Six Practical Guidelines for Public Engagement

Image by Don Boesch, via Twitter.  Left to right: Mark Barteau, Baruch Fischhoff, Dan Sarewitz, Detram Scheufele, Roger Pielke and Nancy Baron.

The Michigan Meeting for Academic Engagement in Public and Political Discourse brought scholars, practitioners, and communicators to the University of Michigan from May 13 – 15 to discuss why and how scientific scholarship should contribute to issues of public importance. Instigated by Andrew Hoffman, a 2008 Leopold Leadership Fellow, the meeting inspired and stimulated both the people at the conference (including many faces familiar to COMPASS, such as Leopold Fellow and COMPASS board member Dawn Wright, and Leopold Fellows David Hart, Jennifer Cherrier, and Joe Arvai) and many who were following the active twitter stream #AcadEng  (click here for a Storify of tweets under #AcadEng; selected events were also filmed and are available here).

COMPASS’ own Nancy Baron attended the meeting, and along with Baruch Fischhoff, Roger Pielke Jr., Dan Sarewitz, Dietram Scheufele, and moderator Mark Barteau, discussed “What are Some Guidelines for Public Engagement?” this past Thursday. We’ve reprinted her remarks from that panel here, edited for readability.

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Wilburforce Training: The Heart Of The Matter

The 2015 Wilburforce Fellows, with trainers and journalists, at the training in Seattle

Something magical happened at the first training for the Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science two weeks ago. Once again, storytelling revealed its power to inform, to inspire and bring together a group of people focused on a common cause.

The fellowship originated with Amanda Stanley, the Wilburforce Foundation’s Conservation Science Program Officer. When she approached COMPASS to partner with her and Wilburforce and help design the fellowship, we leapt at the chance. Our shared dream is to build a network of conservation scientists who can successfully bridge the science-to-society gap by being strong communicators, leaders, and agents of change. We not only want them to connect to their science in new ways, we want to them to connect to each other, so they can support each other in the inevitable ups and downs that come with tackling big challenges.

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Farewell to Chad English: A Pioneer at the Science-Policy Interface

Chad at the April 2015 Wilburforce Fellows training in Seattle.

We like to think that our work speaks for itself, through the scientists we train, the communities we build, and the conversations we spark. As coaches, connectors and enablers, we are intentionally and happily behind the scenes. We prepare, support, and cheer for the researchers on the front lines to share their scientific insights with the world. This week I want to focus on one of our behind-the-scenes champions – Dr. Chad English, whose last day here at COMPASS was May 1st. He pioneered our work at the science-policy interface, and his influence will be felt for years to come.

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Our Stories: Scott Doney

We often blog here with brief updates or reflections on our work, while our website provides examples and descriptions of what we do. Over the coming weeks, we are excited to share a series of our stories, focused on longer timelines and richer details. We hope you enjoy!

Dr. Scott Doney, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

Our first story highlights one of the most rewarding, and enjoyable, aspects of our work: building relationships with scientists and supporting them as they surpass our (and their own!) best hopes.

As a Leopold Leadership Fellow in 2004, Dr. Scott Doney gamely participated in one of our trainings. He drafted his Message Box, sweated through his mock interview scenarios, and learned about journalism and policymaking. As a marine chemist, he thought that the policy work seemed interesting but unlikely. “I thought, this is all well and good for other folks, but I’ll never get asked. I would have never guessed, sitting in the training doing the testimony, that that would be me one day.” [Read more...]

Assembling (Science) Networks Online

“People never ask whether birds are good or bad because they fly in flocks,” I say, while a murmuration of starlings whirls on the screen behind me. I pause, letting the audience watch the dark forms flow across the sky, “but discussions of social media always seem to focus on how these technologies turn us into a mindless mob. It’s a condemnation and a dismissal. I hope we stop thinking like that and instead, ask better questions about what drives these amazing patterns of behavior online and off.”

This is my favorite moment in our workshops on social media. I feel grounded – like we can step back and take a deep breath, soothed by the strange and beautiful rhythms of the flock coming to roost as dusk falls. It reminds me too, of days online where I’m one of the flock, banking and wheeling as memes and must-reads ripple across twitter.

It’s not just entertainment either – the hive mind is capable of mind-boggling knowledge production. Whether it’s crowd-sourced science projects like FoldIt (protein folding), EyeWire (neuron mapping), Galaxy Zoo (analyzing Hubble images) or expert communities like the Polymath Project, (blog-based “massively collaborative mathematics”), the social media swarm can both work and play.

But what if you don’t have a flock? 
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Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

Whether for a scientific paper or a news article, titles and headlines have a pretty tough job. They need to grab your attention and make you want to know more, while also avoiding false pretenses that leave you feeling betrayed by time you are halfway through reading. Many scientists often view these things as an add-on, but studies have shown that headlines can significantly influence readers. And we have found that thinking about headlines can actually be a useful way to take your Message Box to the next level. Of course, scientists don’t get to choose headlines for news stories about their work – in fact, that task usually goes to the editor of the piece – but thinking about what you would like the headline to say can be a useful exercise in distilling your science down even further.

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Prepare to Engage at AAAS 2016

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Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 10.54.55 AMWe are beginning to see the first few signs of spring here in Washington D.C. and are eagerly anticipating the famed cherry blossoms. It’s also the time of year to prepare for the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference. In 2016, it will be held in Washington D.C. from February 11-15. As you might be aware, the submission deadline for sessions is Friday April 24, 2015. Over the next three weeks, we hope you consider proposing a session or planning to attend. [Read more...]

5 Steps for Integrating #SciComm into STEM Graduate Education

Last month, an article in The Atlantic stated, “Beginning this year, the Medical College Admission Test [MCAT] will contain questions involving human behavior and psychology, a recognition that being a good doctor “requires an understanding of people,” not just science.”  The same is true of being a good scientist. Understanding people is essential for succeeding in everything from teaching, collaboration, and grant writing to media interviews, public engagement, and Congressional testimony.

Yet traditional training in medicine, science, engineering, and other technical disciplines is not helping students to develop the suite of communication skills they need to succeed. How should graduate training shift to better equip STEM professionals for their future careers? [Read more...]

Before You Hit ‘Send’: How To Write Effective Meeting Requests

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We’ve said it before: scientists have a lot to contribute to policy discussions.  Policymakers welcome candid, cutting-edge information, and you really are the best one to share your research because you have the passion, the knowledge, and the expertise.  Our blog has lots of tips for what to do once you’re in the room with a policymaker – from understanding your own bias and role to describing your work and field within a policy context – but how do you go about getting that meeting in the first place?

Policymakers are busy people, whether you’re seeing a congressional committee staffer in Washington, D.C. or your district representative for your state legislature, so it’s important to make your initial outreach clear, concise, and salient!
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Packing It All In

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Before I started traveling more often for work, I used to pack for trips by thinking about all of the things I wanted to bring with me…and then stuffing as much as possible into my allowed luggage. Who knows, I just might need three different pairs of flip-flops! But as this chore became more frequent, I realized how often I didn’t really use most of what I brought, and that my packing method was exhausting both to execute and lug around airports. And so, like any good scientist, I re-examined my method and realized that I should focus on just the things that I thought would be the most useful. Those extra pairs of flip-flops would be waiting when I returned home, and I could always purchase something I needed on the road in a pinch.
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