S1095: Science Communication in Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources: Human Science Research and Workforce Development

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active

S1095: Science Communication in Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources: Human Science Research and Workforce Development

Duration: 10/01/2023 to 09/30/2028

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

Need as Indicated by Stakeholders

Research in agriculture, food, and natural resources (AFNR) affects the goods and services we use daily and the environments and communities we live in. Science communication is necessary to improve understanding and use of science by consumers, farmers, and policymakers—and it’s imperative to make sure science communication efforts are inclusive, ethical, and effective. When agriculture-related science issues are communicated through mass media channels, public support for agriculture improves (Olper & Sinnen, 2013); however, low science literacy among consumers has contributed to the difficulties surrounding both educational and marketing communications targeting consumers (McLeod-Morin et al., 2020), and the stakeholders involved in this issue are numerous: consumers, researchers, practitioners, educators, farmers, media, and policymakers. Transparent science communication regarding agricultural production, processing, and marketing practices is particularly important (see Wassel, 2022). For example, Rumble and Irani (2016) found that improving the appearance of transparency regarding animal agriculture production practices in communications with consumers, especially millennials, had a positive effect on their attitudes toward the communication effort. Tarpley et al. (2020) illustrated the benefit of taking audience needs into consideration to improve transparent communications with consumers. Stronger relationships between scientists and members of the media are also important for improving journalist-mediated messages to consumers (McLeod-Morin et al., 2020). Additionally, farmers stand to benefit from transfer of technology from research and development to field implementation (see Bello-Bravo et al., 2020). Effective media platforms are also needed to reach AFNR opinion leaders and policymakers (Lamm et al., 2019).

In order to address science communication challenges and take full advantage of science communication opportunities, research is needed. This point was well made in a report from the National Academy of Sciences (2017) outlining a research agenda for science communications. Science communication practitioners need scientific information about audience preferences, needs, etc. and research-based recommendations for the best tools and techniques for diverse audiences, circumstances, and goals. Ongoing research is essential to stay on top of emerging and constantly changing communications technology, platforms, issues, and needs. Research is also needed to calculate and demonstrate the benefits of investing time, energy, and resources into evidence-based science communication. The National Academy of Sciences (2017) provide three exemplary research topics in particular: using narrative storytelling to communicate science; debunking myths in science communication; and framing science communication. Each of these topics relates directly to AFNR science communications.

In addition to researching ways to improve AFNR science communications, we must also develop future AFNR communications professionals. More pedagogical research is needed to understand how best to train students as science communicators (see Cannon et al., 2016; Leal et al., 2019; Miller et al., 2015; Sanders et al., 2022; Washburn et al., 2022).

Leaders at land-grant institutions recognize the need to improve AFNR science communication efforts. With their three-prong mission of research, Extension, and teaching, land-grant universities have a unique capacity to bridge the gap between science communication research and practice. The three prongs of the Land-grant University System support learning, innovation, sharing findings, professional development, and teaching the next generation. This interdisciplinary, multistate approach creates the possibility of robust, comprehensive research that identifies clear ways forward for a variety of audiences and circumstances.

Significance of the Work

Improving communications with consumer, producer, and policymaker audiences and preparing an AFNR science communication workforce are directly tied to two USDA-NIFA (2022) priorities: (1) Human Sciences and (2) Education and Equity in Agricultural Sciences. Without well-conceived, collaborative research on audiences and media for AFNR science communications and without the continuous improvement of teaching programs that fill the workforce pipeline with professional agricultural communicators, the industry's efforts to improve transparency through communications would be greatly diminished.  

Technical Feasibility

There are many feasible methodological approaches currently available for social science research about audience perceptions, preferences, etc., including surveys, interviews, focus groups, content analyses, and participant observation. Land-grant universities have the personnel, facilities, equipment, software, and other resources needed to complete this research.

