Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving

It’s the time of year when many of us pause to take stock of all that we’re grateful for. Behind every effective communicator, there are inspiring teachers, careful editors, constructive critics, generous mentors, and enthusiastic cheerleaders. This year, we asked the COMPASS team to share their thanks for those who helped them along their communications path. [Read more…]

Cracking The Capitol Hill Nut

Tourists aren't the only ones who need guidance on Capitol Hill. These tips will help you make your meetings with staff efficient and productive. Image courtesy of fensterbme on flickr.

Washington D.C. often gets a reputation for being opaque, with lots of rules and unspoken customs for how things are done.  It’s true that D.C. has its own culture, and Capitol Hill especially can feel like its own world. My experience is that there are many dedicated staff on Capitol Hill who want to understand the best science available and how it can help them develop the best policies – but they have limited time and a number of diverse issues on their plate.  Reaching out and making your science available in an accessible way is essential to making your voice and your science heard.  [Read more…]

Your Science Is A Multi-tool

Science can be a multi-tool within the policy process; understanding what function your science is serving can make engagements more effective.

Science plays many roles in the policymaking process. Describing those roles is often harder than I expect.  While attending the North American Congress of Conservation Biology (NACCB) in July, I was introduced to a new – and helpful – description of those roles, during a talk by Stephen Posner. Stephen is a PhD candidate at the Gund Institute at the University of Vermont. Like COMPASS, the Gund Institute works at the boundary between new knowledge and emerging solutions to pressing environmental challenges. Much of their work takes place through the lens of “ecosystem services”, a way of thinking about how people’s needs, desires, and actions relate to the natural world upon which we all depend. Stephen investigates how knowledge and understanding of ecosystem services is actually used in policymaking. [Read more…]

Navigating The Boundary

boundary bridge 2

I’m excited to be writing my first blog post as a new member of the COMPASS team. I joined COMPASS two months ago, and one of the facets of work here that I’m particularly excited by is COMPASS’ role as a boundary organization. Boundary organizations are so named because they sit at the “boundary” between science and non-science. COMPASS has traditionally helped scientists navigate across the boundaries separating science from policy and media, although we are increasingly exploring ways we can support scientists to cross boundaries to connect with business, legal and other communities as well.  A relatively new term, the definition and theory of “boundary organizations” began to coalesce in the early 2000s, but the role that boundary organizations play – the seat between science and non-science – has been evolving over a much longer timescale.

[Read more…]

When Opportunity Knocks, What Leads COMPASS To A Yes?

COMPASS takes on new projects strategically in order to continue punching above our weight. Photo courtesy of C. Mario Del Rio via Flickr.

“COMPASS is an organization that punches above its weight class,” our new board chair, Mike Sutton, recently noted. I tend to agree. His perspective reflects an expectation of impact based on past performance as well as the target we want to hit. He’s also not alone. People often guess we’re an organization with a staff of 25 or more, not 12. Our topical expansion continues to open a plethora of new doors for COMPASS beyond oceans. And, as much as we’d love to go through all of them, we are a small team. If we want to continue to punch above our weight, we have to keep saying no to get to yes.

Like any organization lucky enough to be burdened by options, COMPASS has multiple filters to carefully consider new opportunities. We strategically blend our passion with what’s practical. The question is, then, when do we say yes? [Read more…]

Know Thy Role (And Thy Bias)

Be clear about your role your bias when ytalk with a decision-maker

Last week, Erica shared a quotation by Stephen Schneider that lays out three simple guidelines for scientists who want to share their knowledge and perspectives with the wider world: Know thy audience. Know thyself. Know thy stuff. As Erica explained, we use this quote during our policy and communications workshops to start discussions about roles scientists can or should play in policy dialogues. We teach that knowing your audience – the first point – is fundamental to effective communication. I want to delve into the second point: Know thyself. One facet of this is knowing what role you play when you’re talking to decision-makers, and how that shapes your own bias.

Since I naively showed up in D.C. with my freshly-minted PhD, I often find myself dispensing this advice: Before you sit down at the table with decision-makers, be clear with yourself about your role in this world. You don’t have to start from scratch – check out some of the many insights and frameworks already out there to help you think through what your own role is. Otherwise, you could find yourself wasting a lot time in unproductive conversations, or worse, putting yourself in a very uncomfortable position. [Read more…]

A Navigator To Get You Across The Policy Chasm

It's easier to read the policy landscape with the aid of trusted navigators.  Courtesy of Calsidyrose via Flickr.

Why is it that some scientists seem to have an easy time getting the ear of policymakers? When it comes to engaging decision-makers, we’ve told you to find the story in your science, to prepare yourself to answer the “So what?” and to keep it simple but not lose the details. But how do you get involved in that initial conversation in the first place? More specifically, how do you get involved in the RIGHT conversation? The one where you have a willing and interested audience who want to talk about what you actually know?

COMPASS staff have been working at the boundary of science and policy for over a decade, and have identified some key elements in navigating a network. Earlier this month, I presented some of COMPASS’ recent policy connectivity work as a case study – in what to do and what not to do – at an NSF-funded workshop put together by Angela Evans at the University of Texas-Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. One of the takeaways from our work (and the workshop) is particularly relevant to individual scientists: Successful engagement with policymakers often starts when scientists take advantage of their network to help them plug in effectively. [Read more…]

Navigating Personal-Professional Boundaries

Sometimes it can feel like walking a fine line when it comes to personal/professional relationships. Photo courtesy of Nicoló Paternoster via Flickr.

A key aspect of being successful in making your science matter beyond the ivory tower is building relationships and knowing how to strategically navigate networks of people. Ultimately, these relationships are not about sharing data, but instead about shared connections among people. It is the trust and goodwill built up over time with colleagues, and even policymakers or journalists, which opens doors to new opportunities. But making these connections can be tricky and can often involve tough decisions about personal-professional boundaries.

I know this is something I really struggled with as a scientist and, judging by conversations with other scientists, I am far from being alone. In fact, I was overwhelmed by the diversity and depth of responses I received from scientist colleagues in response to a question on Facebook:

Where does your personal-professional comfort zone lie and what are your strategies for navigating tricky situations, either in person or via social media? [Read more…]

Shaking The Money Tree: How To Fund Your Outreach

As we’ve described in many places, including this blog, we love supporting you in communicating, sharing, and discussing science outside your labs, classrooms, and the field. We know this isn’t easy and the practicalities of engaging aren’t always, well, very practical. I’ve worked hard to find funding to support our boundary organization so that our services, trainings, and asks of each of you are financially feasible. We’ve all seen the huge demand and appetite for science communication, but the funding sources to support your time and efforts to do this are scarce and patchy. Yet, they do exist! Here are some tips and tricks we’ve seen others use to support communication and outreach: [Read more…]

Complications And Resolutions: Why Scientists Should Learn Story Craft

Main Ave Fish Wharf, where Erica sought out a story in fishmonger Clarence Goodman's personal tale.

We can all recognize a good story when we read one. Most of us can narrate stories about our own life fairly seamlessly, and do so all the time to our families, friends, through social media, or on the phone. We can step back and recognize that our days are filled with meaningful actions – twists and turns of plot that lead us to new points of insights and resolutions – some big, some small. But as Karen pointed out in her blog post last week about her Santa Fe experience, many scientists struggle with how to bring science and story together… and whether it is even appropriate to do so.

Why the uneasy relationship between science and story? [Read more…]