The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a large federal bureaucracy in Silver Spring, MD. I’ve worked there as a contractor in two separate stints – three years in the National Ocean Service (NOS) and a little more than two years (so far) in the National Weather Service (NWS).
If you work at NOAA, you refer to where you work by building number. In NOS, I worked in Building 4. In NWS, I work in Building 2. The sculpture above is in front of Building 3. I don’t blame you if you’re confused.
The sculpture in front of NOAA’s SSMC3 building (at 1315 East-West Highway) on its Silver Spring, Maryland campus is called “The Hand of Noah”. It was given this title by its sculptor, Raymond Kaskey, in 1991, and symbolizes NOAA’s stewardship of the environment.
In NOAA-land, the giant hand makes a convenient landmark. “Meet me at the giant hand,” is a phrase you hear a lot.
I took this photo during a beautiful, short-lived snowstorm in Silver Spring. I’ve wanted to get this pic for years and, finally, the weather and my schedule cooperated. Like the birds in the sculpture, I feel free!
How do you communicate science to a general audience? That was the subject of a recent presentation I gave to the Federal Communicators Network. Based upon my experience as a science communicator for NOAA and The Nature Conservancy, I suggest that writers:
Use common terms
Get out of your organizational bubble
Make it relevant to the reader
Stress benefits, not features
In the talk, I used case studies from my current job as a Communications Manager for The National Weather Service (NWS). For example, NWS has a great new technology under development – Wireless Emergency Alerts. When talking about this new service, do you communicate the features (cell towers, polygons, alerting authorities) or the benefit (getting a text alert before a tornado hits your house)?
You stress the benefit, obviously. The benefit establishes relevancy in the mind of the reader. Grab the reader’s attention by leading with benefits and then you can explain the complicated details.
Have you ever wondered why there’s no ocean.gov? This is a valuable and easy to remember URL that the government doesn’t currently use. And it should, for we all depend on the ocean for the very air we breathe.
When I was at NOAA, it was explained to me that there’s no web site at ocean.gov because no one agency or part of government “owns” the ocean. Lots of federal and state agencies have jurisdiction and interest in what goes on in the watery realm. Doing something with ocean.gov would require cooperation and agreement among the numerous governmental entities which all have a stake in the ocean. Creating ocean.gov would require a web manager with the patience of Job and the diplomatic skills of, well, I don’t know, to get all the various ocean-related partners on the same page. Which is why it’s never been done. Continue reading “Ocean.gov – A Modest Proposal”