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Media Actions for International Training of REsearchers

Final Report Summary - MAITRE (Media Actions for International Training of REsearchers)

Executive Summary:
Media Actions for the International Training of Researchers (MAITRE) is a project funded by the European Commission, started in April 2011 and finished in March 2014, aiming to give food and nutrition research a higher profile in Europe, thereby making citizens more familiar with the current state of play of food science.
MAITRE responded the need of stepping up the efficacy of the communication flow originated from research institutions and especially scientists themselves, by exposing the largest possible number of researchers, involved in high profile research projects financed by the EC, to the media trainings and to the importance of communicating with the media and, through them, with the public at a large.
During three years the project organised more than 53 training sessions and trained a group of roughly 643 researchers from research centres and organisations in 27 EU countries (excluding the snowball effect of additional 59 researchers trained by the AZTI’s press officer, replicating internally the MAITRE training). The project aim was to step up researchers’ capacity to better explain and communicate the scope and results of their research activities, and in this way, contributing to bring science closer to the citizens and to a better understanding of why the integration of European research is beneficial for the whole European society. The seminars were teaching researchers how to take into consideration the point of view of people who are not familiar with scientific disciplines and to put their respective specialties into commonly understandable language.
The seminars’ programme has specifically been designed not only to improve food scientists’ ability to communicate with the media but also to provide them with target knowledge on media process and functioning. The seminars were held over two full days, with a maximum of 16 researchers so to allow high level interaction. The technique chosen by the trainers was a balance between practical exercises, and lecture-style learning to ensure that participants get a good understanding of the inner functioning of the media. All seminars’ themes were structured as active sessions and included: message strategies, media interaction, interview techniques, press releases writing, media relation and online media.
MAITRE also provided researchers and journalists with a platform that acted as an online database of registered food researchers and specialised journalists. Once registered, both groups could access the full details of the other users and contact them to easily get more information about a specific topic or to get to know who the expert in that area is. The platform was an interactive tool that gave researchers and journalists the opportunity to network and created a longstanding collaboration. The MAITRE platform collected contact lists of food researchers and journalists at EU level. The platform fully contributed to reach the expected results coming from the seminars’ experience and supports researchers and journalists to keep contacts. In this way, MAITRE gave the opportunity to strengthen the connection between researchers and journalists, enhanced discussion about food related topics and built networks thanks to the social media strategy set up by the consortium.
MAITRE also assessed its progress, in terms of impact on beneficiaries and achievement of project aims. It developed two different evaluation forms, seeking feedback from researchers immediately after the seminars and then six to eight months later via an online survey. The feedback gave important inputs on the applicability of the training content, any improvement with media relations and self-confidence issues. The responses have been collected and analysed, demonstrating a positive reaction by the researchers even after six months.
Project Context and Objectives:
The interaction between science and the media is a key element in the public opinion understanding of research issues and of citizens’ consensus on public spending for research. Food research issues have been recently at the heart of heated debates and often subject to misrepresentations partially due to over-simplification by the media or to insufficient involvement of scientists in communication to the large public. This is a bottleneck that still hinders citizens’ comprehension of major scientific themes currently discussed at European or national level. The MAITRE project (www.maitreproject.eu ) acted on researchers’ readiness to manage communication processes oriented to the large public. The rationale was to transfer from journalists to researchers’ parts of the translation process that is needed to bring scientific information from the laboratories to the common people.

In other words, the MAITRE project aimed to contribute to the promotion of food research knowledge in Europe, by improving the scientists “ability to communicate scientific research to the media”. The project revolved around a programme of short and highly customised training sessions to take place in different countries in Europe for the benefit of scientists involved in high level research activities EU- and not EU funded.

The project was structured as a path that includes four interconnected phases: a) the establishment of the web based platform for remote assistance to the media relations; b) the identification of the target scientists for the training; c) the training implementation; d) the results assessment and impact monitoring.

