Scicomm X Communication Consultancy

By Saad Lotfey, CEO SciComm X

Over the past years, the United Arab Emirates has emerged as one of the best hubs in the Middle East for Academic Excellence, especially in the realm of Research. In 2018, The UAE increased its expenditure on research and development from 0.9% to 1.30% of GDP.  Following the increased interest in research advancement, the UAE witnessed a surge in the number of research papers by 22.7% in 2022, reaching 16,165 published documents, making it the 4th in the Arab Country Ranking for published research. 

As a result of pushing for more advancement in research, UAE universities started to show interest in communicating their research, reaching a broader audience to raise awareness, developing partnerships, and supporting policy makers in evidence-based decision making. In this blog, we will analyze the media impact of UAE Universities when it comes to communicating their research based on Media Mentions, Media Exposure, and International Recognition Weight.

Our Methodology 
We have gathered and analyzed data from SciVal and Newsflo (both owned by Elsevier) that track and monitor research activities based on the Scopus database. SciVal tracks the media impact of research based on the news articles published in English in digital media outlets listed in LexisNexis Metabase online news.  LexisNexis filter the mass media based on 5 tiers indicating the media source as follows: Internationally recognized, Regionally recognized, Nationally, Locally recognized, and Local interest. 

Then we created a list of UAE Universities that published over 500 research papers in 2023, as of November 2023, then compared the media recognition for their research based on 3 metrics: 

  1. Media Mentions: Number of mentions in the media received by the University.
  2. Media Exposure: The number of media mentions weighted by type of publication, demographics, and audience reach. The weighting is assigned based on the source tier:
    a. Internationally recognized = total count of Mass Media in that tier x1
    b. Regionally recognized = total count of Mass Media in that tier x0.5
    c. Nationally recognized = total count of Mass Media in that tier x0.3
    d. Locally recognized = total count of Mass Media in that tier x0.2
    e. Local interest = total count of Mass Media in that tier x0.1
  3. International Recognition: The number of mentions in the international media

We rank the top 5 UAE Universities based on their performance in terms of mass media mentions, International recognition, and media exposure index. However, if we would select one metric as representative of the ranking, it would be the Media Exposure Index, as it presents an index based on the weight of each type of publication, demographics, and audience, which is better and more effective than the total number of mentions or the international mentions only.

Top 5 UAE Universities in International Media Recognition for Research 2023

Khalifa University tops the list of the universities that received international media coverage for its research in 2023. Khalifa University, which has published 2218 papers in 2023 so far, received 41 mentions in International Media, followed by New York University Abu Dhabi, which received 30 international mentions. The  UAE University comes in 3rd place, as UAEU received 21 international mentions. The University of Sharjah ranked 4th for receiving 10 international mentions, and in 5th place is the American University of Sharjah, which received only 2 international mentions. 

Digital Mass Media Ranking 2023

For the total digital mass media mentions for research in international, regional, national, and local media outlets, New York University ranked 1st with 2121 total mentions, followed by Khalifa University with 1937 total mentions, then UAE University with 1830 total mentions, then American University of Sharjah with 1430 total mentions, and University of Sharjah with 918 total mentions. It is worth mentioning that most of these mentions are identified in local and national media with less representation for regional and international mentions. 

Digital Media Exposure for Research 2023

Media Exposure is calculated as the number of media mentions weighted by type of publication, demographics, and audience reach, making it the most reliable classification for us when ranking universities based on the media coverage for their research. 

New York University topped the list with a media exposure index of 562.1, followed by Khalifa University with an average of 537.8, UAE University with an average of 530.6, then American University of Sharjah with a score of 393.2, and the University of Sharjah with an index of 270.3. 

Both New York University and Khalifa University are leading the ranking as they are investing heavily in promoting their research on both national and international levels. For example, Khalifa University recently published a dedicated digital magazine, “KUST Review,” to promote their research and researchers in both English and Arabic. NYU Abu Dhabi has a dedicated unit for Research Public Engagement besides their activities in promoting the latest research on the University website. 

Mohamed Bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence 

Although we excluded Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) from the list, as it published only 364 papers in 2023, The university has scored outstanding media results compared to the universities in our top 5 list and the number of published research. MBZUAI has received 1553 total media mentions, with a media exposure index of 376.2. If we removed the requirement to publish over 500 papers, MBZUAI would rank 4th and 5th in media mentions and media exposure index among UAE universities. 

Enhancing the Media Exposure for Research

The media impact is an essential metric that helps universities showcase the engagement of broader public audiences, gain an understanding of which research outputs grab the media’s attention, discover media outlets that are discussing an institution’s outputs, understand the level of global exposure mentioned outputs received, provide an early indication of the interest in output that has recently become available, and gain an understanding of the relative impact an institution’s research outputs have on the media. However, many institutions still struggle to develop and execute a strategic plan to enhance their media exposure for published research. These are a number of proposed recommendations that could be followed to increase the media impact of the research. 

