Quinnipiac Assignment 13 – ICM 527 – The Center for Science in the Public Interest
This week, I decided to look at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) describes itself as “a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science.”
Strategies and Tactics
The CSPI mainly uses proactive communications strategies in an effort to present a positive image to its publics. As Smith, on pages 130 – 140 writes, one proactive strategy is newsworthy communications. And on page 113, Smith indicates that a proactive strategy enables an organization to launch a communication program under the conditions and according to the timelines that seem to best fit the organization’s interests. E. g. this includes generating publicity, presenting newsworthy information, and developing a transparent communications process.
For the CSPI, one significant communications strategy is to showcase their past accomplishments. Making a case for future donations, the Center outlines how it has been fighting for consumers since 1971 (although the listed accomplishments only date back to 1973). Current communications are made on the organization’s blog, FoodDay.
Tactics include the existence of an online community, which a visitor to the site is urged to join every time they refresh the page. However, it doesn’t seem to be forums (which would be expected). Rather, the community might be the Facebook page or the Nutrition Action Health Letter, which is the organization’s newsletter. It’s hard to say; the site is unclear about whatever this ‘community’ is supposed to entail, and what sort of power they might wield, if any. It seems that their tactics encompass organizational media as outlined by Smith on page 229. A community should be able to engage in a degree of give and take, but the Facebook page doesn’t seem to have much in the way of responses to posters, and the newsletter is an even more one-sided method of organization communication.
If I were strategic counsel for the organization, the community would be a real community, with actual give and take. Tweets would be answered, as would Facebook posts. The public would not be ignored.
The organization’s main publics are people concerned about food safety for themselves and for their children. Hence parents are a component but not every communication is geared toward them. A side interest for the organization’s publics is an overall concern about health, as the front page of the website has links to articles about supplements, dieting (a huge online interest – just Google the word ‘diet’ and you get nearly half a billion hits), and rating coffee house foods. All three of these articles seem to be targeting nonparents, whereas articles on school lunches, candy at checkout counters, and children’s restaurant menus seem to be squarely aimed at parent publics.
Effectiveness seems to be mixed. As noted above, urgings to join a community reveals that there really isn’t a community to speak of. The Facebook page and Twitter stream both spew content but don’t answer community queries or engage with the community (although, in all fairness, there was a November 26, 2015 tweet wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.
The Pinterest profile is a bit better in that a lot of the pins come from offsite or are repinnings. The Healthy Thanksgiving pinboard is colorful and attractive without being overly busy and precious like Pinterest pins can sometimes be. It did not look like a lot of impossible to re-create craft items, and instead was filled with practical recipes.
The CSPI’s image does need some help, though. While their rating on Charity Navigator is a respectable 3/4 stars, a quick Google reveals two significant criticisms of the organization. AlterNet reveals that the CSPI is against labeling GMO foods as such. A PDF on the CSPI site bolsters this statement, wherein the CSPI appears to be endorsing a statement that GMO foods are not harmful and thereby don’t need any form of special identification.
The other, and more significant critique, comes from AlcoholFacts.org. In a well-researched (albeit seemingly slanted) article, Alcohol Facts states, “Center for Science in the Public Interest distributes its reports without peer review, contrary to the way real science operates. … Without peer review, an advocacy report full of erroneous and misleading statistics can be passed off to the public as a scientific report. That’s exactly what Center for Science in the Public Interest does.”
The CSPI does not seem to have reacted to either criticism. Could this be the deliberate inaction strategy as outline by Smith on page 145? Or did the Center just drop the ball?
Tying it back to the ILSC
For the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration (ILSC), the Center’s website provides some lessons on how to proceed. For one, when mentioning a community (and mentioning it ad nauseum, as the prompt to join their community comes up with every single page refresh), the Center is writing communications checks that it is not cashing. Why say something is a community when it so clearly is not? The ILSC needs to pay attention to its communications promises to its publics. Calling something a community does not make it so – communities are defined by shared bilateral communications. Weinberg & Pehlivan (2011), on page 277, define a community’s (and other social media) objectives as including “Conversation, sharing, collaboration, engagement, evangelism”. That does not happen when a public is talked at.
The ILSC can also take away the idea of developing a means of reacting to online criticism. The AlterNet and Alcohol Facts critiques of the Center are not going away. Not addressing these criticisms does not do the Center any favors. Instead, the Center looks as if it does not care about what is said about it, and its ignoring of the posts by its own Facebook and Twitter followers bolsters that impression. In order to stand out and better serve its own publics, the ILSC has got to not only listen to its followers, its fans, and its critics – it also has to answer them.
Added Applications of the RPIE Strategic Process
For the RPIE process (e. g. Research, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation), the review of the Center’s website and their other online presences reveals that implementation cannot be overlooked. All the research and planning in the world does not amount to much if an organization does not seem to do anything with the available information out there.
The Center is shouting. Its community does not seem to be a community at all. Imperfect implementation is to blame, but at least that can be fixed.