Briefing Debrief: ‘Shoring Up’ Scientists Share Their Perspectives On Visiting The Hill

As many of our readers know, COMPASS works with scientists to help them share their work with the wider world – especially journalists and policymakers. Last week, COMPASS worked with the American Meteorological Society to bring four researchers to Capitol Hill to talk about the role of natural infrastructure in coastal protection.

This week marks the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, an event that catalyzed new federal investments and directives to understand how to build economic, community and ecological resilience for our nation’s coasts – efforts that have begun to bear fruit. This briefing brought together researchers to discuss the state of the science and our understanding of the benefits and trade-offs of using natural and nature-based approaches to enhance coastal resilience. See our previous blog post for more details.

As with all COMPASS policy events, our goal was to create an opportunity for the scientists to share what they know – and why it matters – with policymakers and to build relationships as trusted resources going forward.

Part of the fun is to hear from scientists what their experience was like. We asked them all a few questions about the day, and share some of their responses below.

Shoring Up Briefing; Mary Ruckelshaus speaking. Seated, left to right: Ariana Sutton Grier, Todd Bridges, Liz Smith, David Malakoff (moderator).

Shoring Up Briefing; Mary Ruckelshaus speaking. Seated, left to right: Ariana Sutton Grier, Todd Bridges, Liz Smith, David Malakoff (moderator).

Q: What did you think about the day? Did anything surprise you about the experience?

Mary Ruckelshaus (MR): I loved it- it was really interesting to hear the policy maker’s questions and ideas for follow up. A surprise was that some people we met with seemed to expect more of a lobbying perspective, rather than our neutral, scientist points.

Ariana Sutton-Grier (ASG): I had such a good time! I was surprised we didn’t get more “tough” or “hostile” questions at any point during the day.  Everyone we met with genuinely seemed really interested in the topic.

Q: What advice would you give another scientist who is about to meet with congressional staff? 

Todd Bridges (TB): I’ve found that one of the most effective ways to communicate science is to frame your key messages within a story.  Stories help provide context, meaning, and relevance for science.

Liz Smith (LS): Have your 5-minute story and, maybe more importantly, your 2-minute story ready to go. Use the message box tool! I love it!

MR: Don’t be afraid to ask the policymakers early in the discussion where their interests lie.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge in communicating your science to policymakers?

ASG: Sometimes just finding the time to talk with folks in the policy world is really challenging.  It is also hard to convince them sometimes that the science matters to what they are concerned about.  You have to work to make those linkages explicit for them and then they will often listen very carefully.

LS: Translation. We speak two different languages and it is not always as simple as asking –what do you need? The most fruitful experiences come from long term relationships – where science and policy work together. I see events such as this briefing as an opportunity to cultivate more of these relationships.

Q: Do you see this experience influencing your future work in any way? If so, how? 

TB: Very much so.  These engagements help me identify and clarify the science gaps that need to be filled.

ASG: It is really great to know that the interest in natural infrastructure continues to grow.  I see a need for continued outreach on the topic since so many people still are unaware of the important role of ecosystems in storm and erosion risk reduction.

A huge thank-you to these scientists who participated in the day’s events, both for their time and for their willingness to share their experiences!

Interested in seeing more from the briefing? To download the slides, click here; for the handout, click here.

On Capitol Hill, from left to right: Erica Goldman, Ariana Sutton-Grier, Todd Bridges, Liz Smith, Heather Mannix, Ya'el Seid-Green.

On Capitol Hill, from left to right: Erica Goldman, Ariana Sutton-Grier, Todd Bridges, Liz Smith, Heather Mannix, Ya’el Seid-Green.

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