OR/14/019 BGS communications: what we will do

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Mitchell, C J, Nice, S E, Stevenson, J P, Thomas, J E, Nash, G V and Noakes, L. 2014. Broadcasting the science stories of BGS. British Geological Survey Internal Report, OR/14/058.

BGS communications vision and objective

The BGS communication vision is to:

Establish the British Geological Survey as a global authority for geoscience

The overarching aim is to create the maximum impact for BGS science and technology by communication with the world through the media, web and public engagement. BGS will make use of traditional, new and emerging communication channels to communicate its scientific and technological research with the following overarching themes:

  • broadcasting — broadcast the science of the BGS
  • science — demonstrate the impact of BGS science
  • stories — tell the geoscience stories of the BGS

BGS will do this by:

  • supporting and encouraging our staff to engage with the media and other communication channels
  • increasing filming and production of videos of our staff and research
  • seeking out and telling the stories of our science and technology
  • using infographics to bring the impact of our science and technology to life
  • continuing to develop our web and social media channels
  • continuing to produce hard copy publications but at the same time pursuing the development of digital publication of our maps and reports
  • continuing to develop our public engagement programme
  • ensuring that our staff are fully informed and can engage with the executive through BGS internal communications channels (including one-way and two-way).

Media engagement

Vision: Our vision is to become the ‘go to’ organisation, the first point of contact, for all geoscience-related news events in the UK, and a leading contact point for the global news media.

Overview: Prior to 2007, the BGS was an organisation that primarily responded to news events when prompted by the media. Awareness of the BGS as an organisation seemed to be fairly low. In the event of an earthquake for example, the media were less likely to consult the BGS and more likely to refer to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) with their 24/7 availability, prompt response to events and rapid dissemination of information. Since 2007, this has changed due to the greater emphasis placed on media engagement by the BGS. As a result the media are more aware that the BGS exists, scientists are accessed more regularly for expert commentary and the BGS is now very much more in the public eye.

The nature of media engagement is changing. The traditional approach of issuing a press release and waiting for the media to get in touch is now less favoured. Alex Aiken, Executive Director for Government Communications, stated recently ‘The press release is dead’ (Kate Magee, 2013[1]). Press officers are now just as likely to get in direct contact with journalists through social media channels such as twitter as they are through traditional communication channels. ‘Journalists often tweet when they are looking for help with an article or case studies’ (Bussey, 2011).

We will:

  • maintain the reputation of the BGS as a reliable, professional and objective authority on geoscience-related issues. The BGS will remain an organisation that is trusted to provide definitive unbiased geoscience information for anyone that requests it
  • increase the confidence and willingness of BGS scientists and technologists to communicate their work with the media. This will be accomplished through advice, guidance and training, as well as direct experience of working with the media
  • meet all reasonable media requests for access to BGS science and technology experts for interviews, comments, features and filming
  • respond rapidly to all media enquiries that relate to geohazard events such as earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, landslides, floods and subsidence
  • produce background briefing documents for all geoscience-related stories that regularly feature in the news agenda such as earthquakes, shale gas and groundwater flooding
  • continue to issue press releases and statements directly to the media and via the BGS website (www.bgs.ac.uk/news/news.html)
  • provide experts for geoscience-related press briefings and conferences, including those facilitated by the Science Media Centre (SMC)
  • continue to monitor the coverage of BGS science and technology in the media using online media monitoring services
  • continue to organise, and participate in, events at key UK science festivals such as the British Science Festival, the Cheltenham Science Festival and the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition
  • continue to provide support for, and work with, the press offices of other research centres, key geoscience organisations such as the Geological Society, universities and government departments.

Broadcasting the BGS

Vision: Our vision is for broadcasting by video to become the primary means of communicating the scientific and technological research of the BGS.

Overview: Most people learn about current scientific and technological research through the mainstream and web-based broadcast media including:

  • the traditional terrestrial TV channels such the BBC, ITV, C4 and Channel 5
  • the satellite TV channels such as Sky, CNN, Discovery and Al Jazeera
  • the internet based channels, typically on YouTube.