  • Focus on the top 1%  and top 10% of published research

It’s extremely challenging for media officers and research communicators to focus on every published research, especially at Universities that publish +1,000 papers annually. Instead, we recommend focusing on the published research in the top 1% and 10% of journals as they usually grab media attention more easily. Offering embargoed press releases with planned interviews through mediums like “EurekAlert!” could be encouraging to journalists who are in a race to be among the first publishers.  

  • Use Video Abstracts for the top 1% of research

Video abstracts have shown a positive effect on published research. Creating and publishing a video abstract for a high-quality research paper could lead to a 140% increase in Altmetric Scores and 80% more article views. Media also prefers publishing multimedia content, so whenever you can provide a stand-alone video abstract with a Creative Commons licence, most media will be interested in publishing it through their outlets.  The video abstract could be a videographic style, illustration, interview, zoom style, animation, or whatever style matches the research’s nature and the desired platform. 

  • Create a media network based on the topic

Press Releases are dead for many media outlets, and they barely pay attention to them. Alternatively, universities should invest in building a network of credible science journalists in different fields and keep in touch with them so whenever there’s a piece of worthy news, the journalists can cover it as long as it’s aligned with their preferences.  

  • Personalized Pitching to journalists 

After creating a network of journalists, Universities shall consider personalized pitching based on the topic, media outlet, and demographics instead of sharing the press release with everyone on the list. Offering personalized experiences with additional add-ons, like arranging interviews or offering extra comments, will receive more attention than sharing the press release with all journalists in the database. 

  • Offer quotes, comments and supporting material quickly 

Whenever publishing the press release about the new research, there should be contact details for the leading researcher or the media office for further questions and inquiries. Usually, journalists need more information and have further questions about the topic; offering quotes or comments and supporting materials will be beneficial in many ways, not only in covering university research but also in seeking university experts’ comments when covering research from other institutions. Offering extra comments and responses to questions quickly is a crucial hack as journalists usually have tight deadlines, and most prestigious media outlets will only publish a story with comments from the authors dedicated to the publication.  

  • Organize Media Training for your researchers

One of the challenges that we identified based on our work with many universities is the gap between researchers and journalists. Many researchers struggle to build meaningful connections with journalists, respond to their questions or highlight the value of their work in a way that the public can understand. That’s why universities should invest in media and research communication training programs for their researchers to make sure that they share clear, concise, and impactful messages. 

This article is part of our SciComm X research media ranking series, which aims to highlight the importance of promoting research from the Arab world and the new engagement initiatives launched by universities and research centers in the region.

Science communication in the Arab world is an exciting and rapidly growing field that is attracting the attention of professionals already immersed in the industry, as well as individuals aspiring to pursue a career in this field. Unfortunately, there are limited resources and opportunities for people who want to learn about science communication, especially in the Arabic language.

Currently, there are only two academic programs offering science communication training in the Arab world. The first is a master’s program in science journalism in Algeria, conducted mainly in French. The second is a bachelor’s degree in health communication at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, taught in English.  As a result, those interested in pursuing a degree in science communication often have to find themselves searching for programs outside the Arab world, primarily in English-speaking countries such as the UK, the US, Germany, or France, where they can study in either English or French, the two main secondary languages in the Arab world. But, there is still a lack of academic programs available in the Arabic language.

Importance of teaching science communication in the native language

Teaching science communication in the native language is crucial for the development of the field. In Brazil, for instance, several programs are taught in Portuguese, while in Europe, countries like Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and others offer science communication programs in their native languages. They also provide these programs in English to attract international students. That’s to say, having science communication taught in the local language is essential, as language plays a significant role in effective communication, and one’s native language shapes their perception of the world.

Additionally, considering the high illiteracy rates in the non-specialized audience of the Arab world, who primarily speak Arabic and can read in Modern Standard Arabic or Fusha Arabic, studying science communication in Arabic becomes even more important. By offering programs in the Arabic language, we can ensure accessibility and inclusivity, reaching a broader audience and promoting scientific literacy among the general public.

Contextual differences between the Arab world and the Western world

The field of science communication in academia is largely dominated by the Western world. Most research and models in this field have been formulated based on studies conducted in Western countries, where the relationships between science, society, policy-making, media, and other cultural factors, including religion, differ significantly from those in the Arab world. However, understanding the context, culture, and societal and political aspects is crucial in teaching science communication.

