On the front lines of university science communication: Explaining shale extraction and development to stakeholders
The following study explores how individuals within two land-grant universities—Ohio State University (OSU) and Penn State University (PSU)—have managed external communication with stakeholders in the context of shale development over the last 10 years. Interviews with 16 participants occurred between 2017 and 2018. Results showed that participants worked with stakeholders to address multi-dimensional issues associated with hydraulic fracturing at very local, responsive, and relationship-focused levels. Landowners, community leaders, county commissioners, local and state government regulators, and policymakers were recognized as main stakeholders. Maintaining neutrality served as an important strategy for building trustworthiness. However, appearing neutral became increasingly difficult with external stakeholders communicating asymmetrically in uncontrolled and unfamiliar settings such as in public meetings and through social media. By illuminating how these individuals were oriented toward the issues and attempted to balance stakeholder-focused communication, the study fills an important void to help improve university communication about hydraulic fracturing in the future.