What have we learned about effective ocean communication in 2019?

Natalie Hart Marine CoLAB Comms Lead

What a year it has been for CoLAB communications! We’ve coordinated a response to the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC), encouraged everyone to ‘Drop the S’, presented to the European Commission Mission Board for Healthy Oceans, represented at Our Ocean Norway, EMSEA and DEFRA events, and witnessed Rosie transition into a live-tweeting queen!

We know that for our network of CoLABorators, much of the interest lies not just in what we’ve done but what we have learned along the way. So, to round off the year, here is our list of top lessons learned through CoLAB comms in 2019…

1. There is strength in alignment, but keep the messages top level

One of our big successes of the year was the combined response to the IPCC SROCC report. Twenty-two organisations collaborated for our UK response and then Our Fish took the campaign Europe-wide, getting an impressive 52 NGOs on board.

The response featured four key asks around ending illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; a robust High Seas Treaty; protection of at least 30% of the global ocean by 2030 through the implementation of highly and fully Protected Areas; and protection of the deep through a precautionary pause on deep sea mining. You can read our asks and the corresponding letter full here.

Our Fish led a collective European response to the IPCC SROCC report. Image by Our Fish

The marine sector is a complex world and so naturally there were some nuanced differences between organisations on their positions on some key issues. We found that in order to collaborate with as many organisations as possible, it was important to keep the messages of our response relatively high level. By sharing in the response, organisations had further opportunity to talk about their own specific positions and policy asks.

Despite the challenges, we remain sure that speaking with one aligned voice at key strategic moments makes our message stronger. We look forward to continued collaboration with the One Ocean Flotilla into 2020, as they adopt this approach at a global level.

2. The ‘changing health’ story is a powerful metaphor for ocean communication

We’re always looking for impactful ways to communicate the ocean, especially with more diverse audiences. In November the FrameWorks Institute launched its guide to ‘Reframing the Ocean’ at an exciting Gulbenkian hosted event attended by many of our members and helped us to think about communicating a complex topic with a range of audiences.

The FrameWorks Institute takes a robust research-led, evidence-based approach to developing communications recommendations. FrameWorks discovered that the body metaphor is an effective way of communicating the complex systemic nature of the ocean. The recommendations include:

  1. Establish the ocean has health.
  2. Turn to the future.
  3. Explain how the ocean’s health has worsened over time.

We can’t shout about their guide enough – it is useful and accessible and we’re using it as much as we can! Have a read of it here and experiment with implementing it into your own communication.

3. Flexibility is our friend

A huge advantage to the CoLAB’s approach is having the flexibility to jump on board with opportunities as they arise. Communication is a nimble, fast-paced tool that fits well with the ‘experiment’ ethos of the CoLAB. We can fail fast and learn fast too.

Our responsive communications approach has led to our uptake of a number of unexpected opportunities in recent months, taking the reach ofthe CoLAB into Europe and beyond.

In October we attended the Our Ocean Conference in Norway as part of a selected social media team, which enabled us to keep our community informed while also raising the CoLAB’s profile.

In November we teamed up with the Marine Social Science Network to respond to a request from the European Commission’s Mission Board for Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters. We presented to the Mission Board on research into people’s emotional connection with the ocean and how a communications architecture could be developed to incorporate this insight into a public mobilisation response.

Also in November, we joined up with Professor Jane Lubchenco and the One Ocean Flotilla to deliver a webinar on communication for a healthy ocean as part of #VirtualBlueCOP25. This enabled us to talk to climate activists and young career scientists about how to include the ocean in climate conversations. You can watch the webinar below.

4. Ocean protection is a serious issue, but not all your communication content has to be serious too

What was our most popular piece of ocean content for 2019? Our ‘Drop the S’ animation! The animation, launched in September, encourages people to use the word ‘ocean’ in singular.

The concept of the campaign is based on principle one of ocean literacy, which is that there is one big ocean with many features. Talking about one ocean reinforces people’s understanding that what happens in one part of the ocean will affect the other parts too. It reminds people that the ocean is part of one global system.

In order to bring this idea to life, the Marine CoLAB developed an animation. It was shared widely on social media, sparked discussion among other ocean actors, and was easily our best performing tweet of the year.

We believe that the animation achieved cut through because it was something different. It used humour to engage the audience and show the range of ways people interact with ocean. We know this is a serious topic, but to engage audiences effectively variation in tone can be important.

5. We might be NGO workers, scientists, policymakers, communicators… but we connect as human beings

This lesson is intrinsic to the values-based approach. This year we had an ad hoc experiment around the concept of the Ocean Book Club. We asked Twitter what their favourite ocean read was and we were overwhelmed by the responses we got from all sorts of ocean actors all over the world. We made a shortlist of top ocean reads that you can find here or ask Rosie for one of the bookmarks we got printed!

When we reflected on the popularity of the question, we realised that art is a great equaliser. Although the people who responded were scientists, policymakers, campaigners and much more, they responded on a very human level and told us not necessarily what had informed them, but which books had moved them, inspired them, made them feel. It was a conversation where everyone has something to offer and really spoke to the connection that art and literature can foster between people and the ocean – something that we hope to explore further next year.

6. We will never get tired of ocean puns

Sorry, we just can’t kelp ourselves! Sometimes it’s like ocean puns are just our porpoise in life. If you missed us tweeting the High Seas Treaty Negotiations this year through the medium of Javier Bardem movie puns, then buoy did you miss out. Don’t worry though, you can still catch them here. We’re shore you’ll enjoy them as much as we did.

What communications lessons did you learn this year? Get in touch and let us know!

Wishing you seas and greetings from the CoLAB Comms team!

Natalie and Rosie

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