Advantages of a Multistate Effort

In the United States, agricultural communications is still considered a "young" or "emerging" academic discipline that has experienced recent growth and maturity in terms of research (Williford et al., 2016). State Agricultural Experiment Stations have collaborated very little on supporting human science research related to AFNR science communication. There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for effective science communication. The multistate structure allows agricultural communications researchers and practitioners to meet regularly to set research priorities, discuss findings, and develop plans for disseminating/implementing findings. A multistate project will enable researchers to build these collaborative relationships over time, as additional experts are expected to continue to join the project each year. A multistate framework allows researchers to investigate science communication needs and issues among diverse communities across the nation. Collaborative approaches help formulate more robust solutions when compared to a single state or single researcher effort. Further, it reduces the burden on individual faculty or states. Because they operate in five-year renewable cycles, a multistate collaborative project can be a catalyst for longitudinal data and replication of studies across the United States.

The recent creation of the Society for Agricultural Communications Scholars and its national research meeting, the National Agricultural Communications Symposium, have provided an impetus and a critical mass of research faculty to participate in this multi-state collaboration. Further, a group of southern states AFNR science communications professionals has formed recently. The Southern Research Communicators Consortium represents yet another group of potential collaborators and potential beneficiaries of this multi-state project. Support from experiment station directors would only strengthen these efforts to improve ANR science communications in the United States.

Likely Impacts of a Multistate Effort

By supporting interaction, communication, and collaboration among researchers and educators at land-grant universities, agricultural communications practitioners, and others, this project will increase the capacity of land-grant faculty to identify communications practices that improve AFNR science communications targeted to consumers, producers, and policy makers. It will also facilitate the growth and enhancement of science communications curricula in academic programs at land-grant universities, and it will strengthen interactions between AFNR communications researchers and Agricultural Experiment Station communications practitioners by establishing a network to communicate research needs to scientists (particularly social scientists) and to communicate research findings to practical communicators who can employ them in their work.

Related, Current and Previous Work

Researchers who study how to improve science communication in the AFNR realm have repeatedly demonstrated the need for more research and stronger educational and training efforts (see Bravo et al., 2020; Lamm et al., 2019; McLeod-Morin et al., 2020; Olper & Sinnen, 2013; Wassel, 2022; Rumble & Irani, 2016; Tarpley et al., 2020). Related to this recent applied social science research, several multistate groups over the last two decades have formed to promote collaborative research on similar social science-related problems. Among the most prominent of those groups are NCERA209 Biosecurity Communications Research and Practice, and NCDC224 Building Capacity in Issues Management in the Land Grant System. Both projects are social science and communcations related and have brought together AFNR social science researchers from across the country to address pressing issues.

Other current related projects, all of which have a focus on improving AFNR communications and education, include S1071 A Framework for Secondary Schools Agriscience Education Programs that Emphasize the STEM Content in Agriculture; SERA47 Strengthening the Southern Region Extension and Research System to Support Local and Regional Foods Needs and Priorities; and NRSP1 Multistate Reearch Information Management and Impace Communications Program.

Additonally, a current proposal focusing on facilitating collabration between science communicators and all other AFNR research is in the development stage. According to project advisor Dr. Jason Ellis, NCDC238 Integrating Team Science into Science Communications is a Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange group whose goal is to develop a full multistate proposal to encourage the integration of science communications efforts in to AFNR applied science projects. While NCDC238 is focused on science communication, it actually is a strong complement to this proposed project, as the results of our research on improving science communication should eventually inform efforts to integrate science comunication into many other AFNR research projects.


  1. Identify the best tools and practices for science communication related to AFNR.
    Comments: Through social science research methods, such as audience analyses, content analyses, and qualitative and quantitative stakeholder perception studies, researchers can evaluate messages, media, strategies, and tactics that work best in a multitude of science communications contexts.
  2. Enhance AFNR science communication curricula in academic programs at land-grant universities and colleges of agriculture.
    Comments: Using sound pedagogical research and evaluation methods, social science researchers can identify (or develop) and test the best methods for teaching AFNR science communication in college-level courses.


Research on the science and pedagogy of science communications is well documented in recent literature. It includes approaches that are collaborative and multidisciplinary. This is so because improving science communications is an issue impacting many scientific disciplines ranging from chemistry to engineering to agronomy. Additionally, research and teaching related to science communications often overlaps with neighboring social science disciplines, including sociology and psychology, for example. The National Academy of Sciences (2017) science communication research agenda clearly explains this unique multidisciplinary aspect of the science of science communication.