BGS scientists will often be seen on the broadcast news channels in response to natural hazard events such as earthquakes, groundwater flooding, landslides, sinkholes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Less frequently, they will also be seen on broadcast documentary and magazine programmes covering the range of BGS scientific and technological research including: the application of isotope-science to archaeology; carbon capture and storage (CCS); critical metals; geological mapping; geothermal energy; Icelandic glacial retreat; shale gas resources; space weather; and tetrapod evolution. Since 2008, the BGS have broadcast their own videos, through YouTube (bgschannel), with recent videos such as About the British Geological Survey narrated by Professor Iain Stewart (Figure 7), Tellus South West and Tungsten: cutting edge and critical.

Figure 7 Professor Iain Stewart narrating ‘About the British Geological Survey’ video.

The Nottingham-based film making company, Wide-Cast, will form an integral part of the BGS efforts to capture more of its scientific and technological research on camera. The director of this company, Ed Collard, is a former ITV news journalist and has worked with the BGS since 2007.

We will:

  • use video as the primary means for communicating BGS research and technology
  • do more filming of BGS research scientists in the UK and whilst working overseas
  • develop further the in-house filming and video production capabilities of the BGS
  • develop a series of videos that tell the science stories of BGS scientists and technologists
  • aim to put BGS on all the major broadcast communication channels.

Impact infographics

Vision: Our vision is for the impact, and importance to society, of BGS scientific and technological research to be clearly illustrated using infographics and other imagery.

“An infographic is worth a thousand words”
Paraphrasing the famous American
newspaper editor, Arthur Brisbane

Overview: Public engagement is an important part of the responsibilities of all BGS researchers who receive public funding. Communicating BGS research is a key requirement of the NERC impact agenda (NERC, 2014[2]). It can take place at any stage throughout the work. The media are just as interested in showing the public the process of research, such as the field, laboratory or other research activities, as they are in explaining the research findings. The impact of scientific research is often obscured by technical jargon in scientific literature, diluted by ineffective dissemination and not understood by those in a position to communicate it more widely. The onus is on research organisations to make its research findings and data more accessible and easier to understand. This is emphasised by the need to demonstrate the impact of research i.e. what relevance does it have to wider society? otherwise known as the ‘so what’ factor. This has assumed greater significance since the economic downturn of 2008 where funding has been much tighter and research has to clearly demonstrate a beneficial impact, in essence to justify the money spent.

A recent BGS publication, the centennial edition of World Mineral Production 2008–2012, made substantial use of infographics to illustrate the current production of the major internationally traded mineral commodities. This enables a much clearer understanding of where our mineral resources come from and who the major producers are, as can be seen in the infographic for the worldwide production of antimony (Figure 8).

An infographic is a visual representation of information or data using charts, diagrams or maps. This is a key aspect of ‘data journalism’ which has arisen partly in response to the open data movement (Rogers, 2013[3]). This has seen the release of large volumes of data (‘big data’) by government and other public institutions in the interests of openness and transparency. The aim of the data journalist is to unearth and tell the story hidden in the numbers and information. Often this will involve the use of infographics, at other times a simple number may be sufficient. This has been enabled by the widespread availability of data on the internet and easy-to-use spreadsheet software and has been encouraged by the growing interest in visualising data to make it easier to understand. Many stories have emerged that would not have existed without the data, with Wikileaks being the most notable recent example, prompting the media to look even harder at available data.

We will:

  • increase the use of infographics to improve the understanding of BGS scientific and technological research
  • provide infographics that are easily accessible and downloadable for anyone to use
  • increase the capacity of the BGS to produce infographics.
Figure 8 BGS infographic for world Antimony production. (British Geological Survey, 2012[4]).

Science stories

Vision: Our vision is to engage a wider audience by telling the science stories of the BGS, showing the human side of research and enthusing the next generation of geologists.

Overview: The traditional communication channel of the scientist is the academic paper. For many this remains, and will remain, the only way that they will ever attempt to communicate their research. Fortunately this is a diminishing band that has been insulated from the need to communicate their work with the wider world. The audience for such work is limited typically to fellow researchers, professionals and students. Wider uptake is limited to those that have access to subscriptions to the journal or the digital version of the paper through institutional access agreements. Open access to research, i.e. that freely available, is on the increase but is often limited to research that is considered significant enough to warrant paying the fees imposed by the journals.

