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The Gulf of Mexico Outreach Initiative (GoMRI) had a tall order to fill in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill: investigating, understanding and educating the public on the impacts of the oil, dispersed oil, and the dispersant on the Gulf of Mexico and affected coastal states. The knowledge gathered by the GoMRI is being applied to restoration and improving the long-term environmental health of the Gulf of Mexico. 

Since 2010, GoMRI has supported more than 3,400 scientists who have contributed to more than 1,000 peer reviewed journals articles and around 2,000 publicly available databases. That’s a great deal of information to provide to a wide variety of audiences. Recognizing this, GoMRI has supported an active outreach program since its inception. GoMRI’s outreach plan includes a three-pronged approach: at the GoMRI level through through websites, web stories, social media, and newsletters, through partnerships, and at the GoMRI-funded research consortium level. One of these research consortia, the Alabama Center for Ecological Resilience (ACER) is headquartered at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

At the consortium level, Outreach Coordinators were tasked with communicating the broader impacts of the research, from research results to societal impacts,  While each consortium developed their own unique outreach plan, outreach coordinators communicated regularly, sharing approaches, events and successes.  

The GoMRI Outreach Coordinators are now sharing what they learned in nearly a decades time of working to engage audiences with other researchers looking to integrate or expand education and outreach efforts as a part of their research program. 

In the August Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin, the article titled Recommendations for Science Outreach Program Development: Perspectives from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Consortia provides seven recommendations researchers can apply if they are interested in developing or expanding their outreach program. The article was authored by Dr. Miller-Way (ACER), Sara Beresford from the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG) consortium, and Katie Fillingham from the GoMRI Management Team.  

In summary, those recommendations are: 

1) Talk to outreach professionals preferably during proposal development and benefit from their experience,
2) Clearly identify what the team will do and why – that is, be strategic and specific when developing the outreach plan,
3) Explicitly identify who the team is trying to reach with information and figure out the most effective ways to reach that audience,
4) Capitalize on the unique areas of research, skills, and relationships within the team,
5) Make sure the budget supports the outreach plan and recognize that social media is not free – it takes time, 
6) Determine how the team will identify success during and not after the plan is developed, and
7) Communication is key – communicate regularly within the team and identify opportunities to communicate and collaborate with other outreach professionals. 

Dr. Miller-Way and her colleagues feel that addressing these recommendations when planning an integrated research and outreach program would improve the effectiveness and efficiency of outreach efforts. She said “the group of GoMRI outreach coordinators have collectively reached thousands of individuals with hundreds of activities. We hope researchers looking to develop outreach plans benefit from our experience and the public better understands why scientific research is a critical process in today’s world.”

The article includes tips on how to implement these recommendations, and examples from GoMRI’s outreach work. 

The article is being highlighted this month by Wiley, publisher of the Bulletin. Read the full article here.