Sunday, September 16, 2007

Making complex technical material accessible

Whenever I attend Balaton Group meetings, I am reminded of the challenge making complex technical material accessible to a wide audience poses. The presentations we hear often represent a lifetime of work and the passionate commitments of brilliant men and women. But this does necessarily mean they are framed in ways that will make a different.

I was first sensitized to this problem when writing my doctoral dissertation, later published as ‘Partners in Development’ (Michigan State University Press, 1969). One of the book’s foci was how the principles of agricultural extension could be adapted to the development needs of less industrialized countries in the Global South. Through researching Land Grant Universities, I became aware of the complex communication chain between knowledge creation in academic departments and distilled knowledge that could be of practical value, often in an extension bulletin, to farmers, 4-H club leaders and County Agents. Later I saw the other end of the process as the owner of farm properties in Ohio, Maryland and Virginia as as the father of two children in 4-H.

Work with the Club of Rome, the US Association for the Club of Rome and The Hunger Project, deepened the lessons of accessibility and drove them home. Club of Rome founder Aurelio Peccei was passionate committed to framing messages about the Global Problematique accessibly and making them available widely. For him, I believe, the Club of Rome was as much marketing and public relations agency as much as anything (something current COR members might ponder). My book, ‘Making it Happen: A Positive Guide to the Future’ (a project of the US Association for the Club of Rome) was an attempt to make the Club of Rome’s basic messages accessible to an American Audiences.

Joan Holmes, Executive Director of the Hunger Project and a tough, focused, ‘take no prisoners’ gifted leader, marketer and communicator told us, ‘if fifth graders can understand it, anyone will understand it.” Joan was a former fifth grade teacher. The Hunger Project’s Book, ‘Ending Hunger: and Idea Whose Time Has Come,” which was an expression of Donella Meadows’ vision of what a book should be, expressed that point-of-view. Then there was ‘Groping in the Dark: The First Decade of Global Modeling, which may have been the best expression of the synergy and commitment to accessible communication that Donella Meadows and I could, on some occasions, achieve.

The emergence of ‘social networking’ forms of communication poses new communication challenges, but powerful new opportunities for outreach. What should be communicated? How should it be communicated? To what ends? Via what media? We cannot ignore these questions. We cannot shrink from the challenges they pose. We must be courageous, which does not mean we should not be ‘realistic,.’



Blogger Roberto Iza said...

Kind regards

9:22 AM  

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