Public Interest Communications Summer Institute 2024

2024 Summer Institute

Hope was the theme of the 2024 Public Interest Communications Summer Institute, held in Denver from May 28 to 30. Attendees came from throughout the country to explore the academic discipline of public interest communications and to share their hopeful vision of the future. This year’s format was workshop-based to give participants an opportunity for more conversations, questions, sharing and learning. We had a record number of grad students – about 40 – and added a session for them to present and get feedback on their research in a low-stress environment. The program, facilitator list and photos are available here.

View the Facilitators View the Photo Gallery

The Program

Institute Theme: Hope

At this time in our world, when so many people around the globe face war, famine and unimaginable suffering, it is only fitting to draw upon the profound wisdom of the visionary science-fiction novelist and Afrofuturist Octavia Butler, who wrote: “The very act of trying to look ahead to discern possibilities and offer warnings is in itself an act of hope.”

What exactly is hope? It depends upon the context and the people you ask. Hope is not something oft-discussed and used in academic circles. Communication scholars have tiptoed around the idea of hope and the evoking of hope in messages. But it’s vital for practitioners to embrace hope in public interest communications work. Hope must be a part of a strategy to engage and motivate people to act for positive social change. Hope is the emotion that helps them believe that change is possible and that they have a meaningful role to play in making that change happen.

Holding hope requires a commitment to optimism and a dedication to possibility. It means that we think beyond the traditional forms of power and strategy and make things new. Throughout this institute, we will engage in thought-provoking discussions, share inspiring stories, ponder over theoretical and methodological questions and cultivate a community of practice and theory. We will be grounded in the power of hope. Please join us!

Program Tracks

To provide something for everyone – whether you are a researcher, instructor, grad student, administrator or practitioner – we’re offering four types of sessions. They will focus on 1) research; 2) public interest communications concepts; 3) pedagogy; and 4) the intersection between public interest communications and other disciplines. Descriptions and planned sessions are below.

Program Schedule

Tuesday, May 28

6-8 p.m. – Welcome reception with music by MSU student Gavin Eschholz leading a jazz trio
Location: Reception Hall | Level 2, Springhill Suites

Wednesday, May 29

8-8:30 a.m. – Breakfast
Location: Ballroom | Level 2, Springhill Suites

8:30-9:30 a.m. – Welcome to the institute! A session for all participants.
Location: Ballroom | Level 2, Springhill Suites

9:45-11 a.m.

Exploration session 1: A Public Interest Communications primer. Are you new to public interest communications? Don’t worry! We’ve got you covered! In this session, two expert communicators from Spitfire Strategies will introduce you to basic concepts and frameworks.
Facilitators: Erin Hart and Necole Norris.
Location: LoRaine Good | Room 444, Tivoli Student Union

Exploration session 2: Community-engaged research in action: Meet the Denver Journal of Education and Community. In Denver, a unique academic journal is putting community-engaged research concepts into practice. The Denver Journal of Education and Community engages the community, inviting community members to share stories and experiences with one another. The journal then connects the community experiences to scholarship and policy, ensuring that community voices are reflected in journal content. In this session, the journal editor will share how he does it.
Facilitators: antwan jefferson and Spencer Childress
Location: Reitze | Room 542, Tivoli Student Union

Exploration session 3: Navigating the challenges of behavior change campaigns. Social change is hard. Getting the right tools can make it easier. Bring your experience, ideas and questions to this lively discussion about the theory and practice of social change. Learn how behavior change agency Marketing for Change uses insights from behavioral science to move people from awareness to action, and learn practical lessons from a public awareness campaign on the prevention of violence recently developed, tested, and launched by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado Boulder. Wrap up the session by playing a strategy card game that will help you apply concepts from the workshop to your own (real or simulated) social change challenge.
Facilitators: Sara Isaac and Sarah Goodrum
Location: Senate Chambers | Room 329, Tivoli Student Union

11:15 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Exploration session 1: Grad student research presentations and brainstorm. This session is designed to help grad students move forward in their work. Here is your opportunity to present and get feedback on your research as well as brainstorm your research ideas with faculty and other grad students. This is designed to be a low-key, low-stress way to get advice and assistance! Sign up here.
Location: Ballroom | Level 2, Springhill Suites