In addition to the broadcast media, most people consume their science through the internet. Currently, the web content of most research institutes is portrayed in a semi-formal, scientific language that is largely factual and is scarcely different to reading an online encyclopaedia. The advent of social media is changing the appetite of the wider world for information of all sorts. There is now an expectation that science will be presented in a format that is much more readily accessible, more engaging and more relevant to people’s lives. More emphasis on engaging people with scientific and technological research will lead to the feeling that there is value to scientific research and that future funding is deserved.

We will:

  • publish the science stories of BGS scientists and technologists through the BGS website, social media channels (such as GeoBlogy) and as broadcast-ready video. These science stories will ideally chart how BGS scientists got to where they are today, their first forays into research, their greatest triumphs, the hiccups along the way and where they are headed next
  • encourage BGS scientists and technologists to write their own stories with the assistance of BGS publications
  • employ a ‘science writer’ intern for 3-month periods each year to seek out the stories, write them up and publish them through the BGS communication channels. This will be a regular opportunity for recent media or journalism graduates to gain work experience with a large research organisation
  • establish links with science communication, journalism and media departments and courses at UK universities to work collaboratively with the BGS on the stories of geoscience
  • aim to get some of the BGS science stories published by the media in their hard copy publications, their online presence and social media channels
  • aim to get some of the BGS science stories taken up by the broadcast media. These may lend themselves more to the documentary style productions but may also appeal to some popular TV programmes such as BBC1’s The One Show and BBC2’s Countryfile.

The web

Vision: To create a website that is the first port of call for geoscience information, provides people with what they want, and which can be accessed quickly and easily where ever people may be.

Overview: The BGS website, www.bgs.ac.uk, was started in the early days of the internet (mid-nineties) and has become the ‘shop window’ for the organisation. From the outset it largely reflected the seemingly ever-changing organisational structure of the BGS. As a consequence it evolved organically with content added as the need arose. This lead to a situation where the BGS home page eventually became a virtual forest of web links with little regard for the experience of the user. Subsequent redesign and restructuring of the website has taken into consideration what visitors to the website actually want. This has lead to a much improved user experience with a focus on new web content, the most sought-after information and data, and areas of science and technology that relate to recent media coverage.

Recent development work on the BGS website has responded to changes in W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) standards, mostly recently HTML5 and CSS3 (the latest versions of Hyper Text Mark-up Language and Cascading Style Sheets). These have enabled more effective ‘mobilisation’ of the BGS web content i.e. easier access via mobile devices. The next big challenge will be to incorporate the ideals of the semantic web which will improve Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), computer-to-computer interactions and ‘data mash-ups’.

We will:

  • create and maintain standards-compliant, responsive websites with a consistent corporate design that allows the public to view BGS data and information wherever they are
  • be responsive to topical news stories and deliver information from BGS staff quickly and efficiently via www.bgs.ac.uk and its hosted sites
  • maintain the range of websites we host and strive to create new content while updating the thousands of webpages on the BGS servers
  • create dynamic applications that allow users to search and browse BGS data
  • create a top ‘10 photos from the BGS’ website, based on those accessed via Open Geoscience
  • make use of new applications to view data in a variety of ways, including ESRI maps for the various BGS datasets
  • support the citizen science activities of the BGS
  • encourage visitors to the BGS website to have a go at data mash-ups and other out of the ordinary things with BGS data e.g. the ‘earthquake embedded geology’ map
  • deliver licensed data via BGS extranets and shops
  • add more fun into the Discovering Geology web pages, such as spot the dinosaurs lurking in the climate change pages or the ammonites in the Fossil Focus pages
  • make hosted sites standards compliant and, ideally, device responsive
  • put the ‘wonder’ back into the web. Provide surprises to our web users, lead them to unexpected content and onto things they didn’t need to know but that are fascinating.

Social media

Vision: To create a positive reputation and strong brand image for the BGS using social media to facilitate consistent, timely and effective two-way communication between the organisation and the public (including staff and stakeholders).

“... social media involves the building of communities or
networks and encouraging participation and engagement”
Chartered Institute of Public Relations Social Media panel

Overview: Content on social media channels is easy to publish, access and share across digital channels and platforms. Yet information and opinion expressed here has the potential to reach far outside the online world. For example, it has quickly become standard practice to use social media content in news reports, parliamentary discussions and courtrooms. It is this increasing popularity and impact of social media as a tool for communication and reputation management that has initiated the business need for a unified BGS social media strategy.

