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K-State Today

October 28, 2016

Colene Lind studies how citizens speak out on important public issues

Submitted by Sarah Hancock

Colene Lind, assistant professor of communication studies, is studying a topic near and dear to the hearts and wallets of many Kansans: How citizens communicate about water issues with neighbors and public officials as they work together to set goals and policy. She shared her findings earlier this year at three conferences, two of which were international.

This summer, Lind attended the 66th annual International Communication Association Conference in Japan and presented "How Citizens Use Language to Signal Commitments in Environmental Decision-Making," in which she analyzed speeches made by local citizens as they presented draft water-use goals to a state board. Lind found that participants could be reliably identified as engaged or disengaged from decision-making based on their relative use of words indicating cooperation, proximity and social obligation. Lind participated in a preconference workshop at which she discussed how her application of rhetorical criticism helps improve civic discourse. Encouraging participants to reflect on local conditions, for example, tends to emphasize local interests, too.

"It is difficult to think and speak about two things at once, but the more balanced are our discourses between the local and the global, the more likely our policies will reflect the needs of both," Lind said.

Lind also presented her research at the fifth Iowa State University Summer Symposium on Science Communication in Ames. Her presentation, "Speaking of Place," explored how references to local places help and hinder decision-making in the water arena. Then, at the Under Western Skies conference in Calgary, Alberta, at the end of September, Lind presented results regarding the role of "commonality" in policy-making speech, meaning language that indicates unity and uniformity. Lind found that participants who advocated for market-based incentives to address water shortages used more commonality than did those supporting education and conservation initiatives. The biennial conference at Mount Royal University brings together scientists, humanities scholars and practitioners on an environmental topic, with this year's being water.

Lind's ultimate goal is to improve public collaboration to solve environmental problems.

"The greatest compliments I can get are from meeting conveners saying they find my research helpful. I got that kind of feedback in Calgary, and I'm hoping it will lead to a new collaboration on community efforts to mitigate climate change effects," Lind said.

Lind will present her findings at 10 a.m. Oct. 28 in 1063 Durland Hall as part of the K-State Climate Change research group, and Nov. 15 at the Governor's Water Conference.

Lind's travel to the International Communication Association Conference was supported by the communication studies department and a Faculty Development Award from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs in fall 2015.