Science communication research often focuses on describing and analyzing audiences to better understand how they perceive messages and use media. Social science research approaches--both qualitative and quantitative--are common in the literature. Therefore, research methods associated with this proposed multistate project will include quantitative survey approaches and content analyses as well as qualitative case study and grounded theory approaches. Curriculum evaluation efforts, which also can be qualitative or quantitative, will also be included in the methodological approaches used in this multistate project.

Further, methodologies will be driven by the research problems, which, have been broadly defined in the National Academy of Sciences (2017) report, but which can also be best identified by practitioners. In the agricultural communications discipline, multiple regional groups of Agricultural Experiment Station communications practitioners will be engaged as advisors to this multistate project to connect researchers to real-world applied communications research problems, and these same communications professionals will be key beneficiaries of the practical and pedagogical impacts of the project's research efforts. 

Measurement of Progress and Results


  • Clear priorities for research on science communication in AFNR and science communication pedagogy. Comments: Initial efforts of the multistate workgroup will focus on establishing clear priorities for research on improving science communication and the pedagogy of science communication. While numerous contemporary communications researchers have made strong recommendations for future research, it will be valuable for the group as a whole to agree on the most pressing research needs. This strategic discussion would be the focus of the workgroup's first meeting, which would be held in conjunction with the National Agricultural Communications Symposium. Discussions will initiate with a discussion of the National Academy of Science's (2017) research priority area document. An academic document outlining research priorities for the group will be the group's first deliverable product and will be updated annually. This document will also be the basis of an annual report submitted to the NIMSS website and distributed at the group's annual meeting, which will typically coincide with the National Agricultural Communications Symposium.
  • Increased collaborative publications, presentations, and successful grants among participants in the multistate project. Comments: After an initial baseline survey regarding participants' published research and successful grants related to improving science communication about AFNR, an annual accounting of publication and grant successes will provide a centralized approach to tracking participants' successes while also serving as a clearinghouse for research and curriculum evaluation efforts on the topic. Annual revisions of this document will be available to project participants and will be included in an annual report submitted to the NIMSS website and distributed at the group's annual meeting, which will typically coincide with the National Agricultural Communications Symposium.

Outcomes or Projected Impacts

  • Increased number of research publications and presentations enhancing the study of science communication in AFNR. Increased instances of quality, peer-reviewed research efforts related to improving science communications in AFNR are an indirect indicator of the impact of the multistate project. Logically, as research findings are communicated, positive changes in communications practice as well as teaching approaches should follow, positively influencing consumers' and other stakeholders' understanding of scientific topics and issues in AFNR.
  • Increased successful grant activity related to the study of science communication in AFNR. As funded grant programs on the topic of improving science communications in AFNR increase, both research and curriculum development efforts should increase as well, which should ultimately positively influence consumers' and other stakeholders' understanding of scientific topics and issues in AFNR.
  • New curriculum and professional training materials related to improving the practice of science communications in AFNR. Funded grant projects will be integrated, involving research as well asa formal and non-formal teaching and professional training efforts. These impactful educational efforts and their evaluations will be documented and reported upon.


(2024):Baseline research priority document will be completed, which will also include a baseline accounting of current and pending research, curriculum development and evaluation, and grant writing projects.

(2025):The research priority document will be updated based on new developments in research, curriculum development and evaluation, and grant writing.

(2026):The project's first multi-state, integrated grant proposal will be submitted. Research activity on the topic of science communication, as measured by number of peer reviewed research articles published, will increase by 20%

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Outreach Plan

In the first year of the project, the team members will provide a baseline report in the form of a white paper, the contents of which will also be presented in and annual report in the NIMSS system. Subsequent annual reports will be developed, building on the previous years' work.

Additionally, research results will be made available through peer-reviewed journal articles. It is expected that research productivity will be siginificant. Academic journals including the Journal of Applied Communications, the Journal of Agricultural Education, and Science Communication. Further, progress reports will be made to key Experiment Station communications practioners who are members of the Southern Region Communications Consortium (and other similar practitioner groups).

A social media platforms (LinkedIn, etc.) will also be used to disseminate the research outcomes informally among the project team and other who are interested.

