Making Your Science Relevant To Policymakers: Pondering Advice From Newt Gingrich

Reach out and schedule a coffee or lunch, or drop by an office when you're in town. Build relationships and policy relevance. Image by Meg Gilley

I recently heard Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and an academic historian by training, address an audience of environmental and health scientists at the annual conference of the National Council on Science and the Environment.

Gingrich, a staunch right-wing conservative whose relationship with science has been described as “complicated,” addressed a silent and visibly tense audience at a lunchtime plenary. He began with, “You can hunker down and decide you want to be oppositionist and that you are going to hate everything and life will be terrible, or you can dig in and work with the administration.”

His remarks struck a chord. Ever since, I have been reflecting on what this means for those of you who want to engage with policymakers. [Read more…]

Keep Advocating For Science, But Don’t Forget To Engage

Humanizing the conversation about science helps to bridge the chasms between science and society. 


zurheide-online via Flickr
(CC BY-ND 2.0)

Like many of you right now, we at COMPASS are reflecting on our relationship with advocacy. Just as we advise scientists, figuring out where you fall on the advocacy spectrum is a personal choice—it’s not a matter of right or wrong. We have long described ourselves as an organization that is “non-partisan and non-advocacy.” While we don’t advocate for specific environmental policies or legislation, we do (and always have) advocate for science and scientists to be at tables where decisions are made. One of our core beliefs is that policies and discussions that include science will be more informed and more robust. We remain as firmly committed to this belief today as we were last month, last year, and under the previous three administrations.

[Read more…]

“So You Want To Change The World?”

"So you want to change the world?" Nature Comment by Nancy Baron

As the year comes to an end, many of us are thinking about what lies ahead in 2017. It’s a time for taking stock of where we are and where we want to be. This Nature Comment (published today) called “So you want to change the world?” reflects on the shifts that I have witnessed over the last 15 years as a science communication coach for COMPASS and looks ahead to the new year. The bottom-line message: in these tumultuous times, scientists need to support each other in standing up for science—and speak from the heart to connect with their audiences. [Read more…]

Recognizing Brooke Smith: Realizing The Vision And Finding COMPASS’s Niche

Brooke Smith and Vikki Spruill at the 2016 COMPASS Staff Retreat.

Vikki Spruill, author of this post, sits on the COMPASS Board of Directors and is president and CEO of the Council on Foundations.

Fifteen years ago, Jane Lubchenco (Oregon State University), Chuck Savitt (Island Press), the Packard Foundation, and I all sat together discussing the need for science to be better connected to the rest of the world. We had all come to this table from different paths: a scientist committed to ensuring that her knowledge and that of her peers did more than just sit on shelves and in journals; a publisher working to ensure complex ideas were accessible and relevant to the world; a conservation and science change-maker working to support efforts so that environment and society can thrive together; and me, a communication professional who knew just how important—yet how hard—it was to get scientists’ voices elevated in the media and policy worlds. We collectively wanted the same thing: for scientists to be effective communicators and to be supported to navigate their way to relevant and meaningful people and conversations. This vision would become COMPASS. [Read more…]

Race, Power, Equity, The Institution Of Science, And Change.

Program from the Lewis M. Branscomb 2016 Forum on Environmental Justice, Science, and Democracy

This fall I received an invitation to attend the Branscomb Forum on Environmental Justice, Science, and Democracy. My first thought was “I’m too busy to travel to another meeting….” I was questioned by a friend, “do you even work on democracy and social justice, I thought you did science communication?” I could easily have justified not attending this meeting. But my gut spoke to me; don’t we all work on democracy and social justice? I reflected on the inequity, racism, and fundamental divides that surround us in our society and in our research institutions. I reflected on the stream of passive-aggressive Facebook comments I read earlier that day (and throughout this entire election season), none of which involved real listening or real conversation. I thought about my own privilege, and the fact that if I chose to not go to this meeting or do anything differently in my life I will still be safe, protected, insured, employed. But if we all just keep doing the same thing, is anything really going to change? What am I—as a professional, a mom, a citizen, a white person—going to do differently? One thing I can do differently is put my privileged idea of busy-ness aside, go new places, meet new people, and learn new things. I couldn’t not have time for this meeting. [Read more…]