Exploration session 2: Helping students navigate the challenges of community-engaged research. Community-engaged research provides unique opportunities for faculty, students, and community partners to address ongoing social issues on the ground. But it comes with challenges. What are they, and how can we guide students toward successful collaborations? This session will use an asset-based approach that centers on the communities most impacted by histories of national dispossession along various axes (e.g. race, class, gender). It will encourage us, as educators and co-learners, to use our own and our students’ funds of knowledge to strategize collaborative and impactful ways for community engagement both inside and outside the classroom.
Facilitators: Teresa Gonzales and Janiece Mackey
Location: LoRaine Good | Room 444, Tivoli Student Union

12:30-1:30 p.m. – Lunch
Location: Ballroom | Level 2, Springhill Suites

1:45-3 p.m.

Exploration session 1: Making your research make a difference. How do you make sure your insights get to the people who can apply it? Two experts whose work has been used by state and national policymakers will take you through the steps they use and invite tips from others in the room. Learn how to reach policymakers and ensure they understand and use your research to advance positive social change. Facilitators: Julia Fraustino and Hamilton Bean
Location: Senate Chambers | Room 329, Tivoli Student Union

Exploration session 2: U.S. case studies: Meeting people where they are. Words matter. Shared values matter. Research matters. In this interactive session, we’ll examine how advocates developed and honed their messaging on two issues that have been at the center of some of the most divisive policy debates of the past decade – climate change and voting rights. Through two recent case studies, you’ll learn how research and field experience helped shape the way we talk about these critical issues and how that messaging continues to evolve.
Facilitators: Joe Newman and Mark Morgenstein
Location: LoRaine Good | Room 444, Tivoli Student Union

Exploration session 3: Black Joy: Hip Hop, Health, and Hope. In this workshop, facilitators will engage with Black joy as a practice of radical defiance connected to loving Blackness (bell hooks, 1995) and physical and emotional well-being.  Specifically, we ask how hip hop gives us the capacity to reimagine our understanding of Blackness and re-envision the relationship between Black joy and health.
Facilitators: Angel McGee, Danielle Hodge and Chris Omni
Location: Reitze | Room 542, Tivoli Student Union

3:15-4:30 p.m.

Exploration session 1: The art of persuasion. In this session, we’ll provide an overview of foundational persuasion communication research concepts and practical narrative change strategies. We’ll share applied examples and invite you to participate in workshopping activities that can help you make compelling public interest communications campaigns and/or conduct innovative related research.
Facilitators: Spiro Kiousis and Yewande Addie
Location: LoRaine Good | Room 444, Tivoli Student Union

Exploration session 2: Public interest communications and rhetoric. In this session, we’ll explore how the study of rhetoric – which seeks to understand how public discourse shapes our society and culture – dovetails with public interest communications, which incorporates cognitive linguistics as well as framing and messaging research for positive social change. Building on the conference theme of hope, this session will explain the ways that rhetoric works to inspire hope for the public’s interest. During the session participants can expect to learn how and practice the strategies activists, politicians, and others have used to inspire hope in the people around them to change their world for the better.
Facilitators: Darrian Carroll and Aaron Zeiler
Location: Senate Chambers | Room 329, Tivoli Student Union

Exploration session 3: Bridge building with Civity. In public interest communications, we seek to find common ground and identify shared values. Organizations are putting this into practice by bringing together people with different views and helping them find common ground. In this session, Civity co-founder and research director Palma Joy Strand will take us through bridge-building exercises her organization uses to foster relationships of respect and empathy among people with differing beliefs.
Facilitators: Palma Strand and Ann Searight
Location: Events Lab 200 | Level 2, SpringHill Suites

4:45-5:45 p.m. – Mingling and reception
Location: Reception Hall | Level 2, Springhill Suites

6-7:30 p.m. – Dinner and trivia game!
Location: Ballroom | Level 2, Springhill Suites

After dinner – Historic walk of downtown Denver. Sign-up required.
Location: Lobby | Springhill Suites

Thursday, May 30

8-9 a.m. – Breakfast
Location: Ballroom | Level 2, Springhill Suites

9-10:15 a.m.