The four phases are leading to:
• The increase of researchers‟ direct contacts with the media, giving a concrete support to those who are called upon or proactively willing to communicate
• An efficient approach in the setting up of relationships between food scientists and media actors and to generate strong partnerships to become self-sustainable and self-expandable in the future
• Ambitious and innovative methods for a more effective communication of science and research, establishing a continuous flow of reliable information between the two main responsible parties to process and release this information: the scientist and the journalist
• To combine results from other experiences and projects, and build trainings experiences enhancing the exchange of knowledge. The overall objective was not only to enhance the dissemination of research news and information, but also to boost the researchers’ confidence for production of new messages by also using new ways to further disseminate and communicate about research and science
• To assess the results achieved and evaluate an activity that, could be in case replicated in the future with new participants from more countries and laboratories in Europe

The idea was to respond to the need to step up the efficacy of the communication flow originating from research institutions and especially scientists themselves, by exposing the largest possible number of researchers involved in high profile research projects financed by the European Commission, to compact training sessions. MAITRE assumed the function of providing participants with sustainable media relations skills, professional advice, and templates for their communication activity.
Project Results:
Media Actions for the International Training of Researchers (MAITRE) is a project funded by the European Union (www.maitreproject.eu) started in April 2011 and finished in March 2014, aiming to give food and nutrition research a higher profile in Europe, thereby making citizens more familiar with the current state of play of food science.
MAITRE responded the need of stepping up the efficacy of the communication flow originated from research institutions and especially scientists themselves, by exposing the largest possible number of researchers, involved in high profile research projects financed by the European Commission, to the media trainings and to the importance of communicating with the media and, through them, with the public at a large.
During three years the project organised a total of 53 sessions all over Europe by reaching 643 researchers, with the additional 59 researchers trained by a partner’s press officer, by replicating the MAITRE media training internally in the partner’s institute; making it in this way 702 researchers being reached and trained thanks to MAITRE.
The project had the potential to considerably step up researchers’ capacity to better explain and communicate the scope and results of their research activities, and in this way, contributing to bring science closer to the citizens and to a better understanding of why the integration of European research is beneficial for the whole European society. The seminars were teaching the researchers how to take into consideration the point of view of people who are not familiar with scientific disciplines and to put their respective specialties into commonly understandable language.
The MAITRE trainings made scientists gain a full understanding of the information production of today’s communication media: newspapers, television, web and social media. That is why the project was organising specific training sessions to equip researchers with the tools with which skilled media professionals address the public, so that they could express themselves in an eloquent and yet practical way when dealing with the media.
The seminars’ programme has specifically been designed not only to improve food scientists’ ability to communicate with the media but also to provide them with target knowledge on media process and functioning. The seminars were held over two full days, with a maximum of 16 researchers so to allow high level interaction. The flexible structure of the seminars facilitated by senior trainers, allowed adapting the trainings to each type of audience, taking into account the background experience of the researchers. The technique chosen by the trainers was a balance between practical exercises (such as recorded TV interviews done in the class, drafting of media releases, tailoring key messages for different kinds of media, managing of media relations during crisis situations, preparation for media appointments, talking with journalists), simulating the media relations, and lecture-style learning to ensure that participants get a good understanding of the inner functioning of the media. All seminars’ themes were structured as active sessions and included: message strategies, media interaction, interview techniques, press releases writing, media relation and online media.
The role of the trainers was to reach different objectives including: increase researchers’ direct contacts with the media, giving a concrete support to those who are called upon or proactively willing to communicate and improving their way of communicating; set up long-standing collaboration between food scientists and media actors; establish a continuous flow of reliable information between the two main responsible parties to process and release this information: the scientist and the journalist.
Benefits from the seminars were immediately visible, both for researchers and for journalists. On one hand, researchers could benefit from a completely free of charge tailor-made workshop, where communication of their scientific results to the media is the main focus and, at the same time, they could learn how to increase the visibility and the impact of their research activity. On the other hand, journalists, who usually have little opportunity to interact with researchers, had the chance to assist to the training activities and benefit from an interactive exchange with the researchers, improving their understanding of scientific issues, especially those related to the area of food and nutrition.
MAITRE also provided researchers and journalists with a platform that acted as an online database of registered food researchers and specialised journalists. Once registered, both groups could access the full details of the other users and contact them to easily get more information about a specific topic or to get to know who the expert in that area is. The platform was an interactive tool that gave researchers and journalists the opportunity to network and created a longstanding collaboration. The MAITRE platform collected contact lists of food researchers and journalists at EU level. The platform fully contributed to reach the expected results coming from the seminars’ experience and supports researchers and journalists to keep contacts. In this way, MAITRE gave the opportunity to strengthen the connection between researchers and journalists, enhanced discussion about food related topics and built networks thanks to the social media strategy set up by the consortium.
Moreover, the project identified media best practices as indicators for training. It established a methodological framework for selecting training activities, and a similar framework for the scientists' selection. MAITRE also assessed its progress, in terms of impact on beneficiaries and achievement of project aims. It developed two different evaluation forms, seeking feedback from 643 researchers immediately after the seminars and then six to eight months later via an online survey. The feedback gave important inputs on the applicability of the training content, any improvement with media relations and self-confidence issues. The responses have been collected and analysed, demonstrating a positive reaction even after six months.
Successful elements of the training sessions were, in particular, the hands on sessions, where participants were able to confront and compare themselves with other colleagues, by receiving ad hoc tips. The senior journalist leading the seminar was another key element, since we was able to give a precise media perspective.
Potential Impact:
In order to evaluate the potential impact, including the socio-economic and societal implications of the project, a series of expected impacts has been listed as following:

