Learning By Doing: Insights From Meetings With Decision-Makers


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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Carpe Diem: Two Opportunities For Scientists To Help Shape Federal Policy

Image credit: msciba on Flickr CC-BY2.0

Academic researchers are keen to make their science relevant and to get it into the hands of those who can use it, like policymakers. But it is often hard for scientists to identify the right time and place to engage in a particular policy discussion.

For researchers who work on water, ecosystem restoration, climate adaptation, and ecosystem services, there are two opportunities unfolding right now. First, the White House wants input on the implementation of the newly revised Principles and Guidelines for Water and Land Related Resources Implementation Studies ­­­­– known inside the acronym-loving Beltway as the P&G. Second, the Department of Commerce is seeking feedback on the Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan for restoration in the Gulf of Mexico. [Read more…]

Plastic Pollution: Scientists Engaging To Make A Difference

Plastic pollution litters a beach in Welgelegen, St. Maarten.

Photo courtesy of Fabi Fliervoet via Flickr Creative Commons.

Persistent plastics pose problems for the planet. (Say that five times fast!) While many groups and organizations have been working to document and combat the problem, it wasn’t until recently that several scientists took a bold step. By identifying a gap between existing science and outdated policy, the scientists were able to suggest a policy change that might really help the persistent plastics problem. By labeling some plastics as hazardous, they said, society will be forced to look at, manage, and treat plastics differently.

Behind this argument lies a story of two scientists – Ph.D. candidate Chelsea Rochman of UC Davis and Postdoc Mark Anthony Browne of NCEAS– and their journey of engagement and outreach that may ultimately help change the way that international and federal agencies approach the challenges of debris in the environment. [Read more…]

The Federal Budget & You: Why Scientists Should Care About R&D Spending

Photo courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relation's Blog.

Last month, in a rare display of activism, hundreds of Canadian scientists took to the streets to protest, among other things, cuts to federal funding for environmental research and the forced closure of several research stations.  Their chant: “No science. No evidence. No truth. No democracy.”  Faced with the imminent loss of jobs and research funding across several key environmental programs, Canadian scientists are reacting vigorously to the indisputable link between the federal science budget and their academic livelihoods.

But in the absence of a critical funding crisis, scientists writ large often seem unaware of the critical role that the federal science budget plays in their daily lives. Here in the U.S., when scientists develop their research queries into proposals to the relevant federal agencies, most don’t stop to think about why that agency has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) in that subject area or how that money came to be there. Many scientists don’t understand – much less engage in – the complex machinations of the Congressional appropriations process. [Read more…]