Briefing Debrief: “California’s Changing Oceans” Scientists Jenn Caselle, Francis Chan, Tessa Hill, And Kristy Kroeker

CA_Oceans_Briefing_2015

On November 4, 2015, four eminent scientists came to Sacramento to deliver a briefing about our changing oceans. From ocean acidification to low oxygen zones, the scientists described the challenges that will confront California’s marine ecosystems in the years ahead. They also described how marine protected areas and long-term monitoring are informing our understanding of ocean change. Following the briefing, the scientists took a moment to reflect on the challenges and opportunities associated with bringing science to policymakers. [Read more…]

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

ShoringUp_capitol

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.
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A Briefing Debrief: Scientist Tales From A Day On The Hill

Dr. Drew Harvell presenting at "Sea Sick: A science briefing on understanding the causes of marine disease and consequences for coastal communities," July 9, 2015. Image courtesy of the Office of Rep. Denny Heck.

This post is co-authored by COMPASS Science Engagement Specialist Heather Mannix.

Last week, COMPASS brought a team of scientists to Capitol Hill to participate in “Sea Sick: A science briefing on understanding the causes of marine disease and consequences for coastal communities.” As part of their pre-briefing preparation with the COMPASS team, these four scientists worked hard to understand their audience, coordinate their remarks, and make sure their science was clear, compelling, and relevant. With last year’s high profile sea star wasting disease epidemic on the West Coast likely to occur again this summer, and pending legislation on marine disease in the House of Representatives, this was an ideal time to bring the science related to these events to the forefront. 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.
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Our Stories: Scott Doney

We often blog here with brief updates or reflections on our work, while our website provides examples and descriptions of what we do. Over the coming weeks, we are excited to share a series of our stories, focused on longer timelines and richer details. We hope you enjoy!

Dr. Scott Doney, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

Our first story highlights one of the most rewarding, and enjoyable, aspects of our work: building relationships with scientists and supporting them as they surpass our (and their own!) best hopes.

As a Leopold Leadership Fellow in 2004, Dr. Scott Doney gamely participated in one of our trainings. He drafted his Message Box, sweated through his mock interview scenarios, and learned about journalism and policymaking. As a marine chemist, he thought that the policy work seemed interesting but unlikely. “I thought, this is all well and good for other folks, but I’ll never get asked. I would have never guessed, sitting in the training doing the testimony, that that would be me one day.” [Read more…]

Ocean Acidification: Science And Communication In An Era Of Nuance

Liz Neeley reminds scientists at the communication workshop to support each other and embrace constructive criticism when facing both scientific and communication challenges ahead. (Photo © David Kline 2013)

Since March 2011, I have spent a considerable amount of time with research scientists in the ocean acidification community – attending meetings, organizing conference symposia, prepping them for policy briefings, and leading them through communication workshops. In this time, I’ve seen the breadth of research and number of scientists working on ocean acidification increase dramatically. This expansion has led to an “era of nuance,” as we noted after last year’s international gathering of 400+ ocean acidification scientists. The stark cases of how ocean chemistry impacts US West Coast oyster hatcheries now stand side-by-side with discoveries of more complex effects on marine species and what this means for things people care about (e.g. fisheries, coastal protection, cultural traditions). But what stands out is that even with this growing complexity, the community has confronted the hard scientific questions head on AND tackled the tricky communication challenges with equal enthusiasm and commitment. [Read more…]

Why Everybody Needs A Prep Talk

After considerable preparation, Dr. Mark Carr, Dr. Anke Mueller-Solger, and Dan Yparraguirre present their talks on long-term monitoring and adaptive management before an eager audience.

Photo by Chad English.

When people are asked about their greatest fears, many often include public speaking. Something about looking out into a sea of faces hanging on your every word is universally terrifying. However, for me, it is the idea of a practice talk that causes borderline panic – although I’m only looking out into a small pond of faces, they are all intently focused on what I am doing wrong and how to fix it. But here’s the thing: Public talks don’t scare me. Why? Because I am ready. And why am I ready? Because I have worked really hard to prepare.

Whether it’s a legislative briefing or a AAAS symposium, COMPASS requires the scientists we work with to commit to putting in the preparation time. Although we often work with already accomplished speakers, it still takes planning to make sure there is cohesion among multiple talks. After all, even talented musicians must rehearse before playing their first gig together. In the words of UC Santa Cruz marine ecologist Mark Carr, “The COMPASS prep calls prior to our panel presentation really helped to focus the messages of my presentation and linked my presentation with others to make a more cohesive suite of presentations and stronger messages.”

