C.R.A.F.T science communication

C reative R elevant A udience F ormat T ake home message

Dr. Meena Balgopal is a professor of Biology at Colorado State University. I attend a workshop of hers about crafting science communication. It was excellent, in large part because Dr. Balgopal is a facilitator. Her workshop was a refreshing after so many one sided lectures. Dr. Balgopal engaged and interacted with the audience. Again, let me just say. Awesome.

Interestingly, the title for her talk was suggested by a colleague. Dr. Balgopal, creativity develop the acronym of CRAFT. Which she presented as the frame work for building your science story. Within this post I surmise content of the workshop as a tool for helping me build a presentation.

Before moving into the details of CRAFT, we will cover some basics about stories. For instance all stories contain elements of

  • events
  • characters
  • conflict/resolution
  • causality/agency

It’s important to think about these elements because they all can be used to evoke emotional responses from the audience. Emotions are what keeps people engaged, specifically if your audience is not directly studying the same thing you are. >

Emotions are emergent properties of good stories.

Dr. Balgopal suggest that as scientists we can use Socio-Scientific Issues(SSI) to bring out emotions in our audience. SSI are complex problems with no distinct answers. Yet scientific knowledge is an important part of understanding the problem. Maybe the two most extensively discussed SSIs are climate change and genetic engineering of food. There are examples of SSIs in every field of study. It would seem that scientist are often hesitant to speak about these issues in contexts of their own work because of the polarizing power of these topics. What we need to realize is that it is that polarizing power that will keep people engaged in your work. If we want a story people will listen to, we should speak to a hot button issue because it will invoke an emotional response.


Dr. Balgopal suggests that we base our stories in the narrative framework as much as we can. This is usually possible with intention and a little extra effort. The tools she suggested to help develop the narrative is the use of the dramatic structure( intro, rising action, climax, resolution). This is important because the audience is often uncomfortable with conflict and they want to continue to engage in the story to find the resolution.

Dramatic Structure

Rise and Fall of the Narrative

This is a bit more of a complicated version of the dramatic structure just incase your really looking to push the narrative. The basic idea is that when framing the story your tie elements of your work to each component.

Story Themes

Another way to start thinking about the spinning of a narrative is by incorporating one of the 7 primary stories themes defined by Booker C, 2006. The reason behind this is that individuals will recognize the plot and that triggers the want for resolution. Also, it’s easy to think of examples of all these elements from other stories you have read. The quest and overcoming the mosters (stanger comes to town) are probably the two most common ones in science writing. Most applied research is goal oriented and set on addressing a known issues, so it connects well with these frames.

1) Overcoming the Monster; 2) Rags to Riches; 3) The Quest; 4) Voyage and Return; 5) Comedy; 6) Tragedy; and 7) Rebirth.


Lastly looking into frame theory to set your story into a larger cultural concern. I don’t know much about frame theory but I’ve found I can identify with the topics. It’s good practice trying to pitch your take home message under different frames. I think the idead is that some individuals will inherently connect with a specific frame. So if you know your audience, give them a story through the frame they understand.

  • social progress
  • economic development
  • moral or ethical right
  • scientific uncertainty
  • Pandora’s box
  • public accountability
  • middle way
  • conflict strategy

Take home message

Summaries with CRAFT


If you want you work to stand out you need to tune it to the audience. This can be a challenge but it’s well worth the time. If your presenting a story to a group you should have some idea about what is the theme that connects them. Build off them common ground.

Take home message

While someone obviously, probably the most important piece of them all is that the take home message is clear. I would start working on a presentation before I could clearly define why I was doing it. Think about this as the one piece of information you want to make that everyone in the audience leaves with. It’s why your telling this story.


Visualize the who what where and why of the presentation. Ensure that it matches the resources you have and the expectations of the audience.


This how you make sure that your audience will stay connected. Talk about big ideas everyone has a perspective on before diving into the details. Through relevancy you have the opportunity to give the audience agency and make them believe that are a part of the story your telling. The more this is worked in the more engaged they will be. There is no action without attention.


Novelty sells. Think about how you can stretch the standards and push the boundaries a bit. The new draws our attention and any elements you can include that give you story that interesting feel is a step toward keeping the audience engaged.


I’m providing an example of how I’m integrating these suggestion into a presentation about crop wild relatives for an GIS day presentation.

  1. Set the message I’m starting with the Take home message because I think it’s the most important element to get right.

    The future of our food is tied to the conservation of the crop wild relative, and the conservation of those species in an inherently spatial question.

  2. Set the frame of the story I’m going to use scientific uncertainty to frame the need for GIS users to start thinking about CWR I’m pushing my comfort zone a bit by framing the importance of CWR with Moral Right and middle way

It is easy to tie in the economic process argument but I’m just starting to believe that that frame is having some dire consequences on or future. I’m staying away from it for now.

  • Scientific uncertainty: CWR have been evolving in varied ecological conditions across the landscape. The different environmental conditions effect the genes that expressed with that population. Yet there are some really big questions about how those characteristics change over space. Until we know that there is no good way of knowing what’s out there.

  • Moral Right: CWR hold a genetic diversity that has targetable benefits to our food staple. We know that genetic diversity is some thing that once gone does we can not get back. By fighting for the preservation of the landscape that these CWR live within we can build awareness around the importance of biodiversity.
  • middle ground: There is a lot of polarization that occurs around the notion of genetic modification. Because CWR are closely related to modern crop there is potential for merge the qualities of the plants with traditional breeding methods.

So far all this was pretty easy. Not far from how I would with presentation in general. The tricky part for me is making it a story.

  1. Story theme I’m going to give the Voyage and Return story a shot here. I like the idea of framing the plant as a character. Showing it as changing and growing from what it was over the course of time and coming back to it’s origin as a means of continuing forward. I think rather then the crop being a primary it makes more sense that scientist and framers play a role in the development.

If we look at the ways to build emotional ties

  • events
    • domestication
    • specialization
    • climate change
    • back to the dependents
  • characters
    • iconic crop
    • framer
    • crop scientist
    • spatial scientist
  • conflict/resolution
    • climate change and over specialization
    • lack of genetic variability
    • understand the relationship between spatial variability and genetic diversity provides directs on where to look for the needed traits.
  • causality/agency
    • scientist looking for solutions outside of there own field ?
    • think about this one some.
  1. Checking back with CRAFT. If we take a look at the process so far we’ve address quite a few of the aspects of CRAFT.


Audience is a group ranging from professionals to students who are interested in GIS and probably know very little about CWRs. I know this from knowing the venue that I’m presenting at.

Take home message

Take home message is loud and clear. There is a challenge and geospatial knowledge is needed.


This will be presentation but I’m building it around a story of a well know crop. I’m framing in around the SSI of genetic modification and suggesting a right and less dramatic alternative to the current process.


This is really about the future of food and how folks in this audience can help. At the end I tie there skills to part of the solution.


There is a lot of room for growth in this area but it’s a start. As the presentation comes together I think there will be a lot of opportunity to make it something more creative. Specifically showing visualizations of the problem at hand.


I wrote this up over three 1 hour sessions. once frame out I was able to complete this process for a second topic in about an hour. Applying CRAFT Science is not a matter of filling out the form, but using the process to generate the story in your mind that will hold peoples attention.

If your interested in the final product from this prep please take a look here

Also if you just want an outline of the steps I’ve created on here.

Thanks to Dr. Balgopal

I hope I made this clear but this work is my summary of Dr. Balgopal two hour workshop. I’m writing about it because it was so good! I hope it helps other bring their message to their audience.