This multistate project will continue to foster scientific collaboration for collaborative proposals annually. Participants will meet officially once per year to review progress made toward its objectives, but team members will also meet unofficially at other conferences and workshops throughout the year to share progress and collaborate as opportunities arise.

Further, the multistate project members will seek funding for the development of training materials targeting agricultural communicators, especially those working in state experiment stations and extension services.


An executive committee consisting of a chair, vice-chair, and three other project team members who will lead and form subcommittees for each objective will be established to maintain the direction of this project. The executive committee will meet quarterly (either face-to-face or via conference call) to assess progress. Further, an annual meeting of all participants will be held, typically at the National Agricultural Communication Symposium, which is held in conjunction with the Southern Association of Agricutlural Scientists' meeting.

Literature Cited

Bello-Bravo, J., Abbott, E., Mocumbe, S., Maria, R., Mazur, R., & Pittendrigh, B. R. (2020). An 89% solution adoption rate at a two-year follow-up: Evaluating the effectiveness of an animated agricultural video approach. Information Technology for Development, 26(3), 577-590. https://doi.org/10.1080/02681102.2019.1697632

Cannon, K. J., Specht, A. R., & Buck, E. B. (2016). Agricultural communications: A national portrait of undergraduate courses. Journal of Applied Communications, 100(1). https://doi.org/10.4148/1051-0834.1018

Lamm, K. W., Borron, A., Holt, J., & Lamm, A. J. (2019) Communication channel preferences: A descriptive audience segmentation evaluation. Journal of Applied Communications, 103(3). https://doi.org/10.4148/1051-0834.2238

Leal, A., Telg, R. W., Rumble, J. N., Stedman, N. L. P., & Treise, D. M. (2019). Exploring beyond the obvious: Social skills needed for agricultural communication baccalaureate graduates. Journal of Applied Communications, 103(2). https://doi.org/10.4148/1051-0834.2188

McLeod-Morin, A., Telg, R., & Rumble, J. (2020). Describing interdisciplinary agricultural research center directors’ perceptions of science communication through goals and beliefs. Journal of Applied Communications, 104(1). https://doi.org/10.4148/1051- 0834.2300

Miller, J. D., Large, M. M., Rucker, K. J., Shoulders, K., & Buck, E. B. (2015). Characteristics of U.S. agricultural communications undergraduate programs. Journal of Applied Communications, 99(4), 76-90. https://doi.org/10.4148/1051- 0834.1063

National Academy of Sciences. (2017). Communicating science effectively. The National Academies Press.

Olper, A., & Swinnen, J. (2013). Mass media and public policy: Global evidence from agricultural policies. The World Bank Economic Review, 27(3), 413-436. doi:10.1596/1813-9450-6362

Rumble, J. N., & Irani, T. (2016). Opening the doors to agriculture: The effect of transparent communication on attitude. Journal of Applied Communications, 100(2). https://doi.org/ 10.4148/1051-0834.1030

Tarpley, T. G., Fischer, L. M., Steede, G. M., Cummins, R. G., & McCord, A. (2020). How much transparency is too much? A moment-to-moment analysis of viewer comfort in response to animal slaughter videos. Journal of Applied Communications, 104(2). https://doi.org/10.4148/ 1051-0834.2302

United States Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture [USDA-NIFA]. (2022, June). NIFA Fact Sheet. https://www.nifa.usda.gov/sites/default/files/2022-08/NIFAGeneral_FactSheetREV_AI0622_508_2.pdf

Washburn, T. A., Essary, C., Irlbeck, E., Gibson, C., & Akers, C. (2022). Foreseen demands for up-and-coming science communicators and recommendations for science communication training programs. Journal of Applied Communication, 106(2). https://doi.org/ 10.4148/1051-0834.2410

Wassell, B. (2022, August 17). Report shows modern consumers demand transparency from brands.The Food Institute. https://foodinstitute.com/focus/report-shows-modern-consumers-demand-transparency-from-brands/

Williford, B., Edgar, L. D., Rucker, K. J., & Estes, S. (2016). Literature themes from five decades of agricultural communications publications. Journal of Applied Communications, 100(1). https://doi.org/10.4148/1051-0834.1022


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Texas Tech University
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