Farewell To Chad English: A Pioneer At The Science-Policy Interface

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.

Chad at the April 2015 Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science training in Seattle.

Chad at the April 2015 Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science training in Seattle.

I’ll never forget the first time I talked with Chad, a little over 8 years ago. A day after the deadline had passed, Chad phoned me to ask if we would still consider his application to be our Director of Science Policy Outreach. “I just saw the announcement, and it’s just so exciting. I’m hoping you’ll accept my application a bit late.”

And so began my tolerance for Chad occasionally being a bit late on things, because when he delivers, he delivers elegantly and wonderfully. In this 5-minute phone call, I gleaned a few facts: Chad was working for the House Committee on Science, had been a Knauss Fellow (in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation) and had a PhD from Scripps. These credentials suit COMPASS – we love “multilingual” staff who speak not only the language of science, but also policy and journalism. But what I also gleaned from this brief exchange was that I simply liked this guy. He truly cared, not just about science, but about scientists themselves. Chad was genuine, honest, straightforward, humble, passionate, and enthusiastic – all characteristics that make for a great member of the COMPASS team.

I interviewed Chad a few weeks later. We were looking to elevate and expand our work to connect scientists to policy discussions. We had a strong history of bringing scientists to Capitol Hill to brief members of Congress about the latest ocean science. While this was great, we wanted to do more (and eventually move beyond oceans). We wanted scientists to engage more deeply and reach broader policy audiences, although we didn’t know yet how we would accomplish this. Chad didn’t have the answers in that interview about how to do it. But what he had was an appreciation and belief in the goal, an entrepreneurial drive to figure it out, experience as a scientist and a Hill staffer, and all the right stuff to be a coach, teacher and connector.

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Chad has supported many scientists on the Hill as they engaged with policymakers. Image by Photo Op for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

And figure it out, he did. He experimented, innovated, and strategized. He was generous – with his ideas and with himself.

Here’s what Chad ultimately did for COMPASS:

Trained scientists to find their “so what”, and gave them practical tips to engage with policy audiences. Chad led the way in diversifying our policy training offerings from basic understanding of the culture of policymakers to highly customized advanced trainings geared at helping scientists achieve their own goals for the changes they want to see in the world.

Coached scientists to prepare for briefings, meetings, and hearings, by listening, reflecting, and giving thoughtful, personalized advice.

Connected scientists to the Hill (on both sides of the aisle in both chambers of Congress), to agencies, to the White House, and other Executive Offices (like the Office of Management and Budget). Chad went beyond briefings, and ensured that real, meaningful conversations happened.

Changed the field by championing theory and practice around the roles of boundary organizations. Chad also sought ways for us to partner with other organizations to provide resources to scientists, like the Engaging Scientists and Engineers in Policy program through AAAS.

Chad’s commitment to support scientists to be more effective communicators, and then connect them to relevant people, in relevant places, at relevant times, is core to COMPASS’ DNA. His leadership helped us realize our larger evolution from a broadcast model of science communication to a model that facilitates conversation, interaction, and relationships. For many great examples of Chad’s work, see our 2013 PLOS paper, “COMPASS: Navigating the Rules of Scientific Engagement.”

What is the impact of Chad’s work? Hundreds of scientists are better prepared and empowered to engage in the world and navigate what often feels like an intimidating policy landscape (both figuratively and literally—Chad is well-known among scientists for helping them navigate the underground maze between the Capitol buildings). The relationships and connections he has forged will contribute to more robust thinking and solutions around topics spanning ecosystem services, ocean acidification, fisheries, coral reefs, wildfire, and climate change.

Importantly, Chad also grew a program and a team – mentoring others to carry on his work. I’ve always believed that the true test of a person’s success is what happens after they leave.

Chad and his family will be moving to California next month as he joins the David and Lucile Packard Foundation as their new Science Program Officer. We’ll miss Chad’s crazy shirts, love of umami, enthusiasm, generosity, sharp strategic sense, ability to listen, and genuine care for our mission and his teammates. He leaves a strong legacy. We‘ll build on the groundwork he laid to grow our capacity and ability to help scientists effectively engage in the public discourse about the environment. Please join us in thanking Chad for all he’s brought to COMPASS’ work and wishing him well on the next leg of his journey.

 

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About Brooke Smith

Brooke Smith is the former Executive Director of COMPASS. She spends a lot of time thinking about the friction - yet incredible need - for science to be closer to society. She is in awe, and appreciative, of the scientists that are paving the way by getting out there and sharing their science, knowledge and insights with the wider world. It motivates her to ensure COMPASS continues to thrive, to support scientists to find their voice, and to join the most relevant conversations.

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