The responsibility for managing social media content and keeping pace with digital and technological changes rests with BGS Corporate Communication and Publishing (Figure 1).

We will:

  • create a strong dialogue with all audiences to provide a clear understanding of the organisation’s vision, strategy and values (in line with the BGS science strategy)
  • provide timely information on relevant natural hazard events. Events include those covered by BGS monitoring or where we are experts and have appropriate up-to-date online information as well as supporting the citizen science activities of the BGS natural hazards teams
  • provide timely information on relevant science meetings, conferences, etc... through close alliance with the Head of Public Engagement and the Business Development team
  • Provide timely, transparent information on any relevant changes that are happening within the BGS
  • keep all audiences informed of vacancies and research opportunities available at the BGS
  • promote the excellent work, success and achievements of employees within the BGS including the efficient use of resources and the culture of knowledge-exchange excellence in BGS and NERC (in line with the BGS science strategy)
  • respond to direct questions posed to the BGS
  • involve social media in press office, business development, products and sales campaigns as well as ‘pathways to impact’ plans to enhance and broaden public engagement and impact
  • provide training and raise the awareness of BGS staff in the use of social media. Guidelines for the use of Social Media by BGS staff are shown here
  • create a dynamic relationship between social media content and BGS website content, for example, promoting links to new web content where appropriate and featuring social media feeds on relevant webpages.


Vision: To create a novel digital publication channel, alongside the traditional print channels, to publish the excellent world-class scientific and technological research of the BGS.

Overview: The BGS publications team provides an editorial service for all aspects of publishing in BGS including the website, digital publications and print. The team provides publishing advice and guidance to all staff and implements the BGS publication strategy. The key aims of the BGS publication strategy are to:

  • enhance peer-reviewed paper output and impact in order to ensure the entire BGS science programme is underpinned by good peer-reviewed science
  • capture, share and synthesise more of the scientists’ implicit knowledge
  • write (create content) once, re-use many times
  • develop stronger semantic and spatial links between publications, maps, models and data
  • respond flexibly to the diverse demands of our stakeholders, new cultural trends and new technologies in the world of publishing
  • encourage greater community feedback and contributions to BGS publications.

We will:

  • assist the development of a publication strategy which will be devised, owned and directed by a publication strategy group. This will comprise representatives of the BGS Executive, the directors of science and technology, and the Corporate Communications and Publications Team
  • assist with setting of BGS publication priorities by the publication strategy group, in consultation with the directors of science and technology
  • assist BGS in continuing to publish its research findings in peer-reviewed journals
  • develop and implement an intelligent publications (iPubs) approach to publishing BGS research using a MediaWiki platform. This will create a new publication channel for the BGS. It will allow easy publication of detailed, rich web content; provide a user-friendly interface for staff to create and edit new documents; allow the BGS to develop the ‘write once, re-use many times’ approach to authoring; and help the BGS make its static content available semantically
  • develop and implement an internal system, GeoSource, to enable staff to publish their research. Material in GeoSource will be added to the external BGS web presence via a GeologyWiki which will promote the BGS brand and allow BGS authors to be credited with their work. In addition, managed contributions by members of the wider research community will be enabled
  • assist with the production of special publications. These will be digital, e.g. eBooks or iMaps, as well as traditional printed hard copy. Special publications will be chargeable e.g. on download, print or DVD delivery
  • assist with the production of commercial reports as required by BGS clients.

Public engagement

Vision: We will actively work with a range of communities within schools, colleges, universities and the general public to promote geoscience as a career choice and to explain BGS research.

Overview: BGS has multiple strands of well-established public engagement activities to engage with our target audiences. These audiences and activities include:

  • schools (school visits, visits by schools to BGS including National Science and Engineering Week, educational science fairs and exhibitions, UK School Seismology project)
  • universities and colleges (site tours, on-site workshops)
  • public (site tours and open days, off-site talks)
  • stakeholders (provide advice, input and resources into stakeholder projects).

Website: Discovering Geology will support learning with the above audiences by providing a range of curriculum-based activities and resources.

All staff will be encouraged to take part in public engagement activities to demonstrate their own area of science or to support other science areas. BGS public engagement managers will help support activities that fulfil the above vision and will assist by providing advice, physical resources, ideas for activities and web pages that offer further information.