Also, It is crucial to consider the political context when discussing science communication in the Arab world. Many countries in the region do not have fully established democracies, and some even lack democratic practices entirely. This has implications for the relationship between research institutions, society, and the policymaking process. Additionally, the infrastructure for scientific research varies across countries, with universities and research institutions often funded by the government or the public. However, in many cases, the public has limited influence over decisions regarding the allocation of funds for scientific research. This lack of control is due to the absence of mechanisms that enable public participation. 

Therefore, if we aim to teach science communication in the Arab world, we need to develop models that consider these unique contexts and mechanisms. While we can draw on existing practices, the collaboration between practitioners and researchers in science communication is essential to create a comprehensive curriculum.

Efforts by the Arab Forum of Science Media and Communication

In the realm of science communication, collaboration holds immense significance, as I strongly believe. The Arab Forum of Science Media and Communication strives to achieve a crucial goal: fostering collaboration among universities, academics, practitioners, and researchers hailing from diverse scientific disciplines, communication, and media. Together, we aim to create a comprehensive curriculum that meets the specific requirements of the Arab world. Through this unified endeavor, our forum thrives on amalgamating expertise from various domains, ensuring that our science communication programs in Arabic remain pertinent, contemporary, and tailored to our unique context.

The Teaching Forum project

Another exciting opportunity is  the Teaching Forum project, which we are developing at the PCST Network (Global Network for Science Communication, Public Communication of Science and Technology). The Teaching Forum was conceived as a platform to gather existing science communication programs from around the world. Currently, our focus is on developing essential curricula and principles that can be adopted by universities interested in establishing science communication programs. Our primary objective with this project is to promote the sharing of best practices, facilitate the exchange of ideas, and foster the creation of a global network of science communication educators.

Building a Strong Foundation: Bridging Gaps, Empowering Professionals, Advancing Science Communication in the Arab World.

This is indeed the opportune moment for universities in the Arab world to start developing and teaching a curriculum in science communication in the Arabic language. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in science communication has continued to grow with the hosting of two COP conferences in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. These conferences shed light on the climate crisis and environmental concerns, leading to increased media coverage of these topics. As a result, there is a growing recognition among policymakers, the general public, and the media that we require individuals who can effectively communicate scientific concepts to non-specialized audiences. To meet this need, we should focus on developing science communicators and implementing science communication programs in the Arabic language. By doing so, Elsonbaty suggests that we can empower professionals in the field, cater to the local audience, and contribute to the advancement of science and society in the Arab world. 

How? Offering science communication programs in Arabic will empower professionals by providing them with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively communicate complex scientific concepts to diverse audiences. By understanding the cultural nuances and language preferences of the local audience, science communicators can create content that resonates with and engages the Arab world.

Moreover, developing a strong science communication ecosystem in the Arab world will contribute to the advancement of science and society. It will foster scientific literacy, encourage public engagement with science, and promote evidence-based decision-making. By bridging the gap between researchers, policymakers, and the public, science communication in Arabic can facilitate the translation of scientific advancements into societal benefits.

In conclusion, science communication in the Arabic realm is an increasing field that lacks resources and opportunities. Teaching science communication in Arabic is crucial for effective communication and reaching a broader audience. The unique context of the Arab world necessitates the development of indigenous models and approaches to science communication. The time is ripe for universities in the Arab world to take the initiative and develop comprehensive science communication curricula that consider the unique context, language, and societal factors. Through collaboration, we can build a strong foundation for science communication in Arabic and pave the way for a vibrant and inclusive science communication landscape in the Arab world. By bridging gaps, empowering professionals, and advancing science communication in Arabic, we can foster scientific literacy, promote public engagement, and translate scientific advancements into societal benefits. Investing in Arabic science communication programs presents a valuable opportunity for universities in the Arab world to contribute to the accessibility and progress of science and society in the region.

Sustainability has become a hot topic in our world, with many organizations aiming towards aligning their practices with the principles of sustainability. However, communicating these practices effectively to the public remains a real challenge.

Though it might seem an easy, undemanding issue, it’s somehow tricky to get your audience engaged and willing to take action. Hence, we are sharing some of our experiences to help you have a better understanding of the effective strategies and tools to create a significant and sustainable impact on the environment and how to communicate it to the public audience. So, let’s deep dive to discover the power of the green impact. 

Enlightening and concerning insights.

The first thing to be concerned about before communicating any type of data is “knowing your audience” and getting insights into what they are interested in. One of the most valuable resources to understand how people think of climate change in the MENA region is the survey published by Ipsos in 2022 to gauge people’s views on climate change. 

The results were both enlightening and concerning. So where is the disconnect?
Why are environmental communication messages falling short?

The key to making a real impact.

To make a real impact, we need to shift away from typical information-based communication strategies towards value-based and targeted messaging. According to the Ipsos survey, the current approaches being utilized by environmental communicators are not effective, as there is a significant disconnect between the effective strategies we should be implementing as environmental communicators and the current approaches being utilized. The limitations of these approaches are highlighted in a study in the Journal of Environmental Communication, which explores the coastal crisis in Louisiana. 

