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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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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Learning By Doing: Insights From Meetings With Decision-Makers

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The conference room this past Sunday was full of nervous excitement, tinged with the tiredness that comes from a long day. Chad English and I had just spent an afternoon with the Switzer Environmental Fellows, practicing and preparing for their meetings with decision-makers in the morning. It was the wrap up of a two-month process, and the first time that many of them had shared their research in the context of policy.  As the fellows filtered out of the room, we answered lots of questions, from complicated ones about the role of advocacy in science advising, to more straightforward ones about what to wear and how long it would take to get to the meeting.
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Op-Ed Writing: It’s OK To Argue For Something

Enjoying today's op-ed section in the New York Times. Image by Sarah Sunu.

This post is co-authored by COMPASS Program Associate Sarah Sunu.

Expressing perspectives, opinions or even recommendations about the implications of your science can be a bit uncomfortable, even scary. But if you want your science to be relevant and useful, you need to make sure it gets out of pages of peer-reviewed journals and into real-world discussions.  Connecting with policymakers and having an ask is one way to do this. Writing an op-ed is another great way to start to get your science, and ideas, into the public discourse.
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Want to Get Policymakers Engaged With Your Field of Research? Integrate Them Into Your Scientific Conference

Panelists from left to right: 
Michael Curley, Environmental Law Institute
David Batker, Earth Economics
Jody Springer, Federal Emergency Management Agency   
Mary Ruckelshaus, Natural Capital Project, Stanford University
Mary Erickson, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Laura Petes, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Moderator

This post is co-authored by COMPASS Director of Science Policy Outreach Chad English.

Scientific conferences are hotspots for researchers to come together to share their latest discoveries, form new collaborations, and glean new insights from one another. But traditional conferences can also be very insular affairs, where researchers geek out with one another and non-experts find it practically impossible to glean much value from the proceedings. For scientific communities that want to see their science used by society, we think the benefits of engaging policymakers are clear.  When done well, the very audiences you most want to share your science with become engaged participants and help shape both the formal talks and informal side-conversations throughout the conference.  So, what does it take to recast conferences as opportunities to integrate external audiences into these discussions? What does it take to engage policymakers effectively? [Read more…]

Taking Meetings From Painful To Productive

COMPASS Fire Workshop 2014

From one-hour conference calls to multiple-day workshops, meetings are all too often considered a necessary evil. Although bringing people together can be critical for building consensus or tackling problems that involve multiple stakeholders, many of us see meetings as stealing time from more engaging and rewarding efforts, like conducting research, writing papers, or sharing your science with new audiences. However, with a little more investment upfront, most meetings could be much more efficient and – better yet – productive. [Read more…]

Dawn Wright: On Science Communication, Social Media, And Joining Our Board

Dawn Wright is a professor of Geography and Oceanography at Oregon State University, Esri's chief scientist, and COMPASS' newest board member.

This week, we welcome Dr. Dawn Wright to the COMPASS Board of Directors! Dawn’s day job (and she would probably tell you, her night and weekend job too) is the Chief Scientist at Esri. I love her story of why, after 17 years in academia, Dawn made the “escape”, as she says, to Esri. At its core, her story is really one of communication, leadership, exploration of the relevance of her science, and examination of her place in the scientific enterprise (all things we like helping scientists think about). Dawn is an amazing scientist, a generous human being, a committed communicator, a prolific tweeter and a hard-core cyclist. We couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome her to our board, so she can contribute to helping all of us at COMPASS support scientists in finding their own “so what”. [Read more…]

Maximizing Moritz Et Al: On Publication & Promotion

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Max Moritz is the lead author on the invited review Learning to Coexist with Wildfire, published last Thursday in Nature. With its synthesis of wildfire science and management from three continents, Max and his co-authors strongly believe the paper holds real-world implications for people’s health, safety, and financial well-being. If you feel like that about a paper, you want it to be read and used widely; and if you want a paper to achieve broader visibility, you don’t just cross your fingers and hope for the best! So Max reached out to COMPASS and spent the last two weeks of October working with me to think through what he wanted to say and working with his co-authors and university to prepare. [Read more…]

Why Is The Why Difficult for Scientists?

Are you willing to channel your inner Aristotle and embrace the Philosophy in your PhD for more effective #scicomm?
Image courtesy of Mary Harrsh via flickr.

Being a scientist is more than a job – it’s a way of thinking, a way of living, a way of interacting with the world. For some of you, it is the best job in the world!  Our passion is clearly important, and yet … we so rarely share it. Why?

This is the first in a series about scientists communicating the ‘why’ of their work. In the coming weeks, I’ll share other scientists’ reflections, insights, and stories on the topic. Perhaps yours? Post a comment or send me a note, and I’ll incorporate your perspective into future posts. [Read more…]