Exploration session 1:  Public interest communications and journalismThough a foundational ideal of journalism is to inform the public, much mainstream coverage today seems to fall short of this goal, with some media outlets opening the door to content that may instead seek to get attention, entertain and at worst misinform. This has become particularly problematic in our elections and campaign coverage. Public interest communications concepts can help journalists and news outlets be more purposeful in their coverage. Strategies such as centering and being responsive to communities affected by stories; being intentional about framing, language and word choice; and collaborating across news outlets, community groups and other stakeholders can ensure that news stories provide needed context, include relevant voices and truly inform the publics served.
Facilitators: Gina Baleria, Aubrey Nagle and Mike McDevitt
Location: Senate Chambers | Room 329, Tivoli Student Union

Exploration session 2: Global case studies: short- and long-term interventions in the Global South. How do public interest communicators design communication strategies for broad and complex problems? Hear two practitioners explain. They’ll explore a short-term intervention designed in a complex emergency setting and a long-term, intervention that addresses multiple behaviors, across different country contexts, with multi-stakeholder engagement.Yana Manyuk and Edith Asibey will discuss two case studies; one in Brazil, and the other multi-country intervention in Rwanda, Kenya and Bangladesh, that leverage digital listening,  private-public partnerships, behavioral science and social marketing to change attitudes and behaviors in the short and long term. Participants will engage with the case studies, and help troubleshoot as they gain concrete insights for their own reflection and practice.
Facilitators: Edith Asibey and Yana Manyuk
Location: Reitze | Room 542, Tivoli Student Union 

Exploration session 3: Public interest communications and the social sciences. Public interest communications is about framing messages and evoking emotions to motivate people to act. But where does the content behind these messages come from? How can public interest communicators find the information and analyses they need to present accurate and enlightening messages to their audiences?  We’ll address these questions and more in this session. The substance of public interest communications messaging helps shape widespread understandings of the scope and scale of societal problems, and it informs the solutions we pursue.  We’ll begin with a look at the work of sociologist Jennifer Reich, who will draw from her research on vaccine decision-making during Covid to explore her experiences of working with media, translating data for public audiences and policy makers, and the costs and benefits of doing so. We’ll explore how the information and ideas of social scientists can help us identify avenues to advancing positive social change. We’ll also hear from sociologist Charles Gattone on how to find insightful and fact-based sources of information and rely on research – one’s own or that of others – to effectively and compellingly communicate on a wide range of issues. Participants will gain insight into how to access accurate information, discuss how audiences weigh claims and evidence to make decisions, and identify strategies for engaging social research in the messages they create.
Facilitators: Charles Gattone and Jennifer Reich
Location: LoRaine Good | Room 444, Tivoli Student Union

10:30-11:45 a.m.

Exploration session 1: Measuring success in public interest communications. How do we measure success in public interest communications? It’s not the same as PR, where we measure a return on investment or sales. In this session, we will outline the key parameters, benchmarks and guidelines for measuring success in public interest communications campaigns.
Facilitators: Natalie Tindall and Aaron Zeiler
Location: LoRaine Good | Room 444, Tivoli Student Union

Exploration session 2:  Inspiring students and connecting them to careers in public interest communications. Connecting students to the field shows them the many opportunities available upon graduation. We’ll offer tips on how to inspire students to go into public interest work and open the door to opportunities in public interest communications.
Facilitators: Ranata Hughes and Gisele McAuliffe
Location: Events Lab 200 | Level 2, SpringHill Suites

Exploration session 3: Meet the Journal of Public Interest Communications. Stop by and meet Cody Hays, co-editor of the Journal of Public Interest Communications. He’ll explain how you can showcase your work in this open-access publication.
Location: Reitze | Room 542, Tivoli Student Union

12-12:30 p.m.

Reflections: Advancing the work going forward
Location: Ballroom | Level 2, Springhill Suites

1:30-4:30 p.m.

Syllabus workshop. Pre-registration required.
Location: Room: LoRaine Good | Room 444, Tivoli Student Union

This event is organized by the Public Interest Communications Educators Network. For questions, contact or


UF College of Journalism and Communications UF CJC Dept. of Public Relations

UF CJC Online Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations

We are grateful as well to Betsy Karel for her generous support of this event and of UF’s public interest communications program.