Values, along with worldviews and political ideology, are much more fundamental in shaping views about environmental issues than people’s level of knowledge about the subject. The values your audience already holds influence how they interpret the information they are exposed to and determine whether they accept or reject the need for greater engagement and action.

For instance, instead of saying, “We have to grow more crops to combat climate change,” a value-based message might say, “Growing more flood-resistant crops will mean we have a fair and resilient food system for the benefit of everyone as the climate changes.” This approach not only highlights the importance of growing more crops but also connects this action to the audience’s values of fairness and resilience.

By understanding the values and beliefs of their audience, environmental communicators can tailor their messaging to be more effective and impactful. This requires a shift away from traditional information-based communication strategies towards a more targeted and value-based approach. Through this approach, environmental communicators can make a real impact and inspire lasting change.

Time for value-based strategies

To effectively convey your message through values, here are some best practices for value-based environmental communication:

  • Lay the foundation

Give people the facts they need to understand environmental issues and why they matter. A base level of knowledge is essential for inspiring sustained pro-environmental behaviour.

  • Keep it local

People are more likely to engage emotionally with local examples of environmental impacts. So, highlight local animals, birds, and fish that may be affected by environmental changes.

  • Partner-up

Reports have shown that residents often feel ignored by authorities. Thus, building relationships with local partners based on mutual trust has become a key to communicating complex environmental projects.

  • Tailor your message

Traditional communication methods may fall short when it comes to mobilizing citizens about many environmental issues. Tailor your message to specific target audiences for maximum impact.

  • Keep your language simple

Using simple and easy-to-understand language when discussing complex environmental issues is an important technique for science communicators that can help simplify the message and make it more relatable.

  • Study your audience

Know more about your audience in order to communicate with them effectively. Get inside their heads and learn what drives them, what they care about, and what they value to make sure your message speaks directly to their concerns about the environment. Also, try to find out how your target audience perceives the issue and use that information to craft appropriate “hooks” (concepts, ideas, metaphors) in your writing. This way, you can rest assured that people will hear and remember what you have to say.

  • Action Knowledge

It could be achieved through two major acts:

  1. Inspire Pro-Environmental Behavior
    Environmental psychologists recommend empowering people to take action on environmental issues through both individual-level and community-level communication strategies.
    So, what you can do is to make them aware that their actions will make a difference while educating them on the results of that action so they feel like they own the problem and can help solve it. It’s also important to get them to believe in their ability to carry out the required behaviour.
  2. Bring the impact of environmental behaviour to life
    Let the audience see the impact of their behaviour, imagine understanding your energy consumption in terms of everyday items like AA batteries or visualizing the real-world effects of your actions through stunning graphics. 
    Empowering individual action starts with giving people specific, tangible steps to take and providing feedback on their performance.
  • Listen to your audience!

When it comes to environmental communication, the first thing to hit your mind is how to “tell” people your message. Although “telling” is an important aspect, listening to your audience is another crucial point that needs to be highlighted. 

By actively listening to your audience, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of how they perceive environmental problems and what motivates them to take action. By taking the time to truly hear their concerns and ideas, you’ll be able to craft solutions that resonate with them and empower them to make a difference. Your audience has valuable insights to share.

Common pitfalls in environmental science communication

  • Stereotyping

There are various types of stereotypes; gender, racial, religious stereotypes, etc.

An example of stereotyping the audience would be assuming that all rural communities are not interested in conservation efforts and only care about economic development instead of taking the time to understand their unique perspectives and concerns.

Also, assuming that all rural communities are uneducated and unwilling to adopt sustainable practices and dismissing their traditional knowledge and practices is considered a kind of stereotyping for the audience.

  • Jargon

Subjecting your audience to complicated terms might leave them confused and consequently ruin the message you want to convey. If they don’t easily understand what you’re trying to tell them, you might be missing the chance to make a difference.

  • Controversial and polarizing issues

Unless you want to divert your audience’s attention from your main message to debatable issues, try to avoid controversial topics such as religious preferences or political issues.

  • Direct mentioning of climate change

Avoid mentioning climate change directly. Instead, stick to specific, non-partisan issues that resonate with your audience, such as energy security and flood risks for political conservatives.

  • Negative appeals

These can negatively affect your message by making people resistant to taking action. 

For example, try to frame climate change as an opportunity for innovation and economic development instead of framing it as a grave environmental risk or a public health threat.

As we wrap up, we come to the conclusion that there is no single optimal strategy for conveying environmental science, as cultural norms and environmental difficulties unique to each area must be taken into account. So, the real challenge is to define the tools and practices necessary to effectively disseminate information about environmental trends in your area.