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…]

Erica Goldman, Our New Director Of Policy Engagement

Erica has helped scientists navigate the policy world for years.

COMPASS is excited to announce that Erica Goldman will be taking on a new role and new responsibilities as our Director of Policy Engagement. Since joining COMPASS over four years ago as Assistant Director of Science Policy Outreach, Erica has passionately and tirelessly worked towards COMPASS’ vision of helping more scientists engage, and engage effectively, in the public discourse about the environment. Erica is an uber-connector – she is always matchmaking, especially between policymakers and scientists – and a silo-buster, constantly looking for ways to bridge ideas, communities and concepts. Erica has helped scientists get to know their policy audiences, been a cultural bridge between the worlds of science and policy, and championed ways for academic scientists to include policy engagement in their careers. Erica has also helped ensure communication is part of scientific training, through her co-leadership of our #gradscicomm effort and as a mentor and voice for non-traditional PhD careers (like her own at COMPASS, which we are grateful for!).
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Farewell To Chad English: A Pioneer At The Science-Policy Interface

Chad at the April 2015 Wilburforce Fellows training in Seattle.

We like to think that our work speaks for itself, through the scientists we train, the communities we build, and the conversations we spark. As coaches, connectors and enablers, we are intentionally and happily behind the scenes. We prepare, support, and cheer for the researchers on the front lines to share their scientific insights with the world. This week I want to focus on one of our behind-the-scenes champions – Dr. Chad English, whose last day here at COMPASS was May 1st. He pioneered our work at the science-policy interface, and his influence will be felt for years to come.

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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…]

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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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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Straight From The Scientist: Francis Chan

Dr. Francis Chan of Oregon State University

At COMPASS, we sometimes work with an individual scientist in a variety of contexts and over several years.  As they engage with journalists, policymakers, and others outside their research community, we often hear how their thoughts around sharing their science continue to evolve. We recently caught up with one such scientist – Francis Chan of Oregon State University – after he got back from a trip to our DC office earlier this month to meet with policymakers about ocean acidification. Here are some of the things he has picked up over the course of his communication and engagement experiences that we’re excited to share with you! [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…]

Connecting At NACCB

Our "Tapas" plenary is one of the ways COMPASS is looking to connect emerging science to  public discourse. Photo credit: Megan Dearden

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

The COMPASS team is in Missoula, Montana this week for the 2014 North American Congress for Conservation Biology (NACCB). Our plenary “Tapas” and the reception that followed kicked off myriad conversations between scientists and journalists. There were conversations about pikas and the Endangered Species Act, about endangered primates, as well as innovative efforts to engage stakeholders in discussions about what a changing climate will mean.

For us, conferences are about making connections: with people, with ideas, and between communities. One of our core activities is sleuthing new science, to identify ideas and insights that are not yet well connected to the public discourse, and brokering connections that can transform the conversation. Sometimes those connections are amongst peers. Sometimes those connections are with journalists. And sometimes they’re in the world of policy. [Read more…]

Navigating The Boundary

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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.

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