Sunday, February 08, 2009

CIRM Launches Public Forums With Cast of Stem Cell Headliners

The California stem cell agency will conduct six public meetings in the next three months aimed at promoting the cause of stem cell research and airing proposed changes in its strategic direction.

A gaggle of stem cell research stars will be featured at three Town Hall meetings March 18 in San Francisco, March 31 in San Diego and April 22 in Los Angeles. Their challenge will be to pass the "Taxicab Talk Test," a communications effectiveness measure that originated in La Jolla, Ca.

Two other meetings will focus on the CIRM strategic plan March 5 at the City of Hope in Duarte in the Los Angeles area and March 11 in San Francisco. The purpose is to gather public comment about the proposed changes in CIRM's strategic plan. Another session focused on the business community is scheduled for Feb. 20 at Invitrogen in Carlsbad, Ca.

Nearly all public meetings of the state's $3 billion stem cell agency generate meager audiences, 20 or less in most cases. Whether the latest sessions can generate bigger numbers will be one measure of their success.

We asked Don Gibbons, chief communications officer for CIRM, about the Town Hall forums and outreach efforts to build attendance. He replied,
"These town forums are about educating anyone in the public that we can convince to attend, and, yes, they are strictly science, an update on the progress with their tax dollars. The one in SF is on Market Street after work so that we can get members of the business community. We are printing posters for the Muni/Bart tunnels along Market Street and doing outreach through the email lists of our grantee institutions and patient groups."
Part of CIRM's mission is to educate the public and promote human embryonic stem cell science. While polls show support for the research, the public has only a vague understanding of what is involved and the likelihood of success. That makes public support vulnerable to sudden changes should bad news surface.

PR and communications efforts such as CIRM's have several objectives. One is shore up support from those already in favor hESC research. Another is to reach out and rope in new advocates. Still another is or should be to gather names and email addresses of attendees to build databases for further communications efforts.

One measure of CIRM's success is the Taxicab Talk Test, a concept that we heard first from researcher Jeanne Loring of Scripps in La Jolla, but that we have now reconfigured as a "communications effectiveness measure." She said all researchers should be able to lay out the case for hESC for a taxi driver during a five-minute ride. That means speaking with clarity, brevity and persuasiveness. By the end of the ride, the driver should be nodding in agreement. But, of course, he or she is also motivated by the possibility of a handsome tip.

As far as we know, CIRM is not offering "tips" to attendees at its meetings. But it should circulate feedback forms in the audience to test the effectiveness of the speakers and the general presentation. Something similar should be done at the meetings on the strategic plan to seek written comment from those who may not have a chance or desire to speak publicly.

In addition to Loring, here are the speakers scheduled to appear at the three Town Hall meetings: Renee Reijo Pera of Stanford, Tamara Alliston of UC San Francisco, Bruce Conklin of UC San Francisco, Mahendra Rao of Invitrogen, Stuart Lipton of the Burnham Institute, Hanna Mikkola of UCLA, Donald Kohn of Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and Leslie Thompson of UC Irvine. Sphere: Related Content

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