So where should you turn for data?
I've got a handful of trusted sources and encourage you to look for more when you're educating your experts about the public. And if data doesn't exist on your intended audience, perhaps you can make the case to your experts for collecting that data and using it to inform your communications. In the meantime, here are four of my go-to sources:
- The Roper Center public opinion archives at the University of Connecticut collects all previous public opinion polls from all pollsters, dating back to the 1930s. Most is U.S. data, but dozens of nations are represented in the findings. There are free and fee-based options. Most useful: You can ask for all public opinion data on a specific question, topic or audience.
- The National Science Foundation's Science & Engineering Indicators cover all fields of science and engineering with useful data collected every two years (the 2012 set is just out), but most useful to communicators is chapter 7 on public attitudes and understanding of science, and where the public gets its information about science. This type of data can help you help a scientist calibrate explanations based on what the public knows...and doesn't.
- The Millennials: Connecting to America's Largest Generation will help your experts get a handle on younger audiences. Millennials--born between 1980 and 2000--behave and think differently from your experts' generations do, so if their focus is reaching young people, it pays to give them an update on this demographic.
- The Pew Internet and American Life Project is your source for how your audiences are using technology--an important subtext to discussions about how to do outreach. Its research includes specific demographic groups, such as teenagers, as well as broader pictures of technology user types.
Registration is now open for the next Be an Expert on Working with Experts, for communicators and related professionals who work with subject-matter experts, policy analysts, scientists and engineers. The workshop is August 23 in Washington, DC, or I can bring it to your workplace. Get an early registration discount if you sign up by August 3. Details at the link.