• Researchers in the food area feeling more secure dealing with media
An online survey after 6 months from the end of the seminar has been conducted to consider the elements mentioned above. As shown in the survey, the respondents replied positively to the usefulness and satisfaction of the seminar. 44% of respondents reveal to have been in contact with journalists and also to have used MAITRE’s tips, feeling more secure while communicating with the media. 90% of the press officers from the researchers’ organisation confirmed through a similar survey that their researchers’ communication skills improved in a significant way.

• Researchers in the food area better enable to convey their research and its implication to both the media and public at large
The results of the online survey show that almost 85% of the respondents have used or applied the information received during the seminar and that 92% feel more confident when communicating about their research activity.

• Researchers in the food area pro-actively suggesting topics to the media and providing viable proposals for good coverage
Press officers participating in the media training were also asked to fill in a questionnaire after 6 months from the end of the seminar, as a mean to get data concerning their views on the researchers. This allowed analysing the results of the project in another perspective. 80% of the respondents confirmed that researchers were more proactive when communicating their research results to the media.
Moreover, scientists appeared to be eager to communicate with the media - the content of information scientists communicate to the public is adjusted to the target audience - and more confident in front of the camera.

• Lower threshold for journalists to cover research on food topics and to approach scientist for interview and background information
80% of the press officers replied that researchers were more aware of the newsworthy elements their work holds so to facilitate the journalists while covering their story. A press officer from Spain indicated that researchers had a better understanding of the daily work of journalists, while one from Ireland found that they were proposing articles in an independent way.

• Generating an efficient and trusting flow of information between researchers and media in crisis situations
90% of press officers confirmed that the relationship between themselves and the researchers improved in a relevant way, being the researchers more collaborative also to the media since MAITRE training.

• Involve representatives of governments and public institutions as well as academia and make food and nutrition scientists taking into account their need to efficiently interact with counterparts
Local authorities, EU institutions and regional representatives at European and national level have been constantly involved and informed about project’s development through conferences and targeted messages that have been sent out regularly (and when possible in the local language).

• Increase of science reporting, in particular concerning FP7 projects
Press officers from hosting organisation confirmed that the whole organisation (often involved in FP7 projects) benefited from the seminar that also gave more ideas to write pieces of news for the media in the field of food research. Many scientists were more active in planning and executing communications activities, and reporting to the journalists as well. Moreover, there has been a concrete interest from the researchers in contacting journalists.

• Initiation or increase of direct communication activities of food and nutrition research organisations with the general public, primarily through Web 2.0 techniques
MAITRE has been presented on different occasion and in different workshops and final conferences of other EU funded project in the food area. This allowed MAITRE project to build strong networks and exchange information and sharing links, especially via online tools and social media pages.

• Enhance the wide public knowledge and awareness on current research activities in the field of food and nutrition, with special attention for research focused on safety and health
Social media activities, participation to events and conference at European level and interactions with stakeholders trough online and offline tools allowed MAITRE to have an important role in increasing the awareness of stakeholders on current research activities in the field of food.

• Improving consumer trust in food research and the food industry thanks to the continuous flow of information
Social media activities and improvement of researchers’ communication skills are actions carried on by MAITRE, which support the correct information to the public at large.

• Enhance the social participation and dialogue in the current food research topics
Social media activities and dissemination of information while engaging the stakeholders during events and conference (food related and science communication events) to highlight the importance of communicating science in the food area, especially when it comes to critical topics (such as GMOs and biotechnology in food research).
List of Websites:
The MAITRE website address, running and updated, is the following:
www.maitreproject.eu
The MAITRE coordinator is:
Mrs. Hinano Spreafico Droume de Festi
MINERVA Consulting & Communication sprl
32-34 Avenue de Tervuren, B-1040 Brussels - Belgium
Tel. +32 2 544.18.88