Navigating A New World

Sunrise at Snowbird, 7:23 AM MST, November 9, 2016

On election night, the COMPASS team gathered together in a sports bar in Snowbird, Utah, where there is scarcely a skiff of snow, for our annual retreat.  We’ve spent the week planning next year’s activities, the transition of our beloved Executive Director, and eagerly watching a long-anticipated historic transition. Our exuberant discussions about the future fell silent as we stared at our phones, watched the returns on the big screen, tracked the predictive Nate Silver, and slipped outside under a dark Utah sky to phone home to loved ones. In the turbulence of the night, we each processed, in our own ways, the meaning of this turn of events. [Read more…]

Finding My Place In Science

Annaliese Hettinger

At COMPASS, we encourage scientists to share ‘why’ they do what they do, in addition to sharing their science. This week’s post is by Annaliese Hettinger, a NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at Oregon State University, a Science Communications Fellow at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and a science writer. We’ve crossed paths with Annaliese a number of times – we helped her prepare to engage with decisionmakers on Capitol Hill, and she was a panelist for “Engaging with the Wider World: True Tales Told Live” at the 2016 Ecological Society of America Conference. We’re excited to share her story here. [Read more…]

Coaching, Community-Building, and Communication Confidence: How Our Trainings Help Scientists

The 2015 Wilburforce Fellows, with trainers and journalists, at the training in Seattle. From Left to right: back row- David Malakoff, David Mildrexler, Ben Alexander, Chris Parish, Matt Williamson?, Michael Quinn, Brian Harvey; middle row- Michelle Nijhuis, Sergio Avila, Nancy Baron, Melissa Lucash, Jonaki Bhattacharyya, Matt Williamson?, Jeff Burnside, Aerin Jacobs,

Over the past two weeks, we’ve been sharing stories from the 2015 Wilburforce Fellows about the role the fellowship has played for them over the past year. If you’re considering applying to be a 2017 Wilburforce Fellow, we hope these stories have motivated you to get started (remember, applications are due by this Friday, September 30!). If you’re considering hosting a training or fellowship, we hope these stories inspire you to explore how to make that happen. Individually, they are powerful arguments for the value of training scientists to communicate; collectively, they’re a call for more scientists to have the kind of opportunity the Wilburforce Fellowship provides. More people telling their stories, and more opportunities for scientists to participate in trainings and support networks, can contribute to the culture change many of us are seeking – one in which scientists are supported and empowered to get out into the world and engage. [Read more…]

Meet a Wilburforce Fellow: Erin Sexton

Erin Sexton, 2015 Wilburforce Fellow

The Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science provides researchers with a unique opportunity to gain skills in science communication and leadership to further their conservation goals. Fellows from the 2015 cohort are sharing their experiences; applications to be in the 2017 cohort are due Friday, September 30. To learn more and apply, click here.

Erin Sexton is a Research Scientist and Regulatory Affairs Manager with the Institute on Ecosystems, at the University of Montana. Erin’s research focus encompasses the international landscape known as the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem, with an emphasis on aquatic ecology and conservation biology in the transboundary watersheds between British Columbia, Alberta, and Montana. [Read more…]

Meet A Wilburforce Fellow: Kyle Artelle

Kyle Artelle, 2015 Wilburforce Fellow. Image by Howard Humchitt.

The Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science provides researchers with a unique opportunity to gain skills in science communication and leadership to further their conservation goals. Fellows from the 2015 cohort are sharing their experiences; applications to be in the 2017 cohort are due Friday, September 30. To learn more and apply, click here.

Kyle Artelle studies the ecology and conservation of wildlife, with a focus on black and grizzly bear population dynamics in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, bear-human conflict throughout the province, and wildlife management in general. He works to democratize ecological decision-making by sharing the best available knowledge and science with managers and the broader public. He is a biologist with Raincoast Conservation Foundation and a graduate student in the Earth2Ocean research group at Simon Fraser University. [Read more…]