We will:

  • facilitate visits to local schools by providing specialists or ‘science demonstrators’
  • run a regular programme of site tours
  • run a schools and public event annually for National Science and Engineering Week
  • assist in BGS Open Days in Keyworth and Edinburgh
  • produce a range of curriculum-based resources and activities for the Discovering Geology section of the BGS website
  • maintain links with geoscience organisations, groups and clubs listed below and to provide advice and resources where appropriate: British Science Association, British Geophysical Association, Earth Science Education Forum, Earth Science Teachers Association, Earth Science Education Unit, earth science museums, galleries and visitor centres, Geological Society, and Rockwatch (Geologists Association) the national club for young geologists
  • run the UK Schools seismology project, which will:
  • maintain and widen the network of existing participating schools
  • provide advice, training and continuing personal development (CPD) for teachers
  • attend science fairs and exhibitions to promote participation
  • provide web resources in Discovering Geology
  • maintain and develop links with university geoscience department outreach programmes
  • maintain and develop links with (non-school) external groups, museums and visitor centres e.g. geopark networks and Natural History Museum London
  • develop international relations and provide training and resources
  • maintain existing external funding streams.

Internal communications

Vision: To create a more successful, positive and resourceful community within the BGS by effective and consistent communication (both one-way and two-way) between the Executive and staff.

Overview: The Internal Communications (IC) function at BGS was initiated in April 2013 as part of BGS Corporate Communication and Publishing (Figure 1). One of the first IC initiatives was to reduce the amount of corporate email correspondence that circulated internally within the BGS. The bgscorporatecomms@bgs.ac.uk email account is used to channel all corporate and other messages intended for circulation to the whole organisation. These are amalgamated into a single Daily Brief which is emailed to BGS staff at around 11am daily. Verbal and written feedback from staff has been encouraging and positive.

The BGS intranet is an integral part of internal communication within the organisation. In order to improve uptake of its use across all the BGS sites, a staff survey will be carried out and the intranet will be redeveloped to improve its functionality, look, content and usefulness.

Another successful initiative of BGS IC has been the creation of the monthly newsletter, Core Matters. This is an html formatted email that is sent to all BGS staff and contains a mixture of corporate information, good news stories, BGS in the media, BGS staff charity activities and other stories of interest to BGS staff.

Two-way communication with the Executive is paramount. IC has introduced more face-to-face Q&A sessions with the Executive and encourages staff to act upon the Executive’s open-door policy. Staff notices will continue to be used as the formal means of communicating matters of strategy, policy and process to all staff.

We will:

  • provide all employees with a clear understanding of the BGS vision, strategy and values
  • keep staff informed of any major changes that are happening within the BGS as quickly and transparently as possible
  • recognise and empower employees within the BGS
  • provide employees with the information and resources needed to fully participate in organisational activities during their evolving career at BGS
  • promote and enhance a positive sense of community across the BGS, and help to engage employees
  • ensure a positive employee experience by providing improved information on general company initiatives e.g. Athena SWAN and Future Leaders.
  • create a more successful organisation and encourage more efficient use of resources, in line with BGS strategy to encourage a culture of knowledge-exchange excellence in the BGS and the NERC
  • improve perceptions and highlight and support organisational change
  • celebrate successes, achievements and service to ensure employees feel valued
  • provide all employees with the means to communicate feedback to the Executive as and when they wish.


  1. MAGEE, K. 1990. ‘The press release is dead’, declares the Government’s comms chief Alex Aiken. PRWeek, 23 September 2013. Available from http://www.prweek.com/article/1212883/the-press-release-dead-declares- governments-comms-chief-alex-aiken
  2. NATURAL ENVIRONMENT RESEARCH COUNCIL (NERC). 2014. Our impact. Available from: http://www.nerc.ac.uk/research/impact/
  3. ROGERS, S. 2013. Facts are sacred: The power of data. (Faber and Faber with Guardian Books.)
  4. BRITISH GEOLOGICAL SURVEY. 2012. World mineral production 2008–2012. (Keyworth, Nottingham: British Geological Survey.) Available to download from: http://www.bgs.ac.uk/downloads/start.cfm?id=2897