Our prep process generally involves lots of back-and-forth over email, as well as 2-3 conference calls with everyone participating in the event. As we evolve from setting the goals and framing everyone’s talks to dress rehearsals, scientists tend to go through the following three stages: [Read more…]

Field Notes: Reflections From The Policy Front Lines

The 2003 Knauss Fellows interviewed for this post in 2003 with then-NOAA Admiral XXX, clockwise from top left: Barbara Piechel, Rachel Feeney, Bridget Ferriss, and Sunshine Menezes.

When Chad and I prep scientists to participate in policy briefings, we often share our own experiences of entering the policy arena for the first time as Knauss Marine Policy Fellows.  Chad talks about finishing his dissertation on a Friday in 2005 and showing up the following Monday in the Senate Commerce Committee, bright-eyed, bushy tailed, and expecting to bring the latest scientific discoveries to members of Congress. Only then he discovered that Congressional offices don’t have direct access to journal articles (or even read academic papers). I tell scientists about the time I spent on the Hill in 2003, helping to draft bill language for reauthorization of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the House Committee on Resources – I was suddenly expected to be an expert on marine mammals and on how to write arcane legislative language… neither of which were part of my actual skill set at the time.

Chad and I have both incorporated insights from our Knauss fellowship experiences into our current work with COMPASS at the intersection of science and policy. When COMPASS does communications and policy trainings for scientists, we talk about the idea that understanding these cultural differences is the key to making effective connections between the two worlds. I’ve been especially curious to hear what others experienced when they stepped out of science and into the policy world, and since it’s been nearly 10 years since I started my fellowship in the Subcommittee of Fisheries, Oceans, and Wildlife in the House Committee on Resources, I decided to ask some of the other legislative fellows in my cohort.  Through a brief series of questions, I asked a few of them about the lasting take homes they see from their fellowship experience, how it has shaped their worldview, and to reflect on what they saw as key differences between the culture of science and the culture of policy. [Read more…]

Tasty, Tasty Humble Pie

When asked to give a Congressional briefing on ecological resilience, author Chad English thought it couldn't be done.  A successful briefing a few months later forced him to eat some humble pie.  Photo courtesy of stevendepolo via Flickr.

Two weeks after I started at COMPASS, I found myself in a conference room getting to know all of my new colleagues face-to-face for the first time.  At one point Karen McLeod, COMPASS’ Director of Science, asked me when we could organize a Congressional briefing on the topic of ecological resilience.

Resilience is a deceptively simple concept on the surface. A resilient ecosystem can withstand shocks and rebuild itself. This applies to any ecosystem, but in the marine realm, coral reefs are one of the best studied. A resilient coral reef can be partially wiped out by bleaching and bounce back to a vibrant state in short order. A less resilient coral reef might not be able to weather bleaching and be overtaken by algae.

As the newest member of the team, I was nervous about my answer to Karen’s question: Never. [Read more…]

…But What Should We Do?

May 15th Senate Briefing

This post was co-written by Assistant Policy Director Erica Goldman.

It was less than an hour before the May 15 briefing was scheduled to begin when scientist Jim Cloern posed this question to a Senate Staffer: “So what is it that you are hoping to hear from us?”

COMPASS had invited Cloern, of the U.S. Geological Survey, along with his two long-time colleagues, Walter Boynton, from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and Scott Nixon, from the University of Rhode Island, to Washington, D.C. to brief Congress on what they had learned over their long careers in estuarine science. Together they represented a combined 116 years of experience studying San Francisco, Chesapeake, and Narragansett Bays.  Over that time, these scientists have amassed a very long view on ecological well being of their respective water bodies.

It was that “long view” that COMPASS recognized as a potential way for these scientists to help shift the dialogue on Capitol Hill on the value of ecological monitoring – something often viewed as “not my job”, and as a burdensome, never-ending drain on financial resources. When money is tight, which is true now more than ever in the U.S., the budget for things like continually tracking the status of a system or monitoring a project’s effectiveness is often the first thing to go.

The Senate staffer paused before responding to Cloern’s question.  Her answer came in the form of another question – one that gets at the heart of the challenge scientists face when trying to share what they know with policymakers: “We want to know, ‘What should Congress do?’” [Read more…]