Since the launch of the Alda Center for Communicating Science in 2009, the pioneering partnership between Stony Brook University and celebrated actor Alan Alda has had a valuable ally in the Kavli Foundation. The organization’s stature and connections in scientific circles lent the Alda Center a strong measure of instant credibility, and access to corners of the scientific community that might not otherwise have been immediately receptive to a relative newcomer.
“Kavli put jet fuel in our engines,” said Laura Lindenfeld, executive director of the Alda Center. “They simultaneously recognized our potential and started investing in us, but they also invested in the national landscape. I am personally convinced that this helped to spur huge momentum around science communication.”
Now, as the Alda Center celebrates its 10th anniversary, it’s taking a vital step forward, once again, with collaborators at the Kavli Foundation by recognizing key areas for research and training to address the scientific community’s communications needs.
An obvious next step was to listen to the Alda Center’s audience. The resulting message, according to Lindenfeld, was, “you’re going to need a web presence to support scientists’ ongoing learning. It’s not enough to do workshops. Why don’t you build an online learning portal, so you can reach scientists who haven’t engaged yet, and help ones who have started to engage continue to engage?”
It was an important new direction for the Alda Center, and the Kavli Foundation supplied more than inspiration. A grant from the Kavli Foundation is being used to facilitate several new initiatives at the Alda Center centered on creating a state-of-the-art online learning destination for scientists, and the science communication community.
The support goes beyond finances: as part of its support of the Alda Center, the Kavli Foundation has also facilitated a pair of key partnerships to build a comprehensive web presence for the Alda Center’s online training.
One such partnership is with Scientific American. The venerated magazine has partnered with the Alda Center on the Scientific American Blogging Project, which provides writing instruction for scientists who want to better communicate about their work with the public; and the Scientific American Podcast Project, an online series providing instruction on producing an effective podcast.
The other partnership is with ScienceCounts, a non-profit organization that aims to enhance the public’s awareness of, and support for, federally-funded scientific research.The data produced by ScienceCounts are being incorporated into the Alda training to help scientists understand how they can improve communication about their work.
“Kavli has recognized the critical importance of partnerships to move this work forward through a network,” Lindenfeld said. “They’ve been a genuine champion of relationship building.”
For their part, the leaders of the Kavli Foundation have recognized that the Alda Center is well positioned to help address the need that they came to recognize 10 years ago.
“Alan is a leader in elevating the importance of helping scientists to communicate in ways that better connect with the public,” said Kavli Foundation Vice President of Public Engagement and Prizes Eric Marshall. “ We are proud to partner with the Alda Center to support scientists in building their communication skills, and to advance the field of science communication.”
That support has made a difference in ways that go beyond dollars and cents and the typical funder-provider relationship. By advancing both the field of science communication and specific programs for scientists, there’s no telling just how much further the public’s engagement with science will be able to go.
Photo Caption: A grant from the Kavli Foundation is helping the Alda Center bring the power of its program to a wider audience through a series of online initiatives.