moral obligation, and community interest are important factors in online participation. We will use these findings to craft a collaborative environment that is likely to have high participation.

What the Climate Exchange offers will be a sense of community: direct communication will be facilitated and applicable actions will be identified. Though we are focused on recruiting volunteers who already believe climate change is a pressing issue that requires urgent action, we hope that the Climate Exchange will bring more people into this group. The Climate Exchange will be designed so that participating is satisfying to intrinsic motivation. We are able to offer rewards such as professional membership and certification as a contributor to this project.

Where will these actions be taken?

We will purchase the available domain name “” to host the exchange.

For volunteer translators:

There will be member sign-up (free) to use the website. Volunteers will be required to upload some experience, credentials, or interests to describe themselves. We can borrow from Wikipedia and other wiki-based projects in their experience on how to recruit and maintain a volunteer user base.

For scientists:

Our part-time worker will identify research scientists in the climate change field from some key journals, i.e. Global Environmental Change, Climatic Change, Science, Nature, as well as other spaces such as Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, university professor listings, InsideClimate, etc. These scientists will be individually approached by email and invited to collaborate on the site. Scientists have the final approval of translations of their work.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

What are other key benefits?

Shifting cultural attitudes towards adapting and mitigating climate change can decrease political opposition and increase political will for action.

Effective translation will help bridge the current divide between scientists and decision-makers by maintaining the substantive elements of environmental science while also conveying it in a fashion that policy makers, consumers groups, and business executives can readily understand. The end result will be more effective climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Advancing the state of research knowledge translation can also benefit other fields outside of climate change.

What are the proposal’s costs?

The main cost will be developing the Climate Exchange to host the summaries and translation (approximate start-up cost $3000 for website development).

Funds will also be used to foster professional credibility through materials, certificates, etc. (approximate cost would be low, as most of these activities will occur online).

Finally, funds will be used to pay a part-time worker to identify and communicate with scientists and others and invite their participation (approximate annual salary for a FTE 0.15 worker $7000). The website’s volunteer community will cover any remaining needs. For continued future maintenance, we plan to actively recruit volunteers who are interested in this type of work and can carry on without pay. They will be selected from our active members during the first year.

Time line

1st month: establish domain name, design and set up website architecture.

Simultaneously, the part-time worker begins contacting scientists, and other interested parties for translation. Specific per month goals: contact 200 relevant scientists and volunteers and facilitate communication and use of Climate Exchange.

Related proposals


Byrne R, Union of Concerned Scientists (2003). Life in the Slow Lane: Tracking Decades of Automaker Roadblocks to Fuel Economy. Available at: [accessed May 17, 2013].

CRED (2009). The Psychology of Climate Change Communication: A Guide for Scientists, Journalists, Educators, Political Aides, and the Interested Public. Available at: [accessed May 17, 2013].

Fischer J, Ritchie EG, Hanspach J (2012) Academia’s obsession with quantity. Trends Ecol Evol 27: 473–474.

Lubchenco J (1998) Entering the century of the environment: a new social contract for science. Science 279: 491–497.

Miller S (2001) Public understanding of science at the crossroads. Public Underst Sci 10: 115–120.

Naustdalslid J (2011) Climate change - the challenge of translating scientific knowledge into action. Int J Sust Dev & World Ecol 18(3): 243 - 252.

Smith B, Baron N, English C, Galindo H, Goldman E, McLeod K, Miner M, Neeley E (2013) COMPASS: Navigating the rules of scientific engagement. PLoS Biol 11(4):e1001552.

Wasko MM, Faraj S (2000) “It is what one does”: why people participate and help others in electronic communities of practice. J of Strategic Info Systems 9:155-173.

Wasko M, Faraj S (2005) Why should I share? Examining social capital and knowledge contribution in electronic network of practice. MIS Quarterly, 29(1): 35-57.

Weichselgartner J, Kasperson R (2010) Barriers in the science-policy-practice interface: Toward a knowledge-action-system in global environmental change research. Global Environ